Howards end as a Heartbreak house: E. M. Forster, George Bernard Shaw, the Great War, and the condition of the empire

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University of Alabama Libraries

This study focuses on E. M. Forster's Howards End (1910) and George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House (1919/20), the authors' relationship to contemporary liberal British imperialism, and the Great War. Both of the texts are considered by critics to belong to the "condition of England" theme, but the relation of this theme to the international concerns of the British Empire have gone relatively unnoticed. The texts are loaded with violent imagery and representations of violence. This violence is intrinsically connected to the issues of maintaining an Empire. Both Shaw and Forster use post-realist forms in order to render their critiques more digestible to their audiences. In Howards End, Forster presents his liberal-humanist fantasy, representing not reality as it is but reality as it could/should be. He fills his text, though, with instances of violence in tandem with the problems of imperial rule to undermine the sense of security that the fantasy otherwise provides. Forster offers questions rather than answers. In refusing to conclude his novel with any clear-cut vision for who will "inherit England" (and the Empire) and what that will actually mean, Forster is expressing an anxiety of uncertainty and pessimism for the future. In Heartbreak House, Shaw has invented his own world wherein he might stage a commentary on violence and class that responds to the conditions of the war and imperialist policies. He stages his own anxieties and concerns for the future of not just England but Western culture at large and specifically the violence it seems to have embraced as just another aspect of life. Both of the houses, Howards End and Heartbreak House themselves, are violent, hostile places made so because of the conditions of imperialism.

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Literature, History, Theater