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Authors: E. M. Forster

Howards End

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Table of Contents
 
 
 
E. M. Forster
(1879-1970) was educated at King's College, Cambridge, where he was for a time a Fellow. His first novel,
Where Angels Fear to Tread
(1905), was quickly followed by
The Longest Journey
(1907),
A Room with a View
(1908), and
Howards End
(1910), which received wide attention. Based on Forster's firsthand observations of Indian life,
A Passage to India
came out in 1924. His other works include collections of short stories and essays, a volume of criticism, the libretto for Benjamin Britten's opera
Billy Budd,
a film script, and a study of Virginia Woolf. In 1953, Forster was awarded membership in the Order of Companions of Honour by Queen Elizabeth II. On his ninetieth birthday, in 1969, he received the Order of Merit, the highest distinction outside of political rank that a British sovereign can bestow.
 
 
Benjamin DeMott
is Professor Emeritus of English at Am- herst College and a frequent contributor to
The New York Times Book Review, Atlantic Monthly,
and other publications.
 
 
Regina Marler
is the author of
Bloomsbury Pie: The Making of the Bloomsbury Boom
and editor of
Selected Letters of Vanessa Bell.
She also writes for the
New York Times Book Review,
the
Los Angeles Times Book Review,
and the
New York Observer.
Marler lives in San Francisco.
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Published by Signet Classics, an imprint of New American Library,
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First Signet Classics Printing, October 1998
First Signet Classics Printing (Marler Afterword), November 2007
 
 
Introduction copyright © Benjamin DeMott, 1986, 1992
eISBN : 978-1-101-14233-2
Afterword copyright © Regina Marler, 2007
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Introduction
Writing in 1943—a time when Hemingway and Faulkner among others were still productive—the critic Lionel Trilling described Edward Morgan Forster as “the only living novelist who can be read again and again and who, after each reading, gives me ... the sensation of having learned something.” Politics figured in this judgment—the politics of a distinct historical moment. The author of
Howards End
had become a hero among critics of the left—thoughtful liberals, such as Trilling, who were scornful of Comes-the-Revolution cant about the imminent transformation of human nature. Forster shared the hopes of those working for social and economic change within the framework of democratic society, but not the dream of sudden political cures for human woe. (After reading Pasternak's
Dr. Zhivago
he remarked to a friend that “it makes you feel a revolution is
never
worth it.”) And he was troubled by the moral vanity and the penchant for oversimplification pervasive among proponents of radical change. (There's a shrewd sampling of the confusions of “idealists and political economists” in
Howards End,
Chapter 15.)
But although remedies for political naivete are available in Forster, it's not primarily through them that we gain the “sensation of having learned something.” In 1909, the year before
Howards End
appeared, Forster turned thirty. The book proved to be longer and more socially inclusive than any of his earlier works; an ambition to speak to the condition of an entire nation, England, was freshly energizing his mind; and ruminations on large themes, including the pros and cons of redistributing wealth, fall from his characters' lips. But
Howards End
is continuous in achievement with much of the writing by this author that preceded it, and the achievement isn't that of a political novelist. It belongs rather to a genius creator of intimacy—a comprehensively thoughtful, fundamentally
un
political literary artist whose writing conjoined two kinds of knowledge quite extraordinarily different: as different as worldliness and unworldliness.
About social existence E. M. Forster knew everything. He knew that comfortable habitation of an enclave shrivels alertness to the variousness of the human condition, and that one's effort to heighten sensitivity to family, friends, neighbors, can deepen one's social obliviousness. He knew that whimsy, politeness, even modesty can have, in certain social circumstances, cruel effect. And he knew that cruelty can be perceived—in certain social circumstances—as glamorous. Early in
Howards End
young Charles Wilcox insults and browbeats an elderly station porter, and Forster notices that the porter gazes after the young snot admiringly. The scene dramatizes the total inconsiderateness of the Wilcox clan (the mother excluded); it also represents class relationships as they are: the oppressed appearing dazzled by their oppressors because unable, for specifiable reasons having to do with the texture of lived experience, to see themselves as the oppressed. Here as everywhere Forster displays a worldly writer's interest in human interaction as conditioned by money and status.
That interest, though, doesn't carry with it the common penalty, namely blankness to other dimensions of experience. A manners-watcher, Forster nevertheless understood that men and women aren't the sum of their manners. Intermittently we dislodge ourselves from the social woodwork, becoming responsive to intimations of realities more elevated than those shaped by cash and caste, membership in an enclave, adjacency to family and friends. Forster relished such intimations, recognizing them as a form of knowledge. Lacking conventional religion, he possessed a gift for reverence, an impulse to pursue essence, a concern for values as well as prices. Working easily from observed behavior to inner feeling to meaning-in-the-large, he taught unremittingly against the reductive-ness that sunders matter and spirit. The best-remembered imperative in his work (it provides the epigraph for
Howards End)
is: “Only connect ...” He himself was, throughout a lifetime, bravely obedient to that command.
And without fuss or self-puffery. Not the least remarkable dimension of Forster's movement from manners to feeling to meaning is its apparent casualness. Revelation when it arrives seems incidental. Brevity and tact are norms. Pomposity is the unpardonable sin. Through a multitude of rhetorical devices, ironic overstatement among them, the novelist delicately teases his personal claims to insight. (For God's sake, reader, don't be intimidated, it's just me: this is one of his tones.) By placing his judgments unobtrusively—folding them into throwaway clauses—he avoids the unlovable gestures of a moral preceptor addicted to setting inferiors straight. Readers are addressed as though sufficiently brainy to summon implications on their own, sufficiently caring to ponder the complex whole—behavior, feelings, meaning—until possessed of the riches of each element. When there's occasion for reflection reaching beyond the consciousness of the characters onstage, the novelist contrives to bring it forth without proprietorial hauteur. Everywhere the impression is that author-and-audience collaboration is in progress. We—reader and writer—are together in diffident bewilderment, confusion, mixed response, sentimentality, true belief.
We,
says E. M. Forster.
We
deride,
we
oppose,
we
stand outside,
our
very heart is compelled. Reader and author are in league; our intimacy is constant.
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