Howards End: E.M. Forster’s House of Fiction. Alistair Duckworth. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992. 164 pages.

In the years since E.M. Forster published his novel Howards End in 1910, critics have generally agreed that his style and technique is masterful, though most believe his social critique is less than successful. The most salient discussions of Forster’s work, found in Frederick C. Crews E.M. Forster: The Perils of Humanism and Wilfred Stone’s The Cave and the Mountain, conform to this model. Both Crews and Stone argue that Forster’s failure to provide a coherent answer to the social problems outlined in Howards End constitute a failure of the novel as a whole. In this book-length study of Howards End, Alistair Duckworth takes slightly different approach: he does not deny that Forster’s novel lacks a unified vision, but rather, he sees Forster’s refusal to suggest a definite answer to the problems of his time as the guiding principle of Howards End. He opens with a brief description of the very real social and political troubles facing England in the Edwardian period, from the conflict over Irish Home Rule to labor disputes to the beginning of the arms race with Germany. Liberalism itself was unable to cope with the pressures of the time, splintering into radical and moderate factions; some liberals concerned themselves more with economic laissez-faire (like the Wilcoxes of the novel), some more with social agendas to help the poor (like the Schlegels). Duckworth suggests that Forster’s acute awareness of the limits of liberalism kept him from being comfortable with siding too strongly for either the Schlegels or the Wilcoxes. However, he does not see this position as a weakness of the novel (as Virginia Woolf notably did in a 1927 Atlantic Monthly article), but rather believes it is Forster’s intention to elicit

dialogue among his readers: “Forster’s achievement as a social critic is not, however, to have proposed solutions to social problems but to have put significant topics on the table for his readers to discuss and debate” (129). Taking this stance, Duckworth considers the ways in which Forster’s narrative technique encourages a dialogic approach, by allowing the seams of the novel’s structure to show in the narrator’s multi-voiced role, the juxtaposition of different genres (history, social discourse, dramatic dialogue, comedy of manners, tragedy), and the use of characters and situations on both realistic and symbolic levels. He articulates both the deftness of Forster’s plotting as well as its obvious service to Forster’s ends: the convenience of the Hamar Bryce character (the tenant who clears out of Howards End just in time for Margaret to need it), the realistically improbable but symbolically necessary connection between Henry and Jacky Bast, and Leonard’s death, triply caused by his own weakness (his heart), Schlegelian culture (the bookshelf), and Wilcoxian aggression (Charles). Duckworth spends one very good chapter discussing Forster’s grasp of conversational style and his use of speech patterns for characterization—a technique Duckworth thinks works quite well for the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes, but falls short of the mark when it comes to the lower-class Basts. Throughout, Duckworth considers Forster’s characterizations of Leonard and Jacky to be merely adequate, probably due to Forster’s own unfamiliarity with those on the brink of the abyss. The chapter on conversation and the one on the narrator work closely together to support Duckworth’s thesis that Howards End is a heteroglossic novel, wherein some voices are preferred to others, but none prevails—not even Margaret’s or the narrator’s, whose consciousnesses closely reflect,

but perhaps do not perfectly transmit, Forster’s own views. The narrator himself takes on a number of different roles and voices, from the elegiac to the playfully interpolative. Duckworth also points out what is a bit less obvious: that the narrator does not address only one reader, but does, at one point, explicitly addresses at least two—when he recounts Leonard’s overnight walk: “The adventurer, also, is reticent, and it is an adventure for a clerk to walk for a few hours in darkness. You may laugh at him, you who have slept nights on the veldt, with your rifle beside you and all the atmosphere of adventure past. And you also may laugh who think adventures silly.” Thus, Forster invites us “to view both narrator and reader as plural entities” (118), adding to the dialogic nature of his work. Throughout, Duckworth considers Forster to be Jane Austen’s heir to the comedy of manners, which is unsurprising considering that much of Duckworth’s own work has been on Austen. He is, in fact, the only critic I have seen explicitly the very obvious similarity between Margaret and Helen Schlegel and Austen’s Elinor and Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility. His connections to Austen’s style are well-made and accord with Forster’s obvious respect for Austen as displayed in Aspects of the Novel. Duckworth’s use of Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of dialogics works quite well when applied to Forster and rescues Howards End from the somewhat harsh pronouncements of Stone and Crews. Overall, Duckworth’s analysis of Howards End is even-handed and helpful, including many insights that have not been made elsewhere. One wishes only that he had finished his book with as strong a chapter as the ones on plot, conversation and the narrator. Instead, though he entitles the last chapter “Only Connect…” it barely connects to the rest of the book, being little more than a random

assortment of assertions about Forster’s allusions, his Austenian irony, his homosexuality, the inability of a single reading of Howards End to comprehend everything in it, and finally, a reflexive paragraph on Duckworth’s perception of himself as a Forsterian critic on the “fag-end of academic humanism” (137). Duckworth’s final words proclaim Howards End as “a diminished community, but one in which the Schlegel sisters, faithful to their father’s ideals, are attempting to ‘rekindle the light within’” (139), a true enough sentiment and kinder than many critics have been to the final scenes of the novel, but it is a rather bland and uncompelling ending to Duckworth’s own book. However, despite this flawed finale, Duckworth’s volume is a welcome addition to Forster scholarship, providing an insightful and readable analysis of what some consider to be Forster’s best novel.