Monday, August 31, 2009

Space and Gender in Howards End

Elizabeth Langland's article "Gesturing toward an Open Space: Gender, Form, and Language in E. M. Forster's Howards End," raises interesting perspectives on the ways space and gender work with Forster's novel. Langland acknowledges early on that the feminist interpretation of a text may not always guarantee a writer who is feminist, especially on the basis of their sexuality. Forester, while sympathetic to the rights of women, was guilty of misogyny, according to Langland. Therefore, simply because Forster was homosexual, one cannot assume that he is under the feminist ideology.

What I found most interesting in Langland's article was her treatment of space and binaries. As Langland points out, Henry represents the so-called attributes that are masculine in nature such as "wealth, logic, and the word" (441). Margaret illustrates her attributes that are supposedly inherently feminine, such as "poverty, vision, and intuition. Henry and Margaret are in direct opposition, one to another. Therefore, it is necessary for Margaret to have the space necessary to find her inner place. Forster is giving the privilege to the female heroine. Margaret is the character that stands up to the masculine Henry, as well as defying when necessary. Margaret becomes the perfect balance between the two sexes. She is unlike Helen, in that she can survive alone. Margaret often speaks to Henry, encouraging an opening up of his feelings, hoping to reach with a man that "inner place." There becomes in Howards End, spaces that are available to Margaret, in which she can break down some of the dichotomies that continue to separate the sexes. These spaces interestingly all seem to be domestic spaces. When Margaret is considering bringing her sister home to Howards End she considers herself "fighting for women against men. She did not care about rights, but if men came into Howards End, it should be over her body" (444). Margaret is making a direct correlation between her body and property, or the domestic space of Howards End. This correlation may be yet more powerful, if taken within the context of Margaret's possible death and burial at Howards End. To be buried at the property that is (though unaware to Margaret)her own property, left to her by the former woman of the house and then destroyed by the men, creates Howards End as an even more powerful space for women.

Forster's inscription "only connect" is easily adapted by the end of the novel. Clearly, it is the connection of both the feminine and masculine that allows Margaret to be the heroine of the novel. It is also interesting to think of in terms of the world of technology today. We have such a convenient means of connecting with others day by day, and yet arguably are farther removed from others than before. At the time of Modernism, new technologies, and means of connection were being introduced regularly. Despite these new inventions, Wilcox has failed to connect with both his family, and those that are in his life by marriage and position. The necessity of connecting with Margaret becomes stronger and stronger as the novel progresses.

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