June 4, 2009
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Howards End

by E. M. Forster

A terrific, and tremendously enjoyable, little book. I grabbed this right now because I'd heard a comment that Zadie Smith’s admirable On Beauty was a reworking of Howards End, and I didn’t immediately see the connection. The connection is very much there; indeed, entire scenes find themselves transported from rural cottages to urban Professorial households, and characters move from nearly-Cockney to almost-Brooklyn. Oh, and people change genders, and races, and a book about personal relations becomes a book on race and – well – on beauty. I still don’t see the whole vision; if you’ve read good criticism along these lines, Email me.

Dearest Meg,
It isn’t going to be what we expected.

What a fine way to start a story. And what a fine story! It makes an interesting pairing with Galsworthy; The Man Of Property was published in 1906, four years before Howards End, but the rest of the Forsyte Saga appeared a decade later (1918-1921). Sons and Lovers is only a couple of years later. I had forgotten, or the movie had blurred for me, how little the novel has to do with men and women; it’s about feeling and friendship and independence, and in the end poor Mr. Bast nearly deserves what he gets.

Update: Writing from Kandahar, Alex Strick can Linschoten points me to Zadie Smith’s 2003 article on Forster for The Guardian, based on her 2003 Orange Word Lecture.