em forster: howards end and other novels

From my bookshelves: EM (Edward Morgan) Forster: Three Complete Novels (Gramercy Book, NY: 1993).

This was a Christmas gift from my mother last year – a special edition of Forster’s Howards End, A Room With a View, and Where Angels Fear to Tread.

It is beyond handsomely bound – it is upholstered. The front and back covers are generously padded in green faux leather and decoratively stamped with gold foil.

As an artifact, it is a beautiful book.

The edges of the pages are gilded, like the fine books of long ago, when books were cherished as containers of knowledge.

The endpapers were custom-designed.

The fonts echo those used in vintage books. A cream ribbon marker is glued into the binding.

Even in this age of e-readers, there is nothing to compare to the satisfaction of holding a well-made book in your hands and turning the crisp pages over, your eyes devouring the lines of text as the story takes shape in your mind.

A far more satisfying treat than the external beauty of this book is what lies within – the concepts that present age-old human themes in alternative ways.

An excerpt from Howards End speaks of the differences between the ways men and women love. Margaret discovers that her fiance Henry had a mistress; she tries to comprehend how he could have been unfaithful to his late wife:

She tried to translate his temptation into her own language, and her brain reeled. Men must be different, even to want to yield to such a temptation. Her belief in comradeship was stifled…Are the sexes really races, each with its own code of morality, and their mutual love a mere device of Nature to keep things going? Strip human intercourse of the proprieties, and is it reduced to this? Her judgment told her no. She knew that out of Nature’s device we have built a magic that will win us immortality. Far more mysterious than the call of sex to sex is the tenderness that we throw into that call…We are evolving, in ways that Science cannot measure, to ends that Theology dares not contemplate.

Forster wrote Howards End in 1910. One hundred and one years later, no one has found an answer yet to the questions he posed. But his belief in what he called the “magic that will win us immortality” is also what sustains those who cast their hearts into the ring – the belief that love and tenderness is stronger than all, and that in the end, it will prevail.

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