My First Literary Sin: Howards End

I have a list of books I haven’t read yet, and I call each and every one of them my literary sins. These books are the kinds of books that any person who calls themselves an avid reader should have read. They’re typically noteworthy classics.

Unfortunately, there are some pretty embarrassing titles on my list. I have yet to read some really great books (purportedly). Luckily for me, this means I get to spend a lot of my time experiencing these stories for the first time. And you guys get to come along with me for the ride! (Yay!)

Howards End was written by E.M. Forster. Forster also wrote A Passage to India, a soulfully moving book that I have read. While A Passage to India dealt with the numerous issues of Britain’s occupation of India, Howards End dealt with issues closer to home, namely the discord arising from Britain’s strict class system.

I’ve used “low-class” and “high-class” as simple adjectives before, describing movies, shoes, or doorknobs, but after reading Howard’s End, I actually feel uneasy using those words to describe things.

The story mainly revolves around the Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen. The two are striving to find a deeper meaning to life by studying art, nature, and poetry. You know, the finer things in life. They meet two families on their somewhat snotty, but still admirable, quest for enlightenment that are on opposing sides of the class spectrum. The Wilcoxes are a rich family, but despite the money that is at their disposal, they aren’t as appreciative of meaningful moments as their riches could allow them to be. The Basts are considered poor people, and they don’t have the means to engage themselves in stoic contemplation like more well-to-do families (the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes specifically).

Howards End immersed me in a world I could never hope to reach, which is weird, because at some point in time, this setting actually existed. I related to Leonard Bast’s situation more than anyone else’s because he’s the only person we meet who seems to work for his income. Everyone else’s profession was being wealthy; they just went to operas and worked on “improving themselves.”

Even though Leonard Bast is the most relatable, the hero of the novel is Margaret Schlegel. She befriends Mrs. Wilcox, the matriarch of the Wilcox family, when they meet each other spontaneously one day. They’re both fond of deeper meanings without being pushy about it. They also share a love for the Wilcoxes’ old home, Howards End. (I always thought it was so cool how some people in British novels have houses that have names.) They form a pretty random friendship quickly, but their sedate and wise natures made it seem natural to do so.

Things get a little weird when Mrs. Wilcox dies, and then later, Mr. Wilcox decides to marry Margaret. I get that they were similar, but yikes. While this is definitely odd, the novel makes it seem like this union was meant to be. And who am I to judge, right?

The women in the novel are treated rather ickily. Their opinions, choices, and bodies are totally dismissed by their male counterparts. In the end, the women of the novel succeed in achieving the peace they desire, but the journey there was rough sailing through the waters of sexism.

Howards End was a fantastic read, just like a A Passage to India. The class disagreements seem foreign to me, and yet, the underlying vibe they produce feel eerily familiar. I know no one who lives like the Wilcoxes. But I can understand how people with more can look down on people with less.

I won’t spoil how the book ends. Just know that the house, Howards End, is really important to the story (duh, it’s in the title), the Schlegel sisters make pretty…unique decisions when it comes to the Wilcoxes and Basts, and that hitting someone with the flat of a sword is just as dangerous as piercing them with the tip.

If you like stodgy British novels (which I ADORE), Howards End might be the book for you. I give it a buy-at-a-used-bookstore-with-a sweet-hardcover-edition-at-a-really-good-price-and-then-keep-it-forever.