Discuss the juxtaposition of the Victorian elements against more Modernist motifs.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Forster's work demonstrates the fundamental shift that is so much a part of Modernism.  This shift was one in which the traditional structures of Victorianism were rejected in favor of a new world setting in which one can only be reconciled with the reality of change.  

When Modernism is juxtaposed with the Victorian settings in the novel, one is reminded of how the shift and seismic transformation of Modernism uprooted much of Victorianism.  Woolf speaks to this in her understanding of Modernism:  "All human relations shifted and when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature."  It is this "shift" in which the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes live.  Through this, Forster is able to juxtapose the Victorian conditions with the Modern reality that governs the characters in the novel.  The Schlegels reverence for the finer elements in life and the practical conditions of the Wilcoxes, representative of Victorian stratification that would remain separate, end up merging.  The "shift" of Woolf speaks is one in which both frames of reference are combined.  The juxtaposition of separate worlds into one is an example of how Forster is able to show the shift from one world to another.

Another example of this juxtaposition would be how Henry is forced to reconcile with Margaret.  He stands his ground in a traditional Victorian manner, suggesting that he cannot have a "fallen woman" on Howard's End.  Yet, Margaret demands that he accept that his own transgressions are no different than Helen's.  In his refusal and his eventual acceptance, one sees how Modernist philosophical tendencies of the "shift" in "human relations" is juxtaposed to the stalwart of Victorian social settings, eroding before our very eyes.

This shift can also be seen would be in how Victorian social stratification is seen in the modern setting.  Forster clearly understands that England is poised in the shift between Victorian elements and Modern ones.  Charles' imprisonment for the death of Leonard Bast is reflective of this.  In Victorian times, someone of Charles' status would be able to escape legal responsibility for the death of someone of such lower social stratification.  Yet, the shift of Modernism is one in which Charles cannot evade his legal debt for what he has done.  The world of Victorian social entitlement has been shifted into a setting in which class no longer carries what it once did.  This condition of classlessness is where Forster sees the future of England.  This juxtaposition is critical to the overall thematic significance of the novel.

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