Howards End (2020) – Mini-Rant About Character Arcs and the Meaning of Self

My family and I just finished watching Howards End (2020), a 4-part TV series based on the novel by E. M. Forster. I haven’t read the book – I disliked A Passage to India and A Room with a View – so I don’t know if it’s a good adaptation. From what I could tell, it was a beautifully produced and tastefully filmed series, with lovely costumes and first-rate performances by Matthew Macfadyen (aka Arthur Clennam from Little Dorrit) and Hayley Atwell (Mansfield Park). Fans of costume dramas will definitely relish the lush English countryside and sensitive character portrayals.

HOWEVER.

I hated the story. HATED IT. I officially give up on Forster.

Howards End in a Nutshell (spoiler free)

Howards End follows the lives of the Schlegel siblings – Margaret, Helen, and “Tibby” – after they meet the enigmatic Wilcox family on a trip to Germany. The Wilcoxes live on a beautiful property called Howards End, which Helen first goes to visit on her own. They are a pretty conservative family: Mr. Wilcox taking a pragmatic view of the world that doesn’t concern itself too much with social works and Mrs. Wilcox having no part in the feminist ideals espoused by Helen. In spite of their differences, Mrs. Wilcox and Margaret form an unlikely friendship, which has far-reaching consequences after disaster strikes both families.

Without giving too much away – the gist of the story is that, by the end of massive circumstantial and manufactured ordeals, nearly every character in the movie does a complete 180 in their core principles and values. (The ending is horribly tidy as a result.) The characters’ actions were, from what I could tell, all for the sake of staving off loneliness. It bothered me greatly – and I do not think this is what a character arc should be. Am I wrong?

Who Are We, Though?

Lately I’ve had several great discussions with fellow readers and family on the nature of self, identity, and what it means to be “you.” What metaphysical and/or physical elements constitute a person? Is there anything about us that is unchangeable throughout our lives?

Now obviously a person’s values can change as they get older and mature. It’s likely cause for concern if someone doesn’t change at all. But how much of that is part of our unique identity? Or is none of it?

So the alternative is that the essence of ourselves exists, somehow, outside of our principles and values. But if that is true, then we can’t be held personally, morally responsible for anything, right? That can’t be right, because “a tree is known by its fruit.” What we do is an extension of ourselves. If we do something (or as especially, don’t do something) on principle, it is a reflection of ourselves.

I don’t know what to think, TBH.

So…

Bringing it back to Howards End, I feel like Forster committed a literary crime by cutting his characters’ feet out from under them Because Reasons and then making them do things they wouldn’t have done before Because Everyone Abandoned Me. In other words, I think a character arc should end up on higher ground, not some inverse parallel universe.

On the other hand, maybe that is the point? Maybe our principles and values are only as good as the support we get from the collective. But in that case, I would say they aren’t principles and values at all if you don’t live by them personally (and if they aren’t ever tested).

So maybe the characters of Howards End are just a bunch of spineless people spitting out platitudes. WHY would I want to read or watch a story about people that are like that?!!

Anyways… I try to keep my reviews fairly positive but this show left me Upset as you can see. Let me know your thoughts on Howards End and/or this topic. No worries, I got my rant out of my system and won’t argue. 😆

Four (more) short reviews

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane
The Remains of the Day 
Kazuo Ishiguro
4 out of 5 stars
This award-winning novel is about an English butler, Mr. Stevens, who takes a road trip in the English countryside.  Though he attempts to keep a travelogue, he ends up reminiscing about his father, his friendship with housekeeper Miss Kenton, and his former employer’s role in the Inter-War/WWII era.

The book is pretty good, but I enjoyed the Anthony Hopkins film more.  His portrayal of Mr. Stevens is really moving, whereas book!Stevens is harder to like or understand.

 
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Washington Irving
5 out of 5 stars
I knew the story already (from the Disney animated film), but it was a delight to read the original!  Ichabod is a rather egotistical, materialistic guy in the book, so one hardly feels sorry for him.
 
A Passage to India
E. M. Forster
 2 out of 5 stars
This book was really well-written, with some interesting depictions of the British Raj, but that’s about it.  I didn’t like the characters much, including but not limited to Mrs. Moore.  (By comparison, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was a lot deeper and more vague, yet somehow easier to understand.) I’m not exactly sure what was the point of A Passage to India, although as an illustration it is ok.
Kafka’s Selected Shorter Writings
from ManyBooks.net
 5 out of 5 stars

This is a nice read for Kafka fans or readers who just want to sample his work.  The stories are very short (in fact, I believe the Gatekeeper story is an excerpt from The Trial).  Recommended if you have a half-hour to spare!

Character Thursday: Mrs. Moore

It feels so long since I last posted!  Since school started, most of my reading time has been for school.  I read on the bus, at school, and at home, but there is always more…  Anyways, I managed to squeeze in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and The Hobbit (still re-reading).  For British history class, I also read E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India

Mrs. Moore was, to me, the main character of that novel.  I don’t know that I have ever read a book (apart from Miss Marple) where an elderly lady takes on such a huge role, and Mrs. Moore is even more unique because she does not actually “take on” any role.  She philosophizes, she talks, she visits India, but she doesn’t do anything.

At the same time, I felt that she was the reason the relationships between the other characters had substance to them. She has some strange influence over them, which is never fully explained.  Dr Aziz, a young Indian doctor, befriends her, but it is never described exactly what they have in common or see in each other.  Finally, her influence causes one of the characters to make a vastly important decision, where another character’s honor and career are at stake.

I’ve got to say that, for all that, I did not like Mrs. Moore (or the book, for that matter).  Her “powers” were vague and unsubstantiated, and I felt like the book promotes turning to people (e.g. Mrs. Moore), instead of God, for ultimate spiritual and moral guidance.  Also, it doesn’t help that Mrs. Moore takes a sort of indifferent view of morals altogether and hardly cares what happened or might have happened to her potential daughter-in-law.  This was what particularly stopped me from warming up to her character.