Monday, 21 December 2009

Howards End

It is of course ridiculous - perhaps even shameful - that an Oxford English graduate should not have read 'Howards End', but I haven't until now. A few years ago I read Steinbeck's 'Grapes of Wrath' for the first time. I was shocked that no-one had ever told me how very good it was. Nobody had said to me "you have GOT to read this book. It's marvellous". Well, the same is true of 'Howards End'. Why did nobody tell me? It is a scintillating piece of litearture. I know everyone knows this, but I didn't and it has come as an utter pleasure and surprise. I chose to read it after reading a review of Frank Kermode's new book, 'Concerning E. M. Forster'. I like Kermode and fancy reading this, but there would have been little point without knowing something of Forster first, and so...

As I was thinking about this - and about how Trilling, too, had written a book about Forster - I remembered a scene from 1974. I was sixteen years old. I was standing in a group of people at a party or gathering of some sort. We were in a triangle of room that obtruded from some house or institution somewhere in Colorado. At the apex of the triangle were shelves. On either side were windows strecthing from ceiling to floor. The views were spectacular, over the Rockies. We were very high up. To my left was my father. To his left was Lionel Trilling with tremendously white hair. To Trilling's left was Isaac Stern, the great violinist. Between Stern and me was, I think, Saul Bellow. I think. Of the first three I am certain.


  1. I haven't read it either, but have been meaning to read a Forster, so will read this one. The reason he was back on my radar is Zadie Smith, who is a great fan. So much so that I think 'On Beauty' is inspired by 'Howards End', isn't it? (Very good 'On Beauty', by the way.) The film is one of my favourites too. The only Forster I've read thus far is 'Maurice'.

    Intrigued by your memory of Colorado - worth a poem perhaps?

  2. Reading this back, I am concerned that I might be name dropping. Be that as it may, i do remember the scene, and of being aware of the exalted company I was in. i think 'Bellow' may actually have been a chap called Fred Dainton, whose name has only come to me as I have been writing. I have googled him: a very distinguished chemist, Chairman of all sorts of bodies. I remember this: he was handsome, tall, wore glasses, and I liked him. not much of an anecdore really, is it?