Howards End Critical Overview
by E. M. Forster

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Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

Howards End was critically very well received in England upon its publication in 1910. Critics declared it the best of Forster's novels, with some proclaiming it Forster's masterpiece. An unsigned review in The Times Literary Review stated that Forster's "highly original talent" had found "full and ripe expression" with Howards End. Forster had begun to emerge as one of the greatest English novelists of his day.

In general, reviewers praised Forster's highly detailed and accurate portrayal of Edwardian society in the novel. "In subtle, incisive analysis of class distinctions, manners, and conventions, he is simply inimitable," proclaimed the Morning Leader in an unsigned review of Howards End. Forster also gained recognition for his creation of believable, compelling characters; his considerable powers of perception and imagination, especially concerning the complexity of human nature and relationships; and his keen wit and sense of humor, which he employed to great effect in his sometimes satirical depiction of England's upper classes. His poetical style and beautiful descriptions were singled out for praise, also. The Times Literary Review noted the "odd charming vein of poetry which slips delicately in and out of his story, showing itself for a moment in the description of a place or a person, and vanishing the instant it has said enough to suggest something rare and romantic and intangible about the person or the place."

Although the majority of reviews were extremely favorable, some critics felt certain aspects of plot development in Howards End seemed unrealistic. General criticism was expressed over whether Margaret would actually marry Henry, or whether Helen, a cultured Edwardian lady, would submit to a sexual encounter with a lower-middle class man like Leonard Bast. Others cited the sequence of events beginning with the highly coincidental death of Leonard, the resulting imprisonment of Charles, and Henry's subsequent "breakdown" as too convenient. Many reviewers found the resolution of the story somewhat artificial, "not representative," but "rather melodramatic." They questioned whether the Wilcox and Schlegel families could indeed come together at Howards End and live happily ever after. But even critics who found these plot developments implausible still endorsed the novel as a whole, with some admitting they were nitpicking at an otherwise great work.

Howards End remains one of Forster's most important novels, along with A Passage to India. Even though Forster published no more novels after A Passage to India, his popularity grew steadily in England and expanded to America with the publication of Lionel Trilling's book of criticism, E.M. Forster ....

(The entire section is 628 words.)