Brown Baggers tackled a classic at their June 16 meeting – reading Howards End by E.M. Forster. Full of characters, this novel produced many discussion topics. Based on a house Forster himself dearly loved, the titular house Howards End is itself practically a character, acting as a thread throughout the novel and leading to the expression of the quote above near the end by one of the main characters.
Readers were a little surprised and quite impressed that male author Forster wrote women so well. This might be due to his incredibly close relationship with his own mother, so he was able to detail a mothering character like Margaret, as well as close familial relationships like the one between Margaret and her sister Helen and their brother Tibby.
The other topic was that of class, or in the case of most of the characters, privilege. Upper and upper-middle class situations provide most characters in the book ample funds, and a leisurely lifestyle that lets them pursue travel and study on their own schedule with no worry about a job. One reader mentioned that the characters who had status didn’t seem to deserve it. Multiple readers were amused by characters of all classes and how it almost seemed an adventure for the upper classes to befriend and aid the lower classes and for the lower classes to attempt to elevate to the upper classes. Readers found it fitting to be discussing a topic that still has repercussions in society today.
About the book itself readers generally found it to be a little lengthy and wordy. So many characters provided an overabundance of details that made it hard to keep straight. This resulted in the need to take it slow and read carefully. On the flip side, though, readers felt this was a good example of writing from that period and were awed by Forster’s ability to convey a landscape with his words.
All-in-all readers appreciated Forster’s plot twists and the social and political commentary, as well as social comedy. They liked the omniscient narrator that regularly provided just the right hint of things to come to keep the pages turning. Readers agreed that they needed that thread and the suspense of know something was going to happen to pull them along.
Author interview video
Paris Review interview with the author
Other books by Forster
Mentioned by Readers
On Beauty by Zadie Smith – a modern day novel loosely based on Howards End
Downtown Abbey – BBC television series
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters – a previous Brown Baggers selection also dealing with class differences on early 20th century England
Pride and Prejudice and other Jane Austen titles
Howards End film