Story of Evolution/Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College
3/4-way through Howard's End (Ch. 30, p. 256)
March 27, 2007


Beginning with the title sequence of the film

Andre Higson, English Heritage, English Cinema: Costume Drama since 1980 (Oxford, 2003)
calls it an "agenda-setting device," an invitation to read the film in a particular way Higson sees tension instead of clarity:
the disturbances and hybrid formation in text from outset signal cultural capital, tastefulness, artistry of film-makers/ideal audiences
-- AND heterogeneity, pastiche of identities, masquerades

He offers two readings of the film: conservative, nostalgic representation of traditional, elite English identity,
vs. a more culturally and politically liberal text that explores multiple, hybrid English identities,
and worries over class, gender, ethnicity related to Englishness

the first reading is about essentialism of pure, authentic identity;
the second foregrounds he unfixity and instability of identity

It's an ambivalent text, read in different ways by different audiences

Let's try this on the novel....

The Evolution of Morality:
Contingency, Irony or Solidarity?


"The Miss Schlegels did not mind being wrong." (Ch. 16, p. 139)



Before break, we were reading ambiguous figures.
"Darwin's Generative Idea" had led us to
the evolution of our bipartite brains,
(we were told/we experienced) enabling us to


What would E.M. Forster say to this story?
Would he buy it?
Would he alter it?
Does he alter it, or add to it, in his novel?
Does he "go beyond" Darwin's Generative Idea?

Emily's quote:"She knew that out of Nature's device we have built a magic that will win us immortality. Far more mysterious than the call of sex to sex is the tenderness that we throw into that call; far wider is the gulf between us and the farmyard than between the farmyard and the garbage that nourishes it. We are evolving, in ways that Science cannot measure, to ends that Theology dares not contemplate." (Ch. 28, p. 241)

Hm...Paul's thinking here of analogies to his own story:
  • garbage=his "active inanimate"
  • farmyard="model builders"
  • us="storytellers"
"Science explained people, but could not understand them. After long centuries among the bones and muscles it might be advancing to knowledge of the nerves, but this would never give understanding." (Margaret, Ch. 43, p. 330)



How does Forster describe the universe of/in his novel?





Low Tide, River Thames, Hammersmith, London


"...the Schlegel household continued...swimming gracefully on the grey tides of London...the city herself, emblematic of their lives, rose and fell in a continual flux....One visualizes it as a tract of quivering grey, intelligent without purpose....the continuous flow would be tolerable if a man of our own sort--not anyone pompous or tearful--were caring for us up in the sky." (Ch. 13, p. 107-8)

"'I hate this continual flux of London. It is an epitome of us at our worst--eternal formlessness; all the qualities, good, bad, and indifferent, streaming away--streaming, streaming for ever. That's why I dread it so. I mistrust rivers....'"(Margaret, Ch. 20, p. 182)

"The tide had begun to ebb. Margaret leant over the parapet and watched it sadly. Mr. Wilcox had forgotten his wife, Helen her lover; she herself was probably forgetting. Everyone moving. Is it worth while attempting the past when there is this continual flux even in the hearts of men? (Ch. 15, p. 137)


Flux inside. Flux outside.





Pilgrim Beach @ Low Tide, from Steven Pinker's Photos


How do Forster's characters manage,
in a world of such (external and internal) flux?

What belief system guides them?

"'If the Wilcoxes hadn't worked and died in England for thousands of years, you and I couldn't sit here without having our throats cut. There would be no trains, no ships to carry us literary people about in, no fields even. Just savagery. No--perhaps not even that. Without their spirit, life might never have moved out of protoplasm.'" (Margaret, Ch. 19, p. 175)

"'[Henry] must be one of those men who have reconciled science with religion,' said Helen slowly. 'I don't like those men. They are scientific themselves, and talk of the survival of the fittest, and cut down the salaries of their clerks, and stunt the independence of all who may menace their comfort, but yet they believe that somehow good--it is always that sloppy somehow--will be the outcome, and that in some mystical way the Mr. Basts of the future will benefit because the Mr. Basts of today are in pain....I'll stand injustice no longer. I'll show up the wretchedness that lies under this luxury, this talk of impersonal forces...'" (Ch. 22, p. 192; Ch. 26, p.224).

"'I believe in personal responsibility....the Wilcoxes are on the wrong tack surely...Perhaps the little thing that says "I" is missing out of the middle of their heads....Never the "I"; and if you could pierce through...you'd find panic and emptiness in the middle....All presentable people say "I."'" (Helen, Ch. 27, pp. 234-235).


What morality do the Schlegels evolve, as counter to the social darwinism of Henry Wilcox?

"Only connect."

How's this work as a basis for morality?

How well does it work as a basis for morality?

How well does it work as a basis for morality in Forster's novel?

What are the correspondences that matter here?

What are we supposed to be connecting? Connecting to?

"'I am connected with a leading insurance company'....You are the man who tried to walk by the Pole Star. You saw the sunrise. You tried to get...to the truth. You were looking for a real home.' 'I fail to see the connection,' said Leonard, hot with stupid anger. 'We did not have you here out of charity--which bores us--but because we hoped that there would be a connection between last Sunday and other days.'" (Margaret, Ch. 16, pp. 142-3)




Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Lake Powell, via Google Earth Explorer

"Margaret greeted her lord with peculiar tenderness...she might yet be able to help him to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion. Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never joined...It was hard going in the roads of Mr. Wilcox's soul...'I am not a fellow who bothers about my own inside'....he had always the sneaking belief that bodily passion is bad....It did not seem so difficult....Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion....Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die..."

"'Only connect'....'My motto is Concentrate. I've no intention of frittering away my strength on that sort of thing.' "It isn't frittering away the strength,' she protested. 'It's enlarging the space in which you may be strong.'" (Ch. 22, pp. 186-7)

"Her evening was pleasant....She forgot...the hurrying men who know so much and connect so little...an unexpected love of the island awoke in her, connecting on this side with the joys of the flesh, on that with the inconceivable" (Ch. 24, p. 204)


bodysoul
beastsmonks
fleshthe inconceivable
animal?spiritual?
seen?unseen?
prose?poetry?
narrative?non-narrative/lyric?


How well do these binaries connect, in practice?
Which option wins out?
Concentration or space?
Fragmentation or connection?

"Now she never forgot anyone for whom she had once cared; she connected, though the connection might be bitter..." (Ch. 25, p. 208)

[In contrast to Henry:] "Mrs. Wilcox was too far back in his life. He did not connect her with the sudden aching love that he felt for Evie." (Ch. 29, p. 249)

"You shall see the connection if it kills you, Henry!...Stupid, hypocritical, cruel--oh, contemptible!...you cannot connect. I've had enough of our unweeded kindness...you are criminally muddled" (Margaret, Ch. 38, p. 308)

"Her speech to him seemed perfect....It had to be uttered once in a life, to adjust the lopsidedness of the world. It was spoken not only to her husband, but to thousands of men like him--a protest against the inner darkness in high places that comes with a commercial age....she could not apologize. He had refused to connect." (Ch. 43, p. 331)


Margaret clearly believes in/lives by/preaches the necessity of connection to
(what Zadie Smith will devastatingly call) "the miracle of male compartmentalization."

Do you go with her there?
Does Forster mean us to take the epigram
  • literally?
  • symbolically?
  • ironically?
How hard is it "only" to connect?

To bridge not only inside and outside,
"the inner darkness" and "a commercial age,"
but to connect--really connect--different sorts of people?

And what would it mean if we do?

Laura, "Connect Limitedly": Is this connection that Forster is asking us to make meant to be limited?...why must there be a restriction?...connection...is only a connection like connecting a cable there is no inherent meaning.

"How dare Schlegels despise Wilcoxes, when it takes all sorts to make a world?...'Don't brood too much on the superiority of the unseen to the seen. It's true, but to brood on it is mediaeval. Our business is not to contrast the two, but to reconcile them.'" (Ch. 12, p. 104)

"'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....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...in the daily grey.'" (Margaret, Ch. 44, pp. 337-8)

"Another map hung opposite, on which the whole continent appeared, looking like a whale marked out for blubber...perhaps she was seeing the Imperial side of the company...and Imperialism always had been one of her difficulties" (Ch. 23, p. 196)




What is the role of Africa (Africans?) in this novel?

How does one build a bridge across difference?

How can connections between differences be made?

"Abstraction is often regarded by gender difference theorists as being incompatible with 'connected reasoning'.... Yet abstraction often makes it possible to see connections between very dissimilar entities."(Mary Beth Ruskai. "How Stereotypes About Science Affect The Participation of Women." Lecture in Symposium: "Women in Physics: Why So Few?" San Francisco: Annual Meeting. Association for Women in Science. 1989. 1-9)

Cf. Peter Beckman's story of the invention of the human concept of gravity in the late 17th century: on one end of Cambridge campus, the projectile scientists (who were well funded by the military) had developed some very good and accurate laws about how the material world worked (for instance, in the absence of air resistance, all things will drop at the same rate)....At other end of the campus, the unfunded astronomers were working on another set of interesting ideas about planet rotations and distances, designing "beautiful rules" and formulas that worked for them all. "Strolling between the two groups," Newton came up with the "absurd notion" that these descriptions of earthly and planetary things were linked. Newton made this connection, not by making observations, but by showing that the mathematics being used on both sides of campus was identical. He invented the concept of a force--but before that, he had to invent the calculus, in order to make the measurement.
How might "abstraction" help us make connections among/between different sorts of people??

Virginia Woolf, Letters (1927): There is something baffling and evasive in the very nature of [Forster's] gifts. So, remembering that we are at best only building up a theory which may be knocked down...he sees his people much at the mercy of those conditions which change with the years. He is acutely conscious of the bicycle and of the the motor-car....a novelist...who sees his people in close contact with their surroundings...the colour and constitution of the year 1905 affect him....At the same time, a paraphernalia of reality have at certain moments to become the veil through which we see infinity...in this combination of realism and mysticism.... the problem is...how to connect the actual thing with the meaning of the thing....He fails...because that admirable gift of his for observation has served him too well.

He has recorded too much and too literally.
He has given us an almost photographic picture....his gifts in their variety and number tend to trip each other up....If he were less scrupulous, less just, less sensitively aware of the different aspects of every case, he could, we feel, come down with greater force on one precise point. As it is, the strength of his blow is dissipated. He is like a light sleeper who is always being woken by something in the room. The poet is twitched away by the satirist; the comedian is tapped on the shoulder by the moralist; he never loses himself or forgets himself for long...the lyrical passages in his books...fail of their due effect...

...just as we are yielding ourselves to the pleasures of the imagination, a little jerk arouses us. We are tapped on the shoulder. We are to notice this, to take heed of that....The admirable Tibby and the exquisite Mrs. Munt...inspire us with the intoxicating belief that they are free to wander as far from their creator as they choose. Margaret, Helen, Leonard Bast, are closely tethered and vigilantly overlooked lest they...upset the theory....

How much freedom does Forster give his characters?
How much free will do you see operating in the novel?

Lionel Trilling, "The Liberal Imagination and Howard's End" (1943): The great thing Forster has been able to learn...is his belief in the present. He has learned not to be what most of us are--eschatological. Most of us, consciously or unconsciously, are discontented...we look to the future....This is a moral and historical error into which Forster never falls; his whole work, indeed, is an implied protest against it. The very relaxation of his style, its colloquial unpretentiousness, is a mark of his acceptance of the human fact as we know it now. He is content with the human possibility and content with its limitations.

How content are his characters?
How comfortable are they with the moral frameworks
which they have devised, and within which they live?

Richard Rorty (via Daniel Born, "Private Gardens, Public Swamps," 1992): Through Margaret and Helen, Forster succeeded in delineating the most comprehensive picture of liberal guilt in this century.... the unresolved tension of Howards End has been stated on many occasions -- and, one should note, stated rather gleefully -- by critics on both left and right. How can liberal intellectuals reconcile the private activities of aesthetic contemplation, friendships, spiritual formation, with a broader concern for the public and social interest? That is the defining problem for...the "liberal imagination"....Richard Rorty argues in Contingency, irony, and solidarity that "self creation" and social justice are incommensurate activities. He speaks about the impossibility of ever uniting "self-creation and justice, private perfection and human solidarity, in a single vision"....Rorty's position, like Margaret's, is finally meant to relieve us of the burden of guilt...engendered by seeing systemic connections.... For Forster, the liberal imagination retains its vitality only so long as we are able to revalue...liberal guilt.



Forster himself, What I Believe, Two Cheers for Democracy (1951): I do not believe in Belief....Faith, to my mind, is a stiffening process, a sort of mental starch, which ought to be applied as sparingly as possible. I dislike the stuff....My motto is : "Lord, I disbelieve - help thou my unbelief"....

I have, however...to keep my end up in it. Where do I start? With personal relationships. Here is something comparatively solid... Not absolutely solid, for Psychology has split and shattered the idea of a "Person", and has shown that there is something incalculable in each of us, which may at any moment rise to the surface and destroy our normal balance. We don't know what we are like. We can't know what other people are like. How, then, can we put any trust in personal relationships, or cling to them in the gathering political storm ? In theory we cannot.

But in practice we can and do.....For the purpose of living one has to assume that the personality is solid, and the "self" is an entity, and to ignore all contrary evidence. And since to ignore evidence is one of the characteristics of faith, I certainly can proclaim that I believe in personal relationships.... One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of life, and it is therefore essential that they should not let one down. They often do. The moral of which is that I must, myself, be as reliable as possible, and this I try to be. But reliability is not a matter of contract...It is a matter for the heart, which signs no documents. In other words, reliability is impossible....

...there lies at the back of every creed something terrible and hard...I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country....



Cf. Paul: "I don't 'believe' in stories..."

Cf. also Katie on the tendency to turn a narrative story into a non-narrative one

Upcoming, next week--
how to adapt these ideas
to contemporary times and issues:
in a novel?on the screen?

Two Adaptions:
Howard's End, the movie
Zadie Smith's novel, On Beauty




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