Howards End, for me E.M. Forster’s finest novel, was required reading for my English ‘A’ Level. I had signed up believing we would be following the Austen syllabus (I was then, and am still now, a great admirer) when, suddenly we changed teacher and he changed course. By this stage, it was too late for me to change. I went into the classroom indignant. I left the course enlightened, with this work firmly in my top ten books (a ranking it has never lost) and with Margaret Schlegel as a literary heroine. It is not the best of English writing, it does not exemplify character development. Indeed, all those who feature are merely cyphers or catalysts, there to further the plot which is itself subjugated to the overarching need to ‘only connect’. Yet, I reread the work regularly. Why? It transports me. It reminds me of what I truly value in this life and Margaret speaks to me. Here’s to ‘colour in the daily grey’!
‘It is only that people are far more different than is pretended. All over the world men and women are worrying because they cannot develop as they are supposed to develop. Here and there they have the matter out, and it comforts them. Don’t fret yourself, Helen. Develop what you have; love your child. I do not love children. I am thankful to have none. I can play with their beauty and charm, but that is all – nothing real, not one scrap of what there ought to be. And others – others go farther still, and move outside humanity altogether. A place, as well as a person, may catch the glow. Don’t you see that all this leads to comfort in the end? It is part of the battle against sameness. Differences – eternal differences, planted by God in a single family, so that there may always be colour; sorrow, perhaps, but colour in the daily grey.’
Margaret Schlegel (the second Mrs Wilcox), talking to her sister Helen. Howards End, chapter 44 (E.M. Forster, 1910)