Category Mary Anne Schwalbe

The End of Your Life Book Club book club read E. M. Forster's Howards End (Will Schwalbe)

After a few months spent on hiatus, the book club gathered once more to discuss the E. M. Forster classic novel Howards End. The meeting was timed with the release of the paperback edition of Will’s The End of Your Life Book Club and although he couldn’t be with us in the Two Roads headquarters, he managed to join in from New York, talking about the book with Lisa, who is in the Big Apple herself: a true transatlantic book club experience!

 

The End of Your Life Book Club book club read E. M. Forster's Howards End (Will Schwalbe)

Will reading HOWARDS END in New York

Surprisingly perhaps, not many people had read Howards End before or even seen the film. The book is about three families in England at the beginning of the 20th century: the Wilcoxes, rich capitalists with a fortune made in the Colonies; the half-German Schlegel siblings Margaret, Tibby, and Helen; and the Basts, a struggling couple in the lower-middle class. It explores the underlying class warfare involving these three distinct groups and the source of their conflict – Howards End, a house in the countryside which ultimately becomes a symbol of conflict within British society.

For such an apparently heavy subject, the novel is incredibly engaging (and obviously beautifully written). We found ourselves drawn to some of the most obvious themes (the now famous line ‘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. was the focus of much discussion) and we were particularly intrigued by the relationship between the highly idealistic Margaret and Henry, the pragmatic defender of social conventions. How could such different characters end up becoming husband and wife?

But most of our conversation revolved around the timeliness of the novel. When it was first published in 1910, E. M. Forster’s book dealt with some of the most profound issues of British society: the relationship between ownership and power, and the huge gap between different social statuses. Most people in the club agreed that Howards End still feels incredibly ‘of the time’ today – class still being a subject worth writing about in these troubled times – but also wondered if Forster would pick a different subject matter (race perhaps?) were he alive today.

The End of Your Life Book Club book club read E. M. Forster's Howards End (Will Schwalbe)

Zadie’s Smith ON BEAUTY

The discussion turned towards more recent books when someone brought up Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, the Orange Prize-winning novel which is an homage to Forster’s classic. We started talking about the modern ‘reinterpretations’ of the classics, not only in literature but also in films (we spent quite a bit of time analysing how cult film Clueless relates to Emma, the Jane Austen book it is loosely based on): do they introduce the classics to new audiences and ensure their survival? Or is it just a way to exploit some of the greatest works of the past?

In the end we went back to Howards End and we agreed

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to a good 3 out of 4 score. And then we rewarded ourselves with some well deserved cake (check out more pics on Facebook):

The End of Your Life Book Club book club read E. M. Forster's Howards End (Will Schwalbe)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mary Anne Schwalbe

The End of Your Life Book Club is launched tonight at an event hosted by The International Rescue Committee UK.  As well as launching Will’s book about his mother and their shared love of books, the event celebrates the life and work of Mary Anne Schwalbe, founder of the IRC-UK, who died in 2009.

 

Marina Vaizey wrote a moving obituary in the Guardian.

Mary Anne Schwalbe, who has died aged 75, was one of my closest friends for more than 50 years. We met when she was the head girl at school – and a subtly effective leader at that early age. Mary Anne was an outstanding listener and teacher, which even encompassed passing on grandparenting practice.

Her first love had been theatre. She attended Radcliffe college, Massachusetts, and directed American auditions for Lamda, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. As a senior educational administrator, she worked at Radcliffe and subsequently at Harvard University. Returning to New York City, she continued her career in education, but in her last two decades she worked directly with refugeesworldwide.

She spent six months in Thai refugee camps, seeing the plight of the dispossessed. This led to her involvement with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the founding of the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children. Her British connections inspired her to persuade the IRC to set up a UK office. She recently raised funding for a library in Kabul and travelling libraries for Afghanistan. Hers was an art of persuasion, delicately and effectively employed.

This dynamo of energy was contained in a small, quiet, smiling, elegantly dressed woman, who could appear as conventional as a lady who lunched, but travelled the world often in desperately trying circumstances: she was an electoral observer in the Balkans, and was shot at in Afghanistan. Mary Anne saw the worst and believed the best.

She is survived by her husband, Douglas, sons Will and Doug, daughter Nina and five grandchildren.

 

 

 

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