Dialogue as a Craft and Disappointment

In “On Writing”, Stephen King describes dialogue as a talent for a writer to create believable and natural dialogue on a page. The writer must be able to hear different dialects, tones, grammar and translate it all onto a page to bring characters to life. Many character traits can shine through speaking and even plot points or hidden aspects of the story can be revealed if executed properly.

E.M Forster clearly has this talent in Howards End. The conversations between each of his characters reveal so much that the reader must slow down to watch for hidden gems that may pop out. His prose reads as insightful poetry throughout the book; dialogue flows poetically with ideas on bourgeois families, death, marital influence, and domestic tensions.

I marked a few passages and reread them days after finishing the novel. Each sentence still held such power and meaning – even removed from the full context of the chapter. It is dismaying to think that such rare talent was lost when translating from the novel to a screenplay for the movie.

Specifically – a passage describing how Margaret learns to influence her husband as a passive wife instead of being an out-spoken opinionated woman lends insight to their relationship and how Margaret changes her character after marriage.

Before marriage,  in earlier dialogue she outright asks “how much have you got? I’ve got 600” to jump-start a conversation on income and finances with her fiance. Mr. Wilcox is astounded a women would ask such a blatant and intimate question – definitely not a mannerism for women in that time period. Avoiding the question, it shows he still conservatively believes a woman should not be involved in financial affairs.

After marriage, the dialogue drastically changes to Margaret asking permission to speak before telling her husband a concern. She passively convinces him to help the matter at hand with the narration describing that is was a reward for her good behavior during the wedding. Margaret realizes she must quietly use womanly influences as a wife moving forward instead of using her voice and opinions as men do.

This is a huge personality change in actions and values for our main character! This change in tone and specific wording from the novel was not included in the movie- as though quality writing was not appreciated by the screenwriters. They changed every conversation and inevitably the tones/effects for the viewers.

Another amazing conversation took place between Helen Schlegel and Leonard Bast towards the end of the book. Leonard comes to the thought that only money matters in the world; one cannot obtain class, culture, education, true relationships without having money as the propellant. Everything else is “a dream”. Helen fervently bring up Death as the counterargument – that one must live in the present and experience everything possible because money can be trivial.

The discussion on Death is perfect in so many ways- it’s poetic and insightful to instill a cliche feeling of “live life to the fullest and forget materialistic items” in the reader. However, it is juxtaposing the two character’s most fundamental values and social classes.

Leonard is low-class constantly concerned about money to pay his rent – he can’t fathom wasting time learning about culture or adventures when he must work to stay alive. If he were rich he would have those opportunities and not spend 10 hours a day working to meet minimum needs. Whereas Helen has the luxury to see money as unimportant or “materialistic”. She does not depend on counting money to pay for rent or food – she always has enough that she can write it off as less important item compared to education on culture and adventures.

This is perfect dialogue for character development  and demonstrating that towards the end of the novel the difference in social classes and opportunities still has not changed. It is another beautiful piece of dialogue that should have been included in the movie as appreciation for Forster’s talent.

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