Any good Anglophile or bookworm should know that the Starz miniseries Howards End, which premieres on April 8, is based on the 1910 novel by E.M. Forster. But perhaps you don't know the real-life inspiration behind the British classic. Howards End isn't based on a true story, but Forster drew from many elements in his own life that help to make his book — and the new four-part miniseries — still relatable to a modern audience. And, rather unsurprisingly considering that the book is named for a beloved country estate, Forster's biggest muse was his childhood home.
Before the miniseries, Howards End was memorably brought to the screen in the 1992 film with Emma Thompson (who won an Academy Award for her role of Margaret Schlegel), Anthony Hopkins, and Helena Bonham Carter. The basic plot of Howards End revolves around three families in Britain in the early 20th century. There are the unconventional, intelligent, and compassionate Schlegels, led by Hayley Atwell's Margaret in the Starz miniseries. Then, there are the capitalist and elitist Wilcoxes, led by Matthew Macfadyen's Henry. And, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the working class Leonard Bast and his partner Jacky. The miniseries already aired on BBC One in the UK in November 2017; for this project, the book was adapted by American writer Kenneth Lonergan (most recently recognized for Manchester By The Sea).
Without giving away anything that doesn't appear in the trailer, when Henry's wife Ruth (Julia Ormond) dies, she leaves the family's country home of Howards End to Margaret, since Ruth formed a bond with the younger woman. The Guardian reported that in creating the place of Howards End, Forster was directly influenced by the home in which he grew up. Forster was raised by his mother at the country house of Rooks Nest, which was previously owned by the Howard family for centuries. So the name of Howards End comes from the people who had been responsible for the home he adored.
As a Penguin Random House Readers Guide for Howards End noted, Forster moved to the country home north of London in 1883 with his widowed mother when he was only four years old. Ten years later, the lease was up and they had to move, but the impact was made. "I took it to my heart and hoped ... that I would live and die there," Forster wrote. According to the publication Country Life, Rooks Nest House was for sale for £1.5 million in October 2017. Country Life noted how close the home in Stevenage in Hertfordshire is to London, and its listing stated that the property is more than 500 years old. It was known as simply "Howards" before taking the name of Rooksnest, then Rooks Nest.
Dr. Barbara C. Morden wrote in her essay, "Howards End And The Condition Of England," that Howards End represents "the centre of moral and social stability, of habit and custom" as the world races toward modernity. Morden noted that Forster's novel doesn't necessarily have a favorable view of the fast-paced modern world, especially as the classes seemed to become more separate during the modernization that marked the early 20th century. These themes are what makes a story about an old British country home still relevant today.
The phrase "only connect" is key to Howards End and in the preview video below, star Tracey Ullman (who plays Aunt Juley) says, "Howards End — it's everybody's idea of home. A place where you connect." According to Ormond, the country home connects people to the land and to their families. Macfadyen, whose character doesn't think much of Howards End, adds, "It's like a sort of spiritual thing, Howards End. It's a pastoral idea of England and home and family. There's something quite mystical about it."
While the specific plot of Howards End isn't based on true story, the feeling that the country home embodies certainly is based on very a specific place. And, as the title suggests, the power of that shouldn't be dismissed. As Atwell says in the video above that Howards End is "a character as strong as any other humans in terms of what it symbolizes." And due to Forster's incredible connection to his childhood home, the meaning of Howards End continues to live on, over a century later.