Howards End by EM ForsterJohn Crace
Sat 31 May 2008
One may as well begin with Helen's letters to her sister.
Dearest Meg, I am having a glorious time at Howards End. I especially like young Mr Wilcox. We are to be wed.
"You Schlegel sisters are quite the dark horses," said Mrs Munt. "It is surely because you are German."
"Don't be silly, Aunt Juley," Margaret replied. "We are the very best sort of cultured Germans."
It's all over. The Wilcoxes are mercantile; Paul is leaving the book to go to Nigeria - H
"I don't know what came over me," Helen sighed. "We'll hear no more about it," Margaret exclaimed. "Let's go to the Beethoven concert."
We are not concerned with the poor. No one is. But let's imagine someone on the edge of gentility and call him Leonard Bast. See Mr Bast pointlessly trying to improve himself by attending the same concert as the Schlegels. See Helen pick up Mr Bast's umbrella in error. See Mr Bast follow her home.
"I believe you took my umbrella," Mr Bast insisted, for he is of sufficient impoverishment not to be able to afford the loss. "I'm always stealing umbrellas," Helen announced with Bohemian breeziness.
|Love, property and propriety ... Sam West and Helena Bonham-Carter in Howards End.|
"And you, Mr Bast, are a fascinating specimen of the lower orders," Margaret said. "Allow me to patronise you for the rest of the book."
Taking her card, Mr Bast returned to his squalid lodgings.
"Gawd bless you, Leonard," said Jacky, the least convincing temptress in English fiction. "Come to bed."
Margaret twitched with social embarrassment. The Wilcoxes were moving in across the road.
Dear Miss Schlegel. We are in London because my son Charles is to be wed. Paul is in Africa so we can meet - Yours, Mrs Wilcox.
"How I miss Howards End," Mrs Wilcox said wanly.
"I too have my doubts about Modernity," Margaret smiled.
The funeral was over. Edwardian women understood their obligation to die with little fuss. "She was a good woman," Mr Wilcox intoned gravely. "There's just one thing. She wanted Miss Schlegel to have Howards End. It's most improper."
Two years had passed when there was a knock on the Schlegels' door.
"Where's my 'usband?" Jacky demanded.
"What are you talking about?" Margaret responded.
The next day an ashen-faced Mr Bast stood before Margaret. "My wife found your card and reached an unfortunate conclusion," he said. "I was walking alone for 24 hours to be with Nature."
"I too love Nature, Fate and other ideals that start with Capital Letters," Margaret condescended.
"I'm a clerk with Porphyrion Insurance . . ."
"We'll have to do something about that."
Margaret had worries of her own. Progress was marching onwards and their home was to be demolished. Where would they live? Just then she espied Mr Wilcox.
"Good day," she said. "I am very concerned about my friend, Mr Bast. And I am shortly to be homeless."
"I have heard Porphyrion will smash and I have a house you may rent," Mr Wilcox replied gruffly.
Margaret's heart skipped. Could it be that Mr Wilcox would propose? "Would you do me the honour of marrying me?" asked Mr Wilcox. She hesitated for a decorous few days before giving an affirmative response. "May we live at Howards End?"
"It's too shabby and London is growing so fast it's almost suburban," he said testily. "I have rented a Shropshire estate."
The day of the engagement party did not start well. Charles, disturbed by his father marrying a German, symbolically ran over a cat. Then Helen appeared with Mr and Mrs Bast.
"Porphyrion didn't smash," Helen sobbed, "but Mr Bast left his employment anyway. Now he's penniless."
"Dearest Mr Wilcox," Margaret pleaded. "Please find work for our pet who has fallen on hard times because of us."
"A man's future is in his own hands," he answered swiftly, speaking for Capital.
"Hello again ducky," Mrs Bast slurred.
Mr Wilcox blanched. "I release you from your vows, Miss Schlegel," he murmured gravely. "My youthful dalliance has been exposed."
Margaret's heart was reeling but her head was German. "I forgive you," she said eventually.
So Margaret settled for Love, Property and Propriety. All that spoiled her happiness was Helen. "She is avoiding me," she wept sagely. "We must interrupt our self-satisfaction to trick Helen into meeting us."
"I'm with child," declared Helen. "Mr Bast is the father. I took pity and awarded him charity intercourse."
"Charles must beat the bounder to within an inch of his life," Mr Wilcox shouted.
Leonard Bast lay dead. His heart had given out spontaneously.
"See how everything is connected," Margaret wittered. "You, Me, Helen, Her Baby, Nature, Town, Love and Fate. Even Mr Bast. Let's all be unbearably smug until the first world war starts."