Monday, June 14, 2010

Is that a femur in your walk-in?

Current book: Howards End
Pages read: 164 - 238

So, Mr. Wilcox (whom we now refer to as Henry) and Margaret get engaged. Tibby and Helen are displeased, as are Evie and Charlie (the Wilcox children), but everyone seems to tolerate it. Margaret finds herself, unsurprisingly, bowing to Henry's wishes when conflicts arise, but she professes to love him, so things go along without conflict. Henry and Margaret go to visit Howards End, and she falls in love with the place, but the foreshadowing indicates that she'll never get to live there.

In August, Evie gets married, and Margaret is introduced to the Wilcox society, where she tries not to do shocking things (Like checking on the condition of a cat that Charlie hits with the car. That sort of concern for the pets of the lower class is simply scandalous), and mostly succeeds. After the wedding is over, though, in the evening, Helen shows up from London with the Basts in tow, and announces that Mr. Bast took their advice about his company after all, quit, took another job from which he was laid off, and is now penniless. With Mr. and Mrs. Bast eating leftover wedding cake, Margaret, embarrassed for herself and her sister, asks Henry to find Mr. Bast a place, a request to which he agrees. However, while Henry's walking back through the garden, he meets Mrs. Bast, who greets him by name and term of endearment, making it clear that she was once his mistress.

Oh, the scandal! Henry immediately tells Margaret that she's no longer bound by the engagement, and runs away to hide in his study, while Margaret packs off Helen and the Basts and sits up all night thinking about it. She ends up forgiving Henry, and they reconcile, but Helen is quite upset with the situation and heads off to recuperate in Germany. She tries to give the Basts 5,000 pounds as remuneration for having lost Mr. Bast his job, but they refuse the money.

The best part so far is the characterization of Margaret as she prepares to wed Henry. She's losing herself to his whims and the needs of his classism, and it's impressive how Forster manages to create tension and suspense during the process. Will she allow Henry's wishes and needs to run her life? Will she bow at every turn to that which she thinks is love, when really it's a need to conform to society? Will she assert herself and create a home for them against the wishes of both of their families? Tune in next week to Howards End!

Speaking of classism, also, it's pretty clear that Forster has very little respect for class division. The fact that Henry has had a tryst with the coarse and ignorant Mrs. Bast (who, seriously, is pretty horrible) is as demeaning to her as it is to him because of the crossing of class lines. (It's implied, I should say, not stated, but it's pretty clear that she would have been much better off if she hadn't fallen into the relationship with him, but rather had married within her class.)

Tomorrow, the thrilling conclusion!

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