chapter  8
22 Pages

Howards End and the Confession of Imperfection

Irritated by being asked by his lover yet again whether he will marry her, the young clerk Leonard Bast launches into a description of ‘the kind of man’ he is: ‘I don’t take heed of what anyone says. I just go straight forward, I do. That’s always been my way … If a woman’s in trouble, I don’t leave her in the lurch. That’s not my street. No, thank you. I’ll tell you another thing too, I care a good deal about improving myself by means of Literature and Art, and so getting a wider outlook. For instance, when you came in I was reading Ruskin’s Stones of Venice. I don’t say this to boast, but just to show you the kind of man I am’.1 Although the woman’s response reveals her profound indifference to such ardent aspirations, there were others with whom Leonard Bast’s words would resonate. In lining up his interests as evidence that he is not ‘one of your weak knock-kneed chaps’, Forster’s character spoke directly to the heart and mind of another and certainly more interested lady – the philanthropist Helen Dendy Bosanquet, whose work of 1902, The Strength of the People, was concerned precisely with the ambitions of Bast’s kind of person and with strategies for dealing with his weaknesses.2