Character’s Voice Lost on the Screen

Howards End by E.M. Forster

This novel was enjoyable in displaying the wealthy Schlegel sisters’ strong opinions and values in their social circles and family debates. Focusing on how higher social classes have both time and means to become cultured in the world, the story included a piece that was barely featured in the movie.

Letters in the opening of the story describe how Helen’s obstinate values seemed to vanish while in the presence of the Wilcox family.  Mr. Wilcox questioned Helen’s opinions when she visited to counter each point until Helen would fall silent and no longer hold an opinion on the topic. As if she wanted the Wilcox family’s approval badly enough to silence her own voice!

Once it was clear Helen would not become part of the Wilcox family – she returned to London with her strong opinionated voice suddenly present again. The movie barely demonstrated this during the opening scenes and I believed it could be a crucial part to the overall story.

My take on it is that Margaret Schlegel was content in her role of mothering the younger siblings and enjoying independence as an educated but single young woman. Once she realized the small family would no longer have their home, she considered the marriage to Mr. Wilcox more seriously. If she wasn’t protective of her family and desperate to find new accommodations within a month – I don’t think she would have been as interested in him or marriage.

Margaret was aware that Mr. Wilcox was not a “forward-thinker” of the times and had conservative old-fashioned values compared to the Schlegels. She was also aware that he could silence Helen’s opinions and belittle them as only women’s simple-minded chatter… plus that he was a cheater. The way I read the story- I just don’t believe she would truly fall for a man like that!

She really was marrying him just to secure a home for her family -even if her motive wasn’t specifically aimed towards Howards End. Of course if she knew the truth about the house she would already have a place to go and the story wouldn’t go further.

I picked up on a few spots in the book where Margaret becomes less out-spoken towards Mr. Wilcox and it appears he has the influence to silence her opinions too. I thought this was a more relevant piece of the story since the liberal ways of the Schlegels defined their character as urban independent women which was rare for that time period.

The movie did not emphasize these character traits as well as the book; it left a feeling that Margaret was happy to fall for Mr. Wilcox with barely a change in her ways while the book lent that she would succumb to the proposal as the final option for securing a home.

But then again… maybe it’s just me being cynical and I read into it too far.

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