Reading Howard’s End, Forever
Howard’s End: Spent a Week There One Night
Yesterday Starz premiered a new miniseries adapting E.M. Forster’s eternal classic, “Howard’s End.” Eternal as a descriptor is not used here in a positive way. Don’t be fooled by the title, this book never actually ends.
To celebrate the premiere, Penguin Classics posted to Instagram, “Don’t mind us while we spend our Saturday re-reading Howards End for the millionth time before the new mini-series premieres on Starz tomorrow night 📖🌿 Raise your hand if you plan to watch! 🙋🏼♀️🙋🏻♀️🙋🏾♀️”
As a refresher, I just tried reading the plot synopsis on Wikipedia that could probably be published as a novella in itself. It alone felt longer than any of James Patterson’s BookShots™.
It’s the first time on Wikipedia that I haven’t gotten pulled down the rabbit’s hole, that was how needlessly boring and unending the plot of this book feels. For a novel that’s only around 340 pages, I can’t imagine it taking less time to read than “War and Peace”, which is four times the page count, give or take. I can’t imagine it taking less time to read than the Napoleonic Wars themselves, for that matter. Of course, I’ve been reading “Hell to Pay” for three months, so what do I know?
Here’s an actual short summary: nothing happens and continues to not happen in a mindnumbingly, Edwardian-dressed, ‘Groundhog Day’ sort of way, punctuated with the revelations that Henry Wilcox has ruined the lives of several women across a few decades, just so it seems like there’s a reason to keep reading.
There isn’t. And yet, if multiple adaptations are any indication, we do.
Once a year or so I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and ask myself if I ever actually finished that book.
I try to remember what it was about, or anything definitive about the plot, what was the last thing I remember, even just a character’s name; anything substantial at all about the story or characters to anchor my fragile midnight reality upon. Then I remind myself that no one ever has finished it.
EM Forester has defied the laws of time and space in writing this novel. ‘Howard’s End’ is a literary wormhole, a black hole of indecent and apathetic people that attempts to repackage itself in a redeeming bow when Henry finally does something not awful, and we’re all still reading it.
Somewhere, no doubt, despite claims it was completed in 1910, Forster is still writing it, his own picture of Dorian Gray on the printed page; stealing the souls of those naïve enough to believe the could ever find resolution in its story, and keeping him alive throughout the turning pages of history. But is a cursed existence worth experiencing? And aren’t we all cursed now, from the moment we laid eyes on that damned title page?
This isn’t the millionth time you’re reading it, poor Penguin, it’s the first. You’ve never finished reading it, and you never will. None of us will. We are all Henry Wilcoxes now, forever repeating the same mistakes, unable to learn, to change our attitude with time, or consider others as we push blindly forward in our righteous, vainglorious manner. We turn the page, believing we are nearing the end. But we never do. We will always be reading it. For us, “Howard’sEnd” never will.