Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for Howards End by E. M. Forster. Literature.
I’d heard good things about this book and was looking forward to it, so it’s all the sadder that I must tell you I did not like it. Even worse, it’s one of those dislikes that is so subtle, so low-level that it’s nearly impossible to explain why. But to say “this book irritated me” is not a very useful review, so I must essay a few reasons. Firstly, the characters annoyed me. Their faults were so well-drawn and were elucidated at such length that although I could see their good points, I could not bring myself to believe in them. The author kept getting between me and them, dodging off in the midst of the story with ruminations on human nature that were ill-advised at best, and at worse, quite frankly, didn’t always make sense. After a certain point I started calling these “Forster’s blah blah blahs.” For a man who has added the motto “Only connect!” to the literate person’s vocabulary (have you ever read the actual paragraph that comes from, by the way? It’s not what you’d expect), there was remarkably little connection of any kind going on – between character and character, between reader and character, or writer and reader. It seemed like Forster kept trying to mean something, to say something important about the era’s social mores, and any time an author sets out to do such a thing it is the kiss of death as far as I am concerned. Austen could have written this book and illuminated the situation with satire; Dickens could have written it and illuminated the situation with pathos. Forster has written it, and I am not illuminated, but irritated, by his invasive philosophizing. (Also, where has the apostrophe in “Howards End” run off to?)
Remorse is not among the eternal verities. The Greeks were right to dethrone her. Her action is too capricious, as though the Erinyes selected for punishment only certain men and certain sins. And of all means to regeneration Remorse is surely the most wasteful. It cuts away healthy tissues with the poisoned. It is a knife that probes far deeper than the evil. Leonard was driven straight through its torments and emerged pure, but enfeebled – a better man, who would never lose control of himself again, but also a smaller man, who had less to control. Nor did purity mean peace. The use of the knife can become a habit as hard to shake off as passion itself, and Leonard continued to start with a cry out of dreams.
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