Friday, June 11, 2010

12 BR, 6 BATH, Lovely Views!

Current book: Howards End
Pages read: 83 - 163 (same as yesterday)

So, Mrs. Wilcox dies and leaves her beloved house, Howards End, to Margaret instead of to her own relatives. Said relatives, however, especially her eldest son, Charles, don't tell Margaret this vital information, which only exists in a handwritten note. They keep the house, obviously, but choose to rent it out rather than live in it, a violation of tradition which would have upset Mrs. Wilcox deeply, which is why she left it to Margaret in the first place.

Several months later, we find that Margaret and Helen and Tibby have run out of lease on their own house and are trying desperately to find another, though unsuccessfully. They have the money; they just can't find anything appropriate. By chance, Margaret has grown friendly with Mr. Wilcox, the late Mrs. Wilcox's widower, and, also by chance, the house he was using in London is just now coming up for rent. He invites her to come to look at it, which she does, and while she's visitng, proposes to her. (Isn't he twenty years older than her at least, you ask? Why yes. Yes, he is.) Inexplicably, she actually find herself in love with him, and asks for time to consider the idea. She hasn't said yes yet, but clearly intends to. Helen and Tibby are scandalized, but Margaret doesn't seem to care. (She clearly has her own ideas about marriage, since she's twenty-nine and remains unmarried despite several proposals.)

During this period, we also meet Mr. Bast, a member of the lower class who accidentally comes to visit the Schlegels on a couple of occasions. The first time it's because Helen inadvertently took his umbrella home from the symphony. The second time it's because his wife found the visiting card from the first time and went to the house looking for him, and he feels the need to come and apologize for her intrusion. He was, he explains, out for a walk, and got lost all night. The women, hearing this story, immediately recognize a kindred spirit in this person who appreciates the beauty of the world enough to take a solitary nighttime walk. They propose friendship, but he denies them, saying things will never be this pleasant again. (Because, he implies, they never are upon a second meeting. Balderdash, I say. Sometimes they aren't, it's true, but you'll never find the people with whom they will if you don't give them a chance.) They hear, a few days later, that the insurance firm for which he is a clerk is about to be ruined. They invite him again to warn him about it, but he accuses them of trying to engage in some kind of insider trading scheme and storms out.

Clearly Forster is saying something about class, but I'm not sure what it is yet. The Wilcoxes are upper-class, the Schlegels middle-class, and the Basts lower-class, but it's hard to tell what we're supposed to know about them because of that. Mr. Bast is a bit reactionary but actually visionary and intelligent. The Wilcoxes are sensitive and, in the end, rather crass, and the Schlegels are a mix of rational, socially critical, and impractical in the extreme. They don't fit their class stereotypes, but that's not much of a message. I need to know more before I draw conclusions. (Which is rather a good sign, when you think about it.)

Also, Forster gave me an excellent quote about moving. He's obviously been through the process a few times.
"When a move is imminent, furniture becomes ridiculous..." (139)
Amen, Forster. Amen.

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