Tuesday, May 26, 2009
To read or reread...
“Are you reading that again?”
“Me? Again? Of course again! It’s THE classic of 1910 - a literary analysis of socioeconomic changes, class, and the family. Or something! We could write a course about it and humanize MBAs.”
I was talking about one of my many, MANY favorite books, Howards End.
Give those business people culture: a little art, a little soul. Howards End, Aretha, and R. Crumb. Require those potentially double-dealing business types to study liberal arts before loosing them on the MBA community. I’m sure some accountants and stockbrokers would rather read Howards End than study spreadsheets (or embezzling) or whatever it is they do. All those Wilcoxes to identify with and defend - or be appalled by. This could be their top ethics course book, along with, err, perhaps an abridged version of Bonfire of the Vanities . And Babbitt, The Jungle, Death of a Salesman, and An American Tragedy might round out the literature course.
When a friend said E. M. Forster was slow, I had the vapors. Or not the vapors. Margaret Schlegel, the heroine of Howards End, would never have vapors.
Howards End isn’t really a business novel. It is a novel about houses and changing class. It is the story of what happens in an age of increased mobility, with the advent of motorcars and expansion of railways, as people swarmed into London and others expanded into suburbs. People who have lived their whole lives in one house began to move. And many of the urban problems are the same ones we have today.
The cultured half-English, half-German Schlegel family must change their way of life as the lease of their house expires and they must decide where to live. The heroine, Margaret, a sensible, sometimes whimsical, tolerant woman in her late twenties holds the family together, encouraging her younger sister, Helen, a beautiful, lively, passionate radical, to travel and study, and indulging their younger brother, Tibby, a self-absorbed scholar with hay fever who doesn’t care much for people. The novel centers on their encounters with people of other classes: the Wilcoxes, successful businessmen who live on the surface and mistrust intellectualism; and their patronage of/friendship with Leonard Bast, a lower-class clerk who passionately wants to better himself through literature and music. They meet Leonard at a concert, and when Helen absent-mindedly walks off with his umbrella , Margaret convinces him that it was not a deliberate theft. Through a series of coincidences, Leonard comes back into their lives later, and is ruined after the Schlegels pass on Henry Wilcox's advice to leave the insurance company where he has been employed. Leonard and his wife, a former prostitute, go hungry. And when Helen tries to take responsibility, the tragedy deepens.
Howards End is an old English country house, where Mrs. Wilcox, Margaret's friend, has lived her whole life. After her death, this house becomes the fulcrum for a meeting of the characters of three classes: the Wilcoxes, the Schlegels, and the Basts.
It's a fabulous book, which explores many themes: work, marriage, and feminism among them.
There is also a Merchant-Ivory film, written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
Posted by Frisbee at 7:14 PM