For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile. Care to join me?
So here’s where you learn of my fondness for “period pieces” cinematically, and for the books that inspired them. And yes, the books are much better.
Howards End tells the story of three families, whose fates are entangled in webs of deceit, and honour. Upper middleclass entitlement and inability to regard the impact of their own actions will have on the lives of innocent people, sexual impropriety, the struggle of the lower middleclass to improve their financial and social security, romance, family infighting, hubris, misplaced loyalty, well-placed loyalty, land disputes – it’s all here and set against the backdrop of Edwardian England.
The 2003 film with Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Vanessa Redgrave, and Anthony Hopkins was very good, but it was a much sanitized and “prettier” version of Forster’s novel, foregoing much of the callousness the Wilcox family in general, and patriarch Henry in particular, display to the plight of Leonard Bast, and his attempts to rebuild his life after forfeiting a modest but stable position as a clerk.
Similarly, A Room With a View, deals with a young Edwardian English woman testing her freedom in Italy. Upper middleclass privilege rubs up against the more “earthy” sensitivities of those with less economic flexibility. This time, instead of callous behavior, lurid entanglements, and tragedy, the story turns towards compassion, a willingness to be vulnerable, and, finally, romance.
True confessions: I’ve never seen the 1985 film with Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, and Judi Dench. Given that it’s a Merchant Ivory film (Howards End, The Remains of the Day) I have no doubt it is absolutely gorgeous. Based on the trailers I’ve seen it is a feast for the eyes, and with the pedigree of the cast, it can’t help but be wonderful. But I’m a purist. A Room With a View, like Howards End, has a certain complexity of nuance that is difficult to translate to film.
I read Howards End as a Freshman in college, and read A Room With a View shortly before I graduated. In both cases, it was the richness of the world Forster created, the complexity of the characters and plot that drew me in and kept me reading. I got to travel to another time and place and never left my room.