rereading ‘Howards End’, by E. M. Forster

14Gornick-blog427Vivian Gornick at the New York Times:

It is a truism that every great book survives the literary and cultural conventions of its time and place because the emotional intelligence in it speaks to a reader a hundred years down the road. If I read a Hardy novel, for instance, I ignore the melodramatics — the lost letter, the unexpected storm — because the depth and clarity of Hardy’s understanding carries me well past it. With “Howards End,” I now found I could not get beyond the implausible plot turns; repeatedly, they stopped me in my tracks, even as they seemed to stop Forster himself. When the plot served him least, he gave his characters speeches that were clearly meant to signal his intentions but did not; some inchoateness there that deepened rather than dispelled a lack of clarity. It was as though the writing was speaking in code, the writer’s wisdom operating somewhere behind the prose rather than emerging from it.

Suddenly I realized that I’d been here before. I remembered how struck I was as a student by the sense that something was stirring in the writer that he himself could not work out on the page. At the time, it was this very incapacity that seemed to infuse the novel with mystery and significance. My literary young heart felt something profound afoot, and it knew the thrill of awe and pity. Now, some 40-odd years later, here I was looking once again at the very same conundrum. I no longer found it either profound or mysterious, but yes, it was still delivering awe and pity.

more here.