Howards End by E. M. Forster | The Egoist by George Meredith.


This month has been pretty good reading-wise - I've read more this month than I have any other month for years, and most of it has been exciting and excellent. Howards End and The Egoist were the exception, and here's the strangest thing - I've read these before and both I had pretty much listed as my favourite (top 20 at least) books. Honestly for the life of me I can't think why.

Howards End was good, I'm still sure of that. It was of course written by E. M. Forster, and was first published in 1910 and it tells the story of three families: the Schlegels (who reminded me very much of Virginia Woolf's family), the Wilcoxes, and the Basts. It begins with the ill-fated and very brief romance of Helen Schlegel and Paul Wilcox: once that's over, and it's over very quickly indeed, the Schlegels decide to have nothing to do with the Wilcoxes, however they find themselves running into them again - the Wilcoxes have left their country home Howards End and moved permanently to London (whilst keeping on Howards End) next to the Schlegels. The eldest Schlegel Margaret becomes friends with Mrs. Wilcox and, when Mrs. Wilcox dies, she bequeaths Howards End to Margaret. Mr. Wilcox and his son decide not to tell her and burn the note with Mrs. Wilcox's instructions. The novel continues with the families drifting away and again being brought back together: Margaret and Mr. Wilcox's relationship develops further as he helps her find a new home after their home Wickham Place is to be sold. When they decide to marry however Margaret and Helen's friend Leonard Bast gets between not only them but the two sisters: he is a impoverished, intelligent and cultural man who could go far would circumstance permit it, and Mr. Wilcox's treatment of him creates tension between the four.

It is a good novel, it really is, but for reasons unknown it didn't measure up to my first read. Because of that I was disappointed, more than the novel deserved. What I still love about Howards End is the exploration of the different types of class: the Wilcoxes are the capitalists of the novel, the Schlegels the cultural intellectuals, and the Basts are very poor but intelligent: ultimately they are brought together by Howards End, a symbol of the great change within England that would be intensified by the war four years after publication. I wish I had enjoyed it more the second time around, but, one day, perhaps a third read will have me more enthusiastic.

As for The Egoist: that was written by George Meredith and first published in 1879. For enjoyment level alone, my three star rating on Goodreads was generous. This focuses on Sir Willoughby Patterne, the egoist of the novel, whose self-involvement is at such a level all those he pursues for marriage end up trying to escape him. There are three women: Constantia Durham, who ends up eloping fairly quickly with someone else when she realises just how self-absorbed he is, Clara Middleton (who has to go to great lengths to rid herself of him), and Laetitia Dale, who actually does love him, however he decides she is beneath him. It's a fairly simple plot as plots go, funny at times, and above all else it was well done. But, as you can see from this short paragraph, I don't feel I got a great deal out of it.

So, what went wrong with my reading? I was in the mood for both of them, though I suspect my love of Victorian literature is on a slight decline which may have knocked me off The Egoist. Another problem regarding The Egoist was the circumstances in which I read the first half: as you all know I have a puppy and that day he'd been rather excitable. He'd just settled down on my knee and I was unwilling to risk setting him off again, so I read it whilst the Switzerland Serbia game was on (which makes that the one football match I've voluntarily sat through, though I didn't actually watch it, I was present whilst it was on so that's a first). As for Howards End, I don't know what went wrong. I used to love that book so much. It's always so disappointing when books aren't as good as one remembered them...

Comments

  1. i've had that experience; people do change, i guess... "the moving finger writes..." (o.k.)... i don't know what it is about GM; i've tried to read him numerous times, but his prose is just impenetrable... i don't have the correct neuron configurations, i guess...

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    1. Me neither. Or I had, but I lost it :)

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  2. I too find Meredith difficult to read, but I haven't tried the Egoist. Maybe sometime. I have read just about all of Forster, and I did love Howard's End, but it's been so so long...I'm kind of afraid to do it again because I'm not at all sure that I will still like it. So I guess I'm almost in the same boat! I'll have to do it someday.

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    1. I'll probably give them both another go. As for Meredith - have you read The Ordeal of Richard Feverel? I haven't, but I do own it. Rather put off reading it now to be honest :)

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