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Forster's examination of contemporaneous issues pervades the novel in multifarious layers - What is your response to this statement?

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Introduction

Howards End By: E.M. Forster Yonatan Jay Forster's examination of contemporaneous issues pervades the novel in multifarious layers. What is your response to this statement? 'Only connect...' Howards End is E.M. Forster's symbolic exploration of the social, economic, and philosophical conditions in Edwardian culture. Written in 1910, at a time when Britain's industrial ascendancy was dwindling, and Germany's expansion filling the vacuum, socio-politico Anglo-German relations were particularly volatile, culminating in the Entente Cordiale in 1904. Although Howards End is a "fin de siecle" novel it lacks the European rational elucidation found in similar novels at the time, like Thomas Mann's "The White Mountain". Thus, Forster set out to address the question critic Lionel Trilling posed, "Who shall inherit England?"1 With reference to the above question , Forster explores the milieu of three dissimilar groups in society, each of which epitomizes a particular social class-consciousness: the literary, cultural Schlegel family, who symbolize the idealistic and intellectual aspect of the upper classes; the materialistic, pragmatic Wilcox family, who embody the "unyielding" English work ethic, bourgeoisie, and conventional social morality; and the impoverished Bast family, headed by a lower-middle-class insurance clerk who earnestly believes books, such as Ruskin, will salvage him from social and economic desolation. Forster's fascination for Hegelian opposites permeates the novel throughout; hence the dichotomy between the working class and the noveau-rich´┐Ż, middleclass values and labour class destitution and the liaison between the rural environment and urban isolation. To evoke the recurrent themes that are incessantly inferred right the way through the novel, I think it optimal to examine a specific scene. ...read more.

Middle

In this regard, life is not merely a quest for money; undeniably it is an important element of life, because it enables leisure and security, but there is more to life. Then again, Helen appreciates this primarily because she has money: It does no good for the doomed Leonard Bast. The doctrine of Social Darwinism resonates through the novel spasmodically. It is essentially, the transference of the thesis of evolution. The disparity of events involving Mr. Wilcox and Leonard is fundamentally Darwinist in nature. When Mr. Wilcox imparts bad advice about the Porphyrion Corporation Leonard resigns. As a result he took office in a bank, and becomes redundant after a cutback in personnel. When confronted Mr. Wilcox audaciously claims "Its part of the battle of life"9. Like Leonard he is unable to connect and becomes a symbol of spiritual deprivation. The tough survive, the frail fall. Forster gave lectures to the working middle class like Leonard and he incorporated his experiences in Howards End. The Wilcox's and Schlegel's are not doomed but fated to survive. Henry Wilcox epitomises the nouveau riche and the established "superman". He "doesn't care for culture" is "obtuse" and frequently disingenuous. His cosmopolitanism is exploited, to express Forster's repugnance of English reticence and the English cult of masculine dignity. In reference, J.B. Bury wrote 'The idea of progress', which likens Henry Wilcox to the notion of 'perfectibility'. Margaret attempts to reconcile the opposites of materialism and spiritualism in her relationship with Henry as the "beast and the monk". "Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. ...read more.

Conclusion

Complementary to the 'inaudible' lower class, Margaret's notes the "clipped words, formless sentences, potted expressions of approval or disgust"18 in urban civilisation. Thus language is not only in the narrative as an expression of the characters diversity, it is integrated by Forster within a whole social panorama, and exposed as a fundamental element of human existence. To Forster, who believed that "the character of the English is essentially middle-class," it was people like Leonard and the Wilcox's aspiring to wealth, political power, and culture who would eventually "inherit" England, not the dying aristocratic class of the Schlegel's or the working classes. Similarly there is evidence in Robert Musil's book "A Man without Qualities" which depicts the steady decline of the Austrian-Hungarian aristocratic society's 'fin de siecle' environment. Thus Forster used Leonard's connection with the Schlegel's as the social conscience of the book. As critic Wilfred Stone wrote, "Just as [Leonard] stands on the edge of the social abyss, so he affords the Schlegel's a glimpse into it - increasing both their 'panic and emptiness'19 and their guilt over class and money." Ultimately, Howards End is the most optimistic expression of Forster's unique vision, 'a meditation on the future', and a sensibility that transcends the temporal confines of his novel. Its richly drawn characters and the struggles they face - to maintain human connection in an increasingly depersonalized society, and to find a spiritual home in the world is still as current as they were at the beginning of the twentieth century. Word Count: 2550 approx. ...read more.

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