Howards End Stream of Consciousness (with Zombies?)


It annoys me that Susan Hill used the popularity of this novel–or more likely the Merchant-Ivory film–to sell her second-rate collection of uninsightful, egotistical, blog-like musings on the contents of her giant brain. I know there are two unequal but clearly divided camps about Hill’s Howards End is on the Landing and I forgive you if you fall into the much larger “liked it” camp.

This may be a picture of the
West Bank Parking Ramp
at the U of MN.

Having gotten that off of my chest, I will now embark upon an uninsightful, egotistical, blog-like musing on my second reading of Howards End. I first read Forster’s Tour de France (sic) in the spring of my sophomore year in college. I was working as a parking garage cashier at the University of Minnesota (in Minnesota we call multilevel parking garages “parking ramps”–a phrase my east coast grad school roommate at Cornell beat out of me). It was a great job. I got to sit in a heated booth each evening where I would study, read, talk on the phone, write letters (yes, we wrote letters in 1989), and plan (in great detail) my first trip to England. Occasionally there would be a rush of cars needing to pay as they exited, but still lots and lots of free time. It occurs to me now that I may have cheated the University of Minnesota and the taxpayers of my natal state out of a chunk of change. Not for studying on the job–that was allowed–but because I regularly filled in my time sheet incorrectly (and inadvertantly). You see my hours were supposed to be from about 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm each weekday but the other cashier–a full-time, non-student employee–told me each night around 9:00 pm that I could go. Although he was my onsite supervisor (he looked a bit like a short, tubby version of the then unknown Unabomber) my hours were set by the central parking office. So when I filled out my time card I always put down six hours instead of five because those were the hours I was scheduled to work. I can honestly say that it never occurred to me that rather than reflect the schedule, my time card should reflect actual hours worked. Oops.

Anyhoo, after re-reading Howards End I realize how appropriate it was that I first read it while I worked in the aforementioned parking structure. I was the modern day equivalent of Leonard Bast, striving to better myself and overcome socio-economic destiny through the moral uplift of great literature. It worked far better in my case, if for no other reason than I didn’t die after being assaulted by Emma Thompson, err I mean Margaret Schlegel’s stepson.

Class barriers really suck and Forster (to my mind) always does wonderfully trying to break them down. Which of his books doesn’t include themes of breaking free of societal conventions?

The shuffle feature on an iPod can really surprise. I am now listening to the bell peal of St. Mary Redcliffe in Bristol. Of course this begs the question why I have an album of The Church Bells of England on my iPod. But if you have to ask that question, you aren’t quite the Cardigan Mafioso/a I thought you were. And now the iPod is on to John Legend. The other day I asked my John who he thought should write and record a song about our dog Lucy called “Honeybear” (my mother’s appellation for the lovable Lucy). I gave him the choice of Ben Folds, John Legend, or Diana Krall. And then I don’t think I gave him a chance to answer as I talked about how good John Legend’s version would be.

As I have mentioned countless times before, my introduction to the world of Forster was the Merchant-Ivory version of A Room With a View–which has been universally acknowledged* as the best film ever made. I shudder to think how old I might have been when I discovered Forster if it wasn’t for that film.  And besides telling interesting stories, Forster has a knack for describing the human condition.

Paul Cadmus’ homage to Forster.

 Was Mrs. Wilcox one of the unsatisfactory people — there are many of them — who dangle intimacy and then withdraw it? They evoke our interests and affections, and keep the life of the spirit dawdling around them. Then they withdraw. When physical passion is involved, there is a definite name for such behaviour–flirting–and if carried far enough it is punishable by law. But no law–not public opinion even–punishes those who coquette with friendship, though the dull ache that they inflict, the sense of misdirected effort and exhaustion, may be as intolerable.

I have known many people like that. Therapy has led me to wonder if my sometimes insufferable behavior (hopefully mostly in my past) might not be the reason for some people to behave this way towards me. But I have a feeling it isn’t all my fault. It is hard for me to think that the Vanessa Redgrave version of Mrs. Wilcox would be that way, but the scene in the film (and book) where she leaves Margaret behind at the train station and goes off with Mr. Wilcox and Evie has always depressed me. I know that feeling so well. Lots of excitement to do something fun with a friend only to have circumstances intervene and the friend ditch you for something else…always stings a bit, even if the reason for said ditchment (pronounced ala francaise) is legitimate.

Forster Monument behind
St. Nicholas Church
in Stevenage, England.

I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading this book 23 years after I first read it. I pondered what I might have thought and felt when I read it the first time (I don’t remember). And I really enjoyed thinking about how it differed from the film version. Unlike most other film adaptations, the Merchant-Ivory film stands up to the book. The film is certainly faithful to the spirit of the book and the instances where it differs in letter were really quite brilliant changes that not only make the film work well, but also reinforce Forster’s intent. I wonder if he would agree. I once opined somewhere in the blogosphere that I would love to meet Forster and show him all “his” films.

If you haven’t read Forster, you should. If you are chicken, try Where Angels Fear to Tread, if you feel a little more committed try A Room With A View, if you long for something a little queer try Maurice, and if you really want the full force of Forsters literary brilliance go for Howards End. (I know some esteemed blogger tried hard to like Forster and finally managed with Howards End–no names…)  Or if you are hopelessly unable to pick up a Forster novel watch the Merchant-Ivory versions (and only the Merchant-Ivory versions) of A Room With A ViewHowards End, and Maurice (in that order). And if you don’t like the books or the films…can’t. talk. now. mind. melting…

This is what came up when I did a Google image search for “west bank parking ramp university of minnesota”
It is an image from a story in the Minnesota Daily about a Zombie Pub Crawl.
Could this be Helen Schlegel (Helena Bonham-Carter) the Zombie?

19 thoughts on “Howards End Stream of Consciousness (with Zombies?)

  1. Denise Costello December 30, 2011 / 12:37 am

    Just another prodigious and portentous Thomas-at-My-Porch posting . . . Cheers, Denise


  2. C.B. James December 30, 2011 / 12:57 am

    No comment on A Passage to India? That film/book was my first exposure to Forster, followed by Maurice. While I'm not the Forster fan-boy you are, I have read most of his novels and seen all the films as well.

    Howard's End is probably the best book, but I think Passage to India is the best movie. The others are all very good, certainly. Everyone should see and read them. No one should fear Forester; he's very accessible and always entertaining.


  3. harriet December 30, 2011 / 5:38 am

    I love this post. I also love Howard's End. I have not read Susan Hill's book but whether or not this has anything to do with my feelings about Susan Hill I am not going to say. I have misgivings about the film of Passage to India, and one reason is the casting of Alec Guiness as an Indian when there are many excellent Indian actors who could have played the part perfectly.


  4. joan.kyler December 30, 2011 / 9:36 am

    Thomas, you and I may be the only people in American with The Church Bells of England. I miss change ringing in Boston at the Church of the Advent and a couple of other places. No change ringing in Philadelphia as far as I know. Of course, hearing it in England is the best.


  5. StuckInABook December 30, 2011 / 10:05 am

    I will forgive your views on Hill's book for the possibility that you have called me esteemed ;)

    I do have to add that the film of A Room With A View has the most abysmal acting imaginable from Helena B-C and it is astonishing that she was ever allowed to act again.


  6. JoAnn December 30, 2011 / 10:35 am

    Howards End is my favorite Forster – would love to reread it at some point! Also loved A Room with a View, but A Passage to India didn't do much for me. Where Angels Fear to Tread is on the TBR Double Dare agenda.

    Finished Hill's book earlier this month and definitely fall into your camp on that one…


  7. Thomas at My Porch December 30, 2011 / 12:43 pm

    Denise: I will take that as a compliment.

    CB: I did like A Passage to India although I am not sure I have seen the film version. Seems like something I need to add to the Netflix queue.

    Harriet: I have the same reaction when they hire Americans to play Brits. It is so unnecessary.

    Joan: The National Cathedral here in DC actually has an amazing set of bells that they give a good go on Sundays. Definitely evocative of England. Although I am not sure if they are still tugging at them after the earthquake.

    Simon: I can see what you mean about HB-C's acting. I was sixteen when I first saw the film so I may not have noticed. On the other hand I can also see how her performance might have been her trying to capture Lucy's immature/naive behavior. But I am no big HB-C fan, so I don't mind if you trash her.

    JoAnn: You will fly through Where Angels Fear to Tread in one sitting. But wait for a sunny day–it increases the effect.


  8. StuckInABook December 30, 2011 / 2:03 pm

    I forgot to add that I love the Howards End film, and that Helen B-C learnt how to act in the few years between the two.


  9. rhonda December 30, 2011 / 7:12 pm

    read Miss Hills book &agree with you.She seems a little cranky to me.


  10. Susan in TX December 30, 2011 / 8:01 pm

    LOL! My love for HEIOTL did not in anyway prevent me from enjoying this post. Again I am enlightened — not knowing one could purchase recordings of the church bells of England, I now have something else to seek out! (At least it won't add to the TBR pile.;) ) Did you know that Forster's birthday is Jan. 1? A good excuse to re-watch some of those movies, I'd say.


  11. music-books-steve December 31, 2011 / 1:14 am

    I, being somewhat older than you, discovered Forster long before the movies in the period when I was reading lots of gay authors. I'm pretty sure I've never seen the film of Howard's End, although I've read the book twice. Also, I'll add my voice to those speaking up for Passage to India.


  12. Juxtabook January 1, 2012 / 3:49 pm

    I love this post, all Forster's books but especially Howards End and Maurice, all the Merchant Ivory adaptations of Forster's books, H-BC's acting and Ismail Merchant's cookery book. I am just a fan! I also will, finally, read a novel this year by their wonderful screenplay writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala – I have Heat and Dust in my sights.


  13. Donna January 1, 2012 / 4:54 pm

    For those of us that Forster (and Mahler)leaves cold in any form – we can always watch Educating Rita again :) Donna


  14. Thomas at My Porch January 2, 2012 / 9:38 am

    Simon: Maybe it was because by then she was going after Emma's then-husband and she had to act to keep up a charade of innocence.

    Rhonda: Cranky and inconsistent.

    Susan: I didn't know about Forster's birthday, that would have been a good tie-in.

    Steve: Howards End the film is a nice way to spend 2 hours.

    Juxtabook: I think I may have seen the film Heat and Dust.

    Donna: Forster and Mahler? What a bleak world you must live in :)


  15. A Bookish Space January 2, 2012 / 3:42 pm

    I love Forster after discovering him last year. I want to read more of his works this year, and watch the Merchant-Ivory adaptations too!


  16. agoodstoppingpoint January 2, 2012 / 5:38 pm

    I just laughed out loud when I read the start of your post. I haven't read nor am I interested in Susan Hill's book, but I just loved the slam anyway.

    I read Where Angels Fear to Tread ages ago but Howards End I read in 2009 and it surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. I think I would like it even more on a re-read. Good call on the scene at the train station. Haven't seen the movie yet though. It might be swimming around in my Netflix queue somewhere.

    – Christy


  17. Stefanie January 5, 2012 / 1:46 pm

    Thanks for the chuckles. I had a job in college in the library every night after it was closed changing the reels of the back up tapes as the nightly back up ran. I'd sit in a chilly room for 3 hours doing homework and reading and only actually spending about 15 or 20 minutes doing any actual work. I got paid pretty good for this too! I've n ot yet read Forster but I hope 2012 will be the year. And btw, I didn't much like Hill's book either.


  18. Thomas at My Porch January 6, 2012 / 9:58 am

    BookishSpace:You have lots of fun ahead of you.

    Christy: You should really move it up your queue. Such a lovely movie.

    Stefanie: Some of those college jobs were pretty sweet and they certainly paid better than private sector jobs.


  19. gaskella January 10, 2012 / 10:07 am

    I actually lived in Stevenage (for too many years), and although I knew of local connections, I never knew about that lovely stone less than a mile from my house!


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