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Reflections on Howards End

Updated on September 10, 2013

Now, I cannot purposefully admit that I fully enjoyed Howards End but I must say that it is somehow captivating and intriguing. It's not a book for those seeking action and adventure, bravery and tension. It can't even be classified as a typical romantic novel. But in all fairness, it is much more than a simple novel, and therefore justifies why we can't categorise it. I don't believe that you can call it modernist; Forster wasn't quite in that era. However, it's a sort of "pre-modernism" as Forster was well ahead of his time. The time for change is in the air, and the technological advances are well highlighted.

Having said that, below is an essay on some personal thoughts on the subject of the mobility and restlessness of the twentieth century in Howards End.

How does Forster convey the mobility and restlessness of early twentieth-century life in England in Howard’s End?

Howard’s End summons and conjures a great number of themes, assimilating them through symbols, characters and places. However, a theme that constantly appears to be redefined is the constant mobility and the reoccurring sensation of restlessness during the new life of early twentieth century life in England. The modern world and the traditional world are pitted against each other; effectively Howard’s End is the symbolisation of the changes which occurred in the 20th Century and the death of the rural lifestyle. The specific time period is unique as it represents an introduction to modernism through the constant evolution of the world. In this novel, the theme of modernisation is set forth with the development characters and the industrialisation of London. However, although at the beginning there is a sharp contrast between the modern lifestyle of the male Wilcoxes and the more traditional lifestyles incarnated by Mrs Wilcox and the Schlegels are very different; as the novel progresses the two begin to evolve and become much more similar, each learning from the other. We observe that neither can exist without the other and by the end there is a balance and harmony which has been formed between them. The restlessness of society is also presented by the constant fear of the social abyss and the possibility that at any given moment the poor, whom are evoked through the Basts, will be lost in the chaos which was the society of London.

The Schlegels and the Wilcoxes are dependant of each other, and whatever the relations that separate or unite them may be; they cannot survive in a theoretical society without the other. However, by being so desperate of each other, these characters evoke a constant sense of change, as they are all forced to adapt and evolve, and to even be transformed by one another. For example, it is possible to highlight that Margaret, by the end of the novel, has been transformed into a completely different person. This metamorphose is weaved and directed by Henry Wilcox, who modifies Margaret into the wife that he wants. For instance, at Chapter 28, the reader can take this transformation into account, as Margaret has written a note for both Helen and Leonard Bast, but after re-reading them, she forces herself to change them to a style that Henry would appreciate. This is portrayed by the quote: “She also crossed out, "It is everything or nothing." Henry would resent so strong a grasp of the situation”. This transformation shows that the characters constantly have to change and adapt, and this creates a feeling that the overall atmosphere is eternally changing, and that it cannot stop as there is always more room for progress and amelioration. This atmosphere cannot stop changing and a feeling of restlessness is therefore shown. Furthermore, the example of Margaret changing does not stand by itself, nor is it only applicable in one direction: Margaret also wishes that she could change Henry into her ideal husband, and this is shown through her thoughts: “Henry must have it as he liked, for she loved him, and some day she would use her love to make him a better man”. This quote shows Margaret’s hopeful transformation, her plan to uphold the sense of mobility and her restless state of mind. Finally, one other transformation that describes a sense of mobility is Henry Wilcox’s plunge from being a powerful businessman to being shell-shocked and grieve-stricken by the imprisonment of his elder son for manslaughter. This misfortunate and grievous change marks that life in the early-twentieth century was not simple and steady; it was a struggle which challenged one’s nerves and capability to adjust and survive through tough situations that resulted in a feeling of sempiternal mobility.

Moreover, Forster continuously refers to and sets his tale mainly in London, a great city that is quickly modernising and changing for the greater good. Firstly, we must take notice of all the new high technology vehicles that are being introduced and constantly repeated, notably by Charles Wilcox who is often linked to the new motors that now roam London. The concept of trains now seems to be almost normal in life and they appear to become a useful part of life, for practical use. For example, King’s Cross train station shows the usefulness of trains in the twentieth century society but it is also a symbol in itself. Forster’s comments about the train station include that: “King’s Cross had always suggested infinity”, meaning that it presents an infinite number of opportunities but also an infinite new era of travel and modernisation. Also, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the English capital was surely expanding at a rapid pace and Forster clearly shows this movement in his novel. Even though characters are undoubtedly important to the course of the novel, the depiction of London is also an interesting concept. For instance, Forster announced that “London is creeping”, meaning that it is expanding its borders and that it is growing. The modernisation and industrialisation of London is important, and true: it was happening at the time. An idea emerges that London’s modernisation is slowly spreading across England and the entire world, and with these three words, Forster succeeds in creating a sense of eternal mobility and restlessness of the evolving world. Otherwise, Forster introduces a new side of London; the dark and busy nightlife of London. This new twilight appears to be extraordinary with new electric lamps and lights that illuminate London in a different modern way, at a different time. A sense of transformation is therefore shown, as London is portrayed in a new way and it has changed with the new technology and the restlessness of human beings.

In conclusion, Forster constantly creates a sense of mobility and restlessness in his novel by showing the continuous transformations of both characters like Margaret and Henry, and places like London, alike. Their capacity to evolve into different people and to represent different beliefs shows that they cannot tire and will continue to shape shift, modifying themselves in the constant want and need of progression.

A quick note: reading the book and using the film to complete your knowledge and understanding of the tale and topic is a great technique for revision purposes.

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