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All posts for the month October, 2009

Howard’s End

Published October 22, 2009 by Kat

Howards End

I’ve just finished re-reading another of my Top 5 books (which are, for the record, The Story of Holly and Ivy, A Little Princess, Villette, Howard’s End, and Vanity Fair). I have a long and not always pleasant history with Howard’s End. When the movie was released my mother took me to see it in the theater, and I loathed it. I took this loathing back to my junior high English class, and expressed it when my arch-enemy praised the film. I was roundly sneered upon and told that I “wasn’t mature enough” by both the arch-enemy and the English teacher. None of this made me feel well-disposed toward the possibility of reading the book, so I didn’t.

Then in college I took an Edwardian novels class, and it became unavoidable. I settled down with the critical edition the professor had picked out and read it.

And loved it.

As soon as I finished it, I read it again. I marked it up. I re-read it every few months; I still do re-read it every few months. It’s one of my Top Five, you know?

And for the class, after having read the book, we watched the film, and again I loathed it. I don’t mind seeing Jude Law and Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in my mind as I read the book, but somehow, the movie manages to lose everything that is warm and charming and mysterious about the story. It isn’t that Forster can’t be successfully translated onto film, because A Room With A View does just that brilliantly; it’s that whoever made this film had no sense of humor at all.

So, almost twenty years, one B.A. in Victorian & Edwardian novels, one M.A. in new philology, one Ph.D., and a dozen re-readings later, I’m sorry to inform my arch-enemy and junior high school English teacher that I still LOATHE that movie. Obviously I haven’t matured.

About the book, though: one of the things that keeps drawing me back to it are the wonderful cozy scenes at Wickham Place, full of tea-times and clever talk. The other thing is that I do not understand the book. I feel sure that Forster is getting at something, but quite what he’s getting at has always eluded me. This time around, though, I got something more.

Interestingly, I’m getting something more because in the last couple of years I have spent some time thinking about Forster’s naughty novel Maurice, at the end of which two homosexual men run off to find a place, somewhere in the woods, where they can live in their own way, unbothered by society. Howard’s End, amazingly, is exactly the same. It is a portrait of people who are ruined by the rules and pressures and expectations of society, and who fortunately have the means to escape it entirely–each in their own separate way, some intentionally and some not. Death, incarceration, motherhood, old age, and sensible necessity force Wilcoxes, Basts, and Schlegels out of London and into Hampshire. Without the ceaseless, irritating ebb and flow of families and city, all of these people become–in their own ways–human.

I’m proud of myself this time around because I have at least managed to understand the book more thoroughly than the person who wrote the introduction to it, in my edition. That person is interested in Henry and Margaret’s sex life, which is judged to be no good because when Miss Avery shows Margaret the bassinet at Howard’s End, Margaret “turns away without speaking.” This person missed the scene in which Margaret doesn’t get along with Dolly’s children, and also her ending monologue about the million subtle differences between people that give life color–her own difference being that she does not like children. Not only was Mr. Introduction distastefully obsessed with sex, but he blundered into the same inhuman path as Capitalism, Urbanism, and Society, in assuming that Margeret must of course want children, and be upset because she expected none.

I am satisfied with this re-reading, and looking forward to the next. Do have a spin yourself–it isn’t a long book, and some of it is delightful. Let me know what you think.

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Waverley

Published October 7, 2009 by Kat

Waverley

I have recently turned back to Sir Walter Scott’s famous novel Waverley after many years of letting it lie fallow. I was assigned to read this book twice as an undergraduate, and on the first assignment I failed to get very far. I was, granted, nearly halfway through the book as the pages turn–but the action had yet to start. For this single fault, though, we must forgive Sir Walter, because the second half of the book is a gripping page-turner.

Waverley is largely credited as being the first historical novel. Published circa 1805, it is a fictional recounting of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion in the Scottish highlands. Its popularity encouraged Scott to write a whole series of novels afterward, collectively called The Waverley Novels or The Scottish Novels. Ivanhoe is one of them, though it is set in the medieval period and I found the dialectic impossible to tolerate, even for the sake of a good story. Waverley was read and admired by Jane Austen. In later years, Scott would use his clout to get a green American writer into the English newspapers–a writer named Washington Irving.

Waverley is epic in its scope and cinematic in the telling. Scene after scene is described–or, in many cases, cleverly not described–to maximize its picturesqueness in the reader’s mind. Waverley’s military training–his ride through Scotland–the approach to Tully-Veolan–the highlanders (for there are many, dear reader, and they read like Klingons)–the tower of Fergus Mac-Ivor Vich Iain Vohr–the lakeside hideaway of Donald Bean Lean… I should stop, we are almost now halfway through the book, and the plot will kick in soon. Why on EARTH Steven Spielberg or James Cameron or Peter Jackson hasn’t picked this book up, filmed it, and made the blockbuster of the year–or the decade–out of it is beyond me. Scott has practically written the screenplay for us; I feel sure that if one omitted the descriptive passages, the dialogue left would be perfectly movie-length. And oh! The views over the Scottish highlands! The Klingon-like highlanders, in one scene several thousand of them all at once and armed for battle! The political intrigue! The… I shall say it… drawing and quartering. The happy, triumphant, yet bittersweet end. Ah me.

So if you have taste and patience for wordy pre-Victorian novelage, please do try Waverley. It’s worth getting through at least once in a lifetime. It’s not only the first historical novel, it’s also an early adventure novel, surely a forerunner to H. Rider Haggard and everything that followed after him. Read it! Read it! Read it!