ONE of EM Forster’s best-loved novels, Howards End was highly acclaimed when published in 1910, during the runup to the First World War – a time when society, class and social conventions were in transition. The BBC1 dramatisation, which starts tonight, comes a quarter-century after the 1992 film adaptation by Merchant Ivory which starred Emma Thompson as Margaret Schlegel. Anthony Hopkins and Helena Bonham Carter also starred.
The three families in the story highlight different social classes; the Wilcoxes were upper class after making their money through business, the Schlegels inherited enough to become upper class however were more interested in the arts and culture, while the Basts were lower-middle class. The plot begins when the Wilcoxes’ mother befriends the eldest of the Schlegel sisters, Margaret. When she dies leaving her family home, Howards End, to Margaret, and the Wilcoxes decide to keep this a secret, it sparks a series of events around which the plot turns. Henry Wilcox and Margaret strike up a friendship which leads to romance. A complex series of events ensues, buried secrets, infidelity and hypocrisy are uncovered, sparking a confrontation at Howards End. Although the climax challenges the relationships, unity prevails and human connection unites the families: the phrase “only connect” recurs throughout the novel.
Howards End is considered to have been one of Forster’s greatest novels. In an era characterised by hierarchy and social class, it focused on the unity and connection needed within the country to work together towards a better society.