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Howards End, E.M. Forster

Edward Arnold & Company, 1910

Mature as he was, 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 into a man. With it love is born, and alights on the highest curve, glowing against the grey, sober against the fire. Happy the man who sees from either aspect the glory of these outspread wings. The roads of his soul lie clear, and he and his friends shall find easy-going.

Like modern day street artists at work in the dead of night, a group of writers collaborate on a labor of love project born from a desire to celebrate connected passion. (Okay, maybe it was just an excuse to push each other to write more.)

It was hard-going in the roads of Mr. Wilcox’s soul. From boyhood he had neglected them. “I am not a fellow who bothers about my own inside.” Outwardly he was cheerful, reliable, and brave; but within, all had reverted to chaos, ruled, so far as it was ruled at all, by an incomplete asceticism. Whether as boy, husband, or widower, he had always the sneaking belief that bodily passion is bad, a belief that is desirable only when held passionately.

Writing on virtual library walls, the friends share reflections on works that have inspired them. There is an urge to pay it back in some small way.

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.

The days are links to lifetimes. A record is heard, film seen, book read. There are notebooks, phone calls, discussions. Experiences and histories are exchanged. Edits ensue as connections to great works are tagged and timestamped. I remember where I was when I first read E.M. Forster. Howards End was my introduction. I remember the golden spires of Oxford at the crack of dawn when the streets were void from the touristy hustle and bustle and the rich history and ghosts seemed mine alone. A walk along the Thames behind Oriel felt as much a fantasy then as the memory does now. I read Forster and return, easily forgetting where I am now in favor of fond remembrance of a magical time and place when a lifetime ahead stretched limitlessly in front of me.

What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives? They have never entered into mine, but into yours, we thought—Haven’t we all to struggle against life’s daily greyness, against pettiness, against mechanical cheerfulness, against suspicion? I struggle by remembering my friends; others I have known by remembering some place—some beloved place or tree—we thought you one of these.

Opinions and favorites are offered up freely, given life.

It will be generally admitted that Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is the most sublime noise that has ever penetrated into the ear of man. All sorts of conditions are satisfied by it. Whether you’re like Mrs. Munt, and tap surreptitiously when the tunes come—of course, not so as to disturb the others—; or like Helen, who can see heroes and shipwrecks in the music’s flood; or like Margaret, who can only see the music; or like Tibby, who is profoundly versed in counterpoint, and holds the full score open on his knee; or like their cousin, Fraulein Mosebach, who remembers all the time that Beethoven is “echt Deutsch”; or like Fraulein Mosebach’s young man, who can remember nothing Fraulein Mosebach: in any case, the passion of your life becomes more vivid. . . .

Within the engagement of the audience, mutual admiration and spirited disagreements ensue. That I cannot imagine anything more rhythmically gorgeous than a Forster sentence while another can scoff at such a notion and cite Kavalier & Clay excitedly. The beauty lies not only in the eye of the beholder but in the convergence of inspiration derived, possessing the power to bring us closer and connect us, artist to audience, audience to audience. Maybe too, in no small way, we may become more aware not only of each other but of our surroundings and our pasts and futures too.

The Age or Property holds bitter moments even for a proprietor. When a move is imminent, furniture becomes ridiculous, and Margaret now lay awake at nights wondering where, where on earth they and all their belonging would be deposited in September next. Chairs, tables, pictures, books, that had rumbled down to them through the generations, must rumble forward again like a slide of rubbish to which she longed to give the final push, and send toppling into the sea. But there were all their father’s books—they never read them, but they were their father’s, and must be kept. There was the marble-topped chiffonier—their mother had set store by it, they could not remember why. Round every knob and cushion in the house sentiment gathered, a sentiment that was at times personal, but more often a faint piety to the dead, a prolongation of rites that might have ended at the grave.

How wonderful that not all the riches of the world are limited to a select few: a grandmother’s memories, a mother’s love, a father’s lesson, unique wisdom and guidance of family in any form, a community of friends, and certainly too, the great works of art that move mountains along the way.