"Howards End" by E. M. Forster

Los cambios en la sociedad británica de principios del siglo XX se reflejan en la relación entre tres familias de extracciones sociales y valores muy dispares. Un drama de estilo delicado salpicado de reflexiones existenciales.

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A quintessentially English novel about class and privilege, Howards End by E. M. Forster follows the fortunes of three contrasting but interconnected families. The novel is set in the early 20th century, a time of rapid industrialisation, mass urbanisation and the emergence of a capitalist class structure; a time when the old ruling classes were forced to yield power to the burgeoning middle classes.

COUNTRY ESTATE

The novel centres on Howards End, the country estate belonging to the wealthy Wilcox family. During their travels, the Wilcoxes meet and befriend sisters Helen and Margaret Schlegel, who are cultured, liberal and bohemian. However, one day, Helen mistakenly takes the umbrella of Leonard Bast, the young man sitting beside her at a concert, and their lives change. Leonard, an insurance clerk of working-class origins, is aware of the cultural distance between them: 

“Her speeches fluttered away from the young man like birds. If only he could talk like this, he would have caught the world. Oh, to acquire culture! Oh, to pronounce foreign names correctly! Oh, to be well informed, discoursing at ease on every subject that a lady started! […] His brain might be full of names, he might even have heard of Monet and Debussy; the trouble was that he could not string them together into a sentence, he could not make them “tell”, he could not quite forget about his stolen umbrella.”

“Las palabras de Margaret revoloteaban como pájaros en torno al joven. Si él pudiese hablar así, conquistaría el mundo. ¡Ah!, ¡tener cultura!, ¡pronunciar correctamente las nombres extranjeros!, ¡estar bien informado, poder desarrollar seguro y fluido cualquier tema! [...] Su cabeza podía estar llena de nombres, incluso podía haber oído hablar de Monet y de Debussy; el problema era que no podía unirlos en una sola frase, no sabía darles un sentido; el problema era que no podía olvidar el paraguas perdido”.

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RISK

Mrs. Wilcox becomes close friends with Margaret, and even bequeaths Howards End to her. However, after Mrs. Wilcox’s death, her husband, Henry Wilcox, ignores her instructions. Helen, meanwhile, is determined to help Leonard Bast and his wife, and seeks advice from Henry. He warns her that Leonard’s employer is insolvent. Unlike the Wilcoxes and the Schlegels, Leonard cannot afford to take risks, as Margaret explains to her aunt: 

“‘I hope to risk things all my life.’

‘Oh Margaret, most dangerous.’

‘But after all,’ she continued with a smile, ‘there’s never any great risk as long as you have money […] You and I and the Wilcoxes stand upon money as upon islands. It is so firm beneath our feet that we forget its very existence.’”

"—Espero arriesgarme toda la vida.

 —Ay, Margaret, que es muy peligroso.

 —Sí, pero, en el fondo —continuó Margaret con una sonrisa—, el riesgo nunca es mucho cuando se tiene dinero. […] Tanto tú, como yo, como los Wilcox, vivimos sobre el dinero como sobre una isla. Está tan segura bajo nuestros pies que olvidamos su misma existencia”.

PRAGMATIC

While Helen is idealistic, Margaret is pragmatic, although it still surprises everyone when she agrees to marry Henry. Helen, meanwhile, continues to support the Basts. Leonard diligently reads books and seeks to educate himself in art and culture. Following Henry’s advice, he leaves a secure job, and finds himself unemployed. Henry refuses to help. Helen, meeting Leonard, is wracked by guilt

“‘Don’t you worry’, he pleaded. ‘I can’t bear that. We shall be all right if I get work. If I could only get work—something regular to do. Then it wouldn’t be so bad again. I don’t trouble after books as I used. I can imagine that with regular work we should settle down again. It stops one thinking.

‘Settle down to what?’

‘Oh, just settle down.”

“—No se apene —rogó él—. No podría soportarlo. Todo irá bien si encuentro trabajo. Si pudiera encontrar un trabajo… un trabajo permanente, nada volvería a ser tan triste como ha sido hasta ahora. Ya no me interesan los libros como antes. Estoy convencido de que con un trabajo permanente podríamos estabilizarnos de nuevo. Eso hace que uno deje de pensar.

  —¿Estabilizarse en qué?

  —Simplemente estabilizarse”.

TEMPTATION

Helen becomes pregnant, but refuses to name the father of her child. As Margaret’s sister, she brings shame to the Wilcox family and Henry rejects her as immoral. His son, Charles, believes Leonard to be responsible, and tricks him into a meeting at Howards End. A terrible tragedy occurs that divides the Schlegels and Wilcoxes. Can forgiveness ever be found? Margaret’s philosophy is central to the resolution of Forster’s drama:

“‘Only connect!’ That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its highest. Live in fragments no longer.”

“‘¡Sólo construir el puente!’ Ése era todo el sermón. Sólo construir un puente entre la prosa y la pasión y ambas resurgirían y el amor humano brillaría en su cima. No más vida fragmentaria”. 

CONNECTION

Howards End explores the need for human connection and the fateful consequences of living in ‘fragments’, that is, both socially apart, and with the inner and outer life at odds. While the Wilcoxes represent the outer nature of business and capitalism, the Schlegels demonstrate inner passion and integrity. Caught in between, the Basts have little hope without understanding from the others; a connection of head and heart that ultimately fails them.

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Este artículo pertenece al número de june 2024 de la revista Speak Up.

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