Today I was able to corner Mike at breakfast and talk about Howards End, which we’ve both recently read. It’s a paperback and we want to discard it.
Good-bye material book. Your immaterial ideas remain.
We both found it surprisingly compelling. It’s a gateway Forster book–too bad it’s considered his greatest. Mike is good about not giving spoilers. My analogy is that it’s like a train, which because of its weight takes awhile to pick up speed, but then gets going so fast you think that a crash must be inevitable–but the train emerges on the other side of a tunnel.
In other words, the novel was interesting and I tried to talk to Mike about it after I finished it really late at night when he wanted to sleep, so that didn’t work out too well. In a way, that’s good, because it gave me a chance to digest and parse the book myself. Then I consulted Wikipedia and Sparknotes, which provided some insights, but were mostly inadequate.
Therefore, it was nice to have a discussion this morning. I have to admit, though I led the discussion with some good questions, Mike provided most of the better insights. This is why I married him. He’s smarter than Sparknotes.
So, at the risk of doing some high schooler’s future homework, here’s what we figured out (spoilers):
What kills him is not intellectualism, or even really his reach for intellectualism. The books that rain down on him represent his adherence to the superficial trappings of bourgeoisie life: reading the books without knowing understanding their significance, following old school morality about ruining women. I always thought it was his affair with Helen that led to his downfall. It makes him so guilty that it destroys him. Helen is relatively unscathed and unconcerned. The Wilcoxes are embarrassed and angry about such things, but not about the act so much as what people will say about it. But Leonard takes the transgression to heart, literally.
I’m still not sure whether Charlie Wilcox is symbolic as a character, as a Wilcox, or merely as a member of the bourgeoisie. Mike thinks he merely represents the entitled mistreatment of the lower classes. The crime he intended to commit was bad enough, but he gets punished for a different one. As the narrator suggests, this is poetic justice for all the times he’s arbitrarily imposed his rules on others. Despite the lawful crime of the crime he committed though, should we be concerned about the lack of moral condemnation for the crime he tried to commit?
I was also interested in the sword of the Schlegels that he used.I interpreted it as an antique of the Schlegels that they had no more use for (i.e. a woman’s purity), which Charlie appropriated to use against Leonard. I still think that’s a pretty good interpretation.
But Mike points out that by punishing Leonard, Charles was absolving Leonard, i.e. after a good thrashing, the score would be settled. The use of the sword indicates a perverted knighting–an acceptance of Leonard’s place among middle class morals? Again, Leonard can’t conform to middle class morality, and dies.
And as Mike points out, Jacky disappears. Her symbolic function is finished, and the plot is no more concerned with her. Neither are the Schlegels, whose charity is only a game, to be dismissed when it is too troublesome. While I’m unsure of where the symbolism ends and where the story begins, this works well on both levels. Mike blames Jacky a lot for Leonard’s downfall, both personally and as a representative of the lewd lower class that does not seek to better itself and has self-destructive tendencies, as well as destructive tendencies in general, unintentional as they are.
I’ve read The Fault in Our Stars lately though, so I can’t help wondering what happens to Jacky. Does Leonard’s family keep supporting her? Is Margaret beneficent, behind the scenes? Or does Jacky fall back into the life she would have lived if she had not caught Leonard in that homage to bourgeoisie values?
As for everyone else, they are safe in Howards End.
Other questions (creation, as opposed to analysis):
Who are the Leonard Basts of the day? How so?
Does art reveal truth, such as when Helen saw the goblins in Beethoven’s 5th Symphony? Is it needed to reveal truth?
What is the value of Art and Literature and immaterial things? What about personal relations?
Is money the vehicle of the world? If Leonard had had more money, would he have been able to save himself?
Lastly, the most debatable question: How can we help the Leonard Basts of the world? Should we even interfere?