Feeling some Downton Abbey withdrawals? Here is a recommendation to see you through until the next BBC adaptation of Great Expectations comes in April!
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I love both the movie and now the book. In fact, the movie is pretty much a perfect staging of the book, so if you like the movie you will probably like this.
It might sound odd but one of the things I love about this story is its reassurance that there is a potential for good in all of us- the rich, the poor, the educated etc. There are no villains or heroes in this story. Everyone wants to be good and lead a good life. If society, philosophy, business, or family pressures push them away from their good intentions- isn’t it still comforting to know that those intentions exist? I love Helen’s insistence that Mr. Bast not give up his “I am” for in giving this up he would be giving up his existence. She could not let humanity whittle him down. I also admire Margaret for finding the humanity in Mr. Wilcox. This is I am sure the same essential part of him that Mrs. Wilcox found and it probably allowed her to love such an imperfect man.
I love that I love every character in this story and yet I hate them all at the same time. Isn’t that the way real human beings are? Don’t we all have noble and evil in us? I believe that by ending the novel the way Forster does he concludes that a peaceful medium is obtained by most of us in life (this is symbolized by Howards End- which seems to be thrown about just like the characters- in between London and Oberton for most of the book). He is saying that the greatest peace comes from reconciling our place in the world, our right to be, and the rights of those around us to be happy with what God has given them.
The characters are particularly impressive in Howards End because so many are dynamic and interesting. When you have a supporting character like Mr. Bast getting an entire story arc you know good writing is taking place. In fact, it is hard to think of an accessory character in the whole story. Everyone is studied and pondered upon.
The novel also deals with the concept of saving. Mrs. Wilcox tries to save Margaret by giving her Howards End, Margaret tries to save Henry through love, Margaret and Helen both try and save each other and certainly Helen tries to save the Basts. In the end, goodness, hope and loyalty save all and provide all with wisdom, self awareness and comfort.
My only fault with the book is I wish there had been one religious character. As comforting as philosophy and literature can be I find they fall short in satisfying eternal meanings in life. A religious character would have at least demonstrated a contrast. I admit this desire is partly egotistical. There is something validating about reading characters that see the world like you do (a sensation I so rarely have) and it is comforting to hear your voice coming out of any text. On the other hand, we can learn more about ourselves through opposing points of view. Still, in a book claiming to touch on every sphere in society it would seem that religion might factor more or less into one of those spheres.
I love A Room with a View but I like Howards End even more. RWV tells us that finding our inner-self comes from looking out of our sphere of influence- from embracing adventure and romance with all the lusts and philosophies that accompany such passions. It tells us that finding our match brings perfect completeness; whereas, Howards Ends says that finding the humanity in all people including ourselves makes us fully human. I LOVE this book!
The movie is just amazing. With such nuanced performances from Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter and Anthony Hopkins. Plus, its gorgeously shot by the Merchant/Ivory production. If you are having a Downton Abbey withdrawal rent this wonderful film.
Gosford Park is another winner, written by Juliian Fellows who also writes Downton Abbey