Beard Necessities (Winston Brothers, #7) words

Howards End epub –

***New miniseries begins showing on Starz in the U.S. April 2018.***

”Discussion keeps a house alive. It cannot stand by bricks and mortar alone.”

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I’ve fallen in love with the Schlegel sisters twice now in separate decades. I plan to keep falling in love with them for many decades to come. They are vibrant defenders of knowledge, of books, of art, of travel, of feeling life in the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, and spleen on a daily basis. Margaret and Helen have a brother, Tibby, poor lad, who is plenty bright while at Oxford, but in the family Schlegel home, he is struggling to keep up with the thoughts expressed that keep expanding past him.

Compared to most people, they are rich. Compared to most rich people, they are poor. Their ancestors left them with enough capital to insure that they don’t have to work for the rest of their lives, can travel a bit, can go to the theatre, and can buy books as they need them. They are very attuned to their privileged position and are frequently tempted to reduce their capital by helping those in need. How much money do they really need or, for that matter, really deserve to have?

Improbably, the Schlegel sisters become friends with the Wilcoxes, a capitalistic family who have a different idea of money. Is there ever enough? Helen forms a temporary attachment to the younger Wilcox which throws each family into a tizzy as to the suitability of the match. Margaret begins a friendship with the wife, Ruth, that proves so strong that it throws a few wrinkles into the plot regarding Ruth’s family and the inheritance of Howards End.

Ruth passes away suddenly. ”How easily she slipped out of life?” Her insignificance in life becomes even more pronounced in her death.

E. M. Forster based Howards End on his childhood home, The Rooks Nest, which had been owned by a family named Howard and referred to as the Howard house. Thus, the name Howards End is a not too subtle reference to that family home. I have to believe that it might have represented a lifetime longing he had for those childhood years he spent in that home. In the novel, Howards End goes beyond being an estate and becomes almost a character, a ShangriLa that I began to pine for from the very beginning of the novel. The Sisters have only brief contact with Howards End through the early part of the novel, and my trepidation grows as the plot progresses. Will they ever have a chance to consider the house a home?

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Rooks Nest

The Schlegel’s befriend the Basts, who are certainly in much reduced circumstances compared to their own. By mere chance they are discussing the Basts situation with Henry Wilcox, who promptly puts doubt into their mind about the future validity of the company Leonard is working for. This sets off a chain of events that cause a series of ripples that change the course of several lives. There certainly is a word of caution in meddling in others’ affairs. Sometimes we can think we are helping, only to cause even more problems.

Improbably, Margaret and Henry Wilcox form a friendship that becomes romantic. The eldest Wilcox son, Charles, is not happy about the attachment. He and Margaret are so far apart in their views of how the world works or should work that they have difficulty communicating well enough to reach a point of mutual respect. ”They had nothing in common but the English language, and tried by its help to express what neither of them understood.”

Margaret’s odd relationship with Henry causes a rift between the sisters that is, frankly, painful to experience. Forster makes sure that I, as a reader, at this point can no longer be objective. The relationship between these siblings is a precious thing and to think of it torn asunder is impossible to accept. They know so well how to entertain each other, to finish each other’s thoughts, and share a general agreement on most things that other people who bump around in the orbit of their reality feel like intruders.

So the marriage between Margaret and Henry is unsettling to Helen and me for numerous reasons, but this statement might sum up how we feel pretty well: ”How wide the gulf between Henry as he was and Henry as Helen thought he ought to be.” There is probably someone we could feel is good enough for Margaret, but not just Margaret but Helen and this reader as well (see how invested I am?); for whomever either girl would marry would have to slip seamlessly into the state of euphoria that already exists in the Schlegel household.

Henry is not that person. ”He misliked the word ‘interesting’, connoting it with wasted energy and even with morbidity.”

It is becoming impossible to think that Howards End will remain nothing more than a shimmering presence in another reality.

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E. M. Forster, portrait by Roger Fry.

The Schlegel sisters are really the best friends any reader could hope for. We would be so enriched by the opportunity to know them and practically giddy to be able to call them friends. It is unnerving that something so strong, like this relationship between sisters, can be so fragile. I haven’t discussed the fascinating nuances of plot that will add further weight to the interactions between the Schlegels, the Wilcoxes, and the Basts, for I want everyone to read this book and marvel at the words and thoughts that Forster tosses in the air for you to catch. I want you all to be as haunted as I have been, to the point that you, too, will have to go back to the place you first met these characters, these ghostly beings, and read and read again turning these phantoms into tangible beings you can almost touch.

”Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its highest. Live in fragments no longer.”

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I also have a Facebook blogger page at: Forster is the Jane Austen of the 20th century. He clearly read her novels and fell in love.

And this makes him rather unusual amongst his literary peers. He didn’t do anything new; he didn’t write with any particular passion or any attempt at breaking a literary boundary. His writing is relatively safe compared to the likes of Joyce or Woolf.

But in such safety a certain simple beauty can be found because Howard’s End is a novel about reconciliation; it’s about conflict and resolution; it’s about bringing people who are so radically different together. And I love this. I love the way he spends the entire novel showing how the two families (Wilcox & Schlegel) are so opposed in traditions and values; yet, for all that, he offers no comment on which way is right but instead brings them together in one big union at the end: it’s a celebration of life and love.

"Don't you see that all this leads to comfort in the end? It is part of the battle against sameness. Differenceseternal differences, planted by God in a single family, so that there may always be colour; sorrow, perhaps, but colour in the daily grey.”

The house, Howard's End, is at the centre of the action. It’s bequeathed by Mrs Wilcox to Margaret who (unlike the Wilcox’s) is the only one capable of seeing, and feeling, it’s true value. The remaining Wilcox’s decide to destroy the evidence and rent the house out because they want the money. And with this begins a discussion about the importance of death and life, about respecting wishes and understanding the importance of sentiments.

So the plot was immediate; it didn’t mess around and started flowing from the first page. And that’s kind of important with novels like this, novels that are largely about domestic life and the complications of class and money. The Wilcox’s are overly concerned with money and status (and acquiring more of it.) The Schlegel’s care about education, art, books and the passions of the soul. The two families become unlikely acquaintances and eventually friends (though not without an early embarrassment over an impromptu and insincere marriage proposal.)

It’s a nice easy read (a little lacklustre) but one is quite clearly content with its calm and subtle evocation of the variety of life. The title refers to a British country home, not a mansion like a Downton Abbey, but a small comfortable home with charm. (Although it seems that the story is set at about the same time as Downton Abbey.) The story revolves around two sisters who, on separate visits, fall in love with the home and in a very roundabout way end up living in it.

The main there of the book is British class structure. The two sisters are ‘liberal,’ using modern terminology. They attend meetings of progressive women’s groups where one of them gives a presentation and shocks her audience by arguing that such groups need to help the poor not by giving them free libraries, museums and concerts, but by giving them money. A kind of introduction by Lionel Trilling on the back cover tells us that “Howard’s End is about England’s fate. It is a story of the class war…[the plot] is about the rights of property, about a destroyed will and testament and rightful and wrongful heirs. It asks the question, who shall inherit England?’ “


Both sisters are aging (their parents have died) and they are ‘heading into spinsterhood.’ However the older one marries and she marries the owner of Howards End who is a Darwinist. His attitude, to be concise is, (I’m paraphrasing) “there will always be poor; nothing we can do; they are not like us; if you give them money they’ll just blow it because they’re re too stupid to know what to do with it.” And, this is a quote: “The poor are poor, and one’s sorry for them, but there it is. As civilization moves forward, the shoe is bound to pinch in places, and it’s absurd to think that anyone is responsible personally.”

The sisters are not wealthy but they are comfortable from an inheritance and they hang out in upperclass society. So this is a second theme: the sisters have an inherent cultured grace that comes from being part of the aristocracy. “…the instinctive wisdom that the past can alone bestow had descended upon her – that wisdom to which we give the clumsy name of aristocracy.” A married, struggling poor young man that the sisters take under their wing is trying to improve himself and become cultured by reading. But he eventually realizes that “…he could never follow them, not if he read for ten hours a day… Some are born cultured; the rest had better go in for whatever comes easy.”

“[We] stand upon money as upon islands. It is so firm beneath our feet that we forget its very existence.” [money]: there’s no nourishment in it. You pass it to the lower classes, and they pass it back to you, and this you call ‘social intercourse’ or ‘mutual endeavor,’ when it’s mutual priggishness…”

There’s not a lot of plot other than that of the older sister coming around to marry the wealthy older man, and after they are married she struggles to get his family to accept her. And both sisters get involved with helping the poor young man but ‘the road to hell…’ The younger sister gets more involved with him and a person ends up getting killed (manslaughter).

Another theme of the book, or more appropriately, motto, is ‘only connect.’ The sisters are good at it; the wealthy aristocrat is a disaster.

There is good writing. Some passages I liked:

On the poor young man looking ill at ease in his best clothes: “[She] wondered whether it paid to give up the glory of the animal for a tail coast and a couple of ideas.”

“The church itself stood in the village once. But there it attracted so many worshippers that the devil, in a pet, snatched it from its foundations and poised it on an inconvenient knoll three quarters of a mile away.”

“Their interview was short and absurd. They had nothing in common but the English language, and tried by its help to express what neither of them understood.”


E. M. Forster (18791970), the author, is best know for A Room With a View with Howard’s End and A Passage to India about equally wellknown after that. You can tell that the author loved London and the growth and dynamism of the city at that time. I enjoyed the book very much.

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I loved this book so much that I will never be able to do it justice in this review. I finished it several months ago, but still I think of it often and have recommended it to numerous friends. While reading, I used countless postits to mark beautiful and thoughtful passages.

Howard's End was one of the novels I took on my visit to England earlier this summer. I wanted to read English authors while I was there, and I'm so glad I did. The specialized reading completely enhanced the trip, and it was especially true for this book.*

This was also a reread for me. I first read Howard's End when I was in high school, after I saw the excellent Merchant & Ivory movie version. But that was 1992 and I was just an impressionable teenager. Reading it as an adult with more life experience made me better appreciate how amazing this novel is.

If you are unfamiliar with the story, we follow two sisters, Margaret and Helen Schlegel, in London around 1910. (More on the significance of that timing in a moment.) The Schlegels are welleducated, progressive, and love literature, music and art. They hold cultural discussions and like to talk about improving society. When they meet poor, intelligent Leonard Bast at a music concert, they see someone they want to champion. Meanwhile, the Schlegels have also crossed paths with the rich Wilcox family, and entanglements ensue. One of the key threads of the book is who will inherit Howard's End, which was the estate of Ruth Wilcox. Early in the book, Ruth wants to give it to Margaret Schlegel, but Henry Wilcox, Ruth's husband, refuses to oblige her wish. More entanglements ensue.

As I read this novel, I appreciated how Forster was trying to recreate modern England with families from three classes: the rich capitalists (Wilcoxes), the liberal middleclass (Schlegels), and the downtrodden workers (Mr. and Mrs. Bast). There were so many good quotes about social class and the state of society, and I found it all fascinating and thoughtprovoking. Reading a great novel such as Howard's End reminded me of how much literature can enrich a life. It answers questions I didn't know I had asked.

On the chance that some Goodreaders don't want the ending spoiled, I'll hide the outcome: (view spoiler)