Some of my favorite books are books about England in the early-to-mid 20th century. I have dozens of these kinds of stories in my collection and I read and re-read them with an anglophile fervor. Most of them are stories with happy endings (or at least just ones). Nearly all feature a narration voice that is droll about the human condition. This month, as I transitioned into summer vacation, I took a break from my obsessive re-reading of the Cazalet Chronicles to re-read two books by E.M. Forster. I read the two of them because my copy has both stories in one volume. I picked up this Signet classic copy from a used bookstore more than 15 years ago and it’s been through it; so dog-eared now that I may very well need a replacement copy.
Be assured that a replacement copy is well-worth it. For now, this is the copy I own and this is the copy that I read in the month of June. The book is worth holding together because the stories in the two novels are so lovely to read. The first, Howard’s End, is a cautionary tale of the polite clash of Victorian and Edwardian values and the importance of human connections outside the strict confines of social conventions of the day. The novel’s heart is a woman named Margaret whose wisdom is in her genuine compassion for the people in her world. The narrator takes snide jabs at the people in the story but Margaret never does and in that way the tale unfolds in a fashion that brings a deeper understanding of the power of a kind heart. The story has been made into a well-adapted movie and it speaks volumes that the film’s dialogue is so faithful to the original novel.
The second story in my collection, A Room With a View is set in a similar time period, the transition to the 20th century. The novel is more light-hearted in tone as the reader follows a young woman making her final transition to adulthood. That girl, Lucy Honeychurch, is appealing in her naiveté and passion for the world into which she’s being introduced. Over the course of this comedy of manners and sensibilities, she discovers what she wants from the world, a gift that she has the wisdom to appreciate. This novel has also been filmed, by the same Merchant-Ivory team that would go on to film Howard's End, and is well worth a viewing.