I thought I would probably throw in the towel on the Back-to-the-Classics Challenge after completing the required books, leaving the last two optional books unread. I hated to give in, but with so little time left, I had trouble summoning up the necessary enthusiasm. And then I read Vanessa and her Sister by Priya Parmar. This marvelous book swept me up in the doings of the Bloomsbury Set which included E.M. Forster. In the course of the novel, other characters discussed in passing what Forster was doing and cheered his literary success. After that, I couldn’t ignore Howards End on my Classics Challenge list. It is my "classic adapted into a movie." I know I saw the movie many years ago, but couldn’t tell you one thing about it. So, onward to the book.
Their paths cross with that of the Wilcoxes, a more robust English family, also wealthy, but whose money comes from industry not from inheritance. Helen has a very brief, very impulsive, and very mistaken romantic interlude with the youngest son Paul, which is over before it is half begun. Ruth Wilcox, the extremely gracious matriarch, owns a home called Howards End on the outskirts of London. After the failed romance, the Wilcoxes pass out of the lives of the Schlegels.
But they pass back in again. This time it is Margaret and Ruth who become friends.
In the meantime, Margaret and Helen have also become acquainted with a young man, a clerk, named Leonard Bast, who is teetering on the edge of poverty but who yearns to have higher minded ideals than he can afford. The acquaintance is very slight, but Leonard is destined to keep crossing paths with the Schlegels just as the Wilcoxes are.
A good deal happens to these families over the years and we are to assume that they each have a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, and a great deal happens to London as the city grows and sprawls, but the novel skims over extraneous people, and boils the events down to their essence. The lives of these three families circle each other and intertwine. Eventually, they are rooted at Howards End.
The plotting is not overly complex–compared to, say, the plotlines of Balzac (a classics challenge favorite of mine.) It is a dreamy, introspective novel with characters who like to chew over their thoughts and admire the scenery. Their great dramatic scenes are fairly subdued. But the book draws you in. It’s hypnotic. And now I want to watch the movie again to see how it compares.