Howards End by Alistair M. Duckworth Summary
In Howards End, E. M. Forster describes Edwardian England not as a golden afternoon of Empire, but as a time of conflict between nations, parties, classes, and the sexes. Forster's England is one in which a peaceful rural past encounters a frenzied urban present, the countryside is threatened by urban encroachment and pollution, intellectuals quarrel with businessmen, art vies with sport as a recreational activity, cultural tastes collide with popular tastes, entrenched male power ignores or suppresses emerging female aspirations, and laissez-faire economic attitudes are harmful to the poor and underprivileged. Such conflicts, as Alistair Duckworth demonstrates, pervade the novel's episodes, settings, conversations, and commentaries. On the publication of Howards End in 1910 Forster was recognized as a major Edwardian novelist. Forster's subtle characterizations, narrative ironies, perfectly pitched dialogues, and evocative treatment of place established him in the great tradition of the English novel of manners. Living in a fragmented society, Forster brought new depth to that tradition; he engaged the divisive issues of his time by presenting them as human encounters in domestic contexts. His perspective was that of a liberal humanist--in Howards End he obviously favors the progressive attitudes of the Schlegel women to the Social Darwinist behavior of the Wilcox men. As a realist, however, he reveals not only the relative powerlessness of benevolent intellectuals to bring about social improvement, but also their financial complicity in the system they oppose. In its critique of "commerce" and "culture" in a swiftly changing world, and in its searching exploration of sexual roles, Howards End has remarkable relevance to the present. Rather than arguing that Forster brings the novel's oppositions together to form an aesthetic whole and provide a satisfying political solution to the problems of his time, Duckworth values Howards End for its formal diversity, multiple discourses, intertextual echoes and allusions, and range of topics and themes. He combines a close reading of Forster's text with relevant biographical considerations and comparisons of Forster's techniques with those of significant predecessors such as Jane Austen and contemporaries such as Joseph Conrad and D. H. Lawrence. He also devotes a chapter to the critical reception of Howards End from 1910 to the present. In showing how Howards End is open-ended and dialogical in nature, Duckworth explains the novel's continuing interest for different sorts and generations of readers and makes a valuable and distinctive contribution to Forster studies.