Howards End and the Uncanny

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In what ways are the realist tendencies of Howards End undermined by the presence of the uncanny? Realism is both reliant on and thoroughly undermined by the uncanny. Realism was prominent during the 19th and 20th centuries. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms realism is a ‘general attitude’ of literature that ‘rejects idealization, escapism and other extravagant qualities of romance.’ It must be noted that realism is not simply a realistic “slice of life” but a ‘system of conventions producing a lifelike illusion.’ The uncanny is a ‘kind of disturbing strangeness evoked’ in literature. Freud’s 1919 essay The Uncanny, or Das Unheimlich, discusses the subject in detail, stating that the uncanny is a subject which ‘arouses dread and horror.’ E.M. Forster’s novel Howards End is often referred to as one of the key realist texts of the 20th century, yet the presence of the uncanny significantly alters the texts main realist themes, be it by strengthening or weakening these ideals. Bennett & Royle’s characteristics of the uncanny are pertinent to Howards End, though five are more relevant than the others. All five aspects can be seen to make the realist tendencies of the novel more potent while at the same time subtly undermining key points. Howards End conveys several facets of the uncanny, the most distinct of these being repetition, fate or coincidence, silence, death and the all-important death drive. Howards End is laced with lashings of fate, and is almost haunted by the death drive. Repetition creates a sense of the uncanny by developing a feeling of uneasiness through reiteration of a ‘feeling, situation, event or character.’ Howards End is a novel brimming with repetition, not all of which creates the illusion of the uncanny. Helen’s second visit to the house at Howard’s End is a repetition of sorts and creates a rather eerie feeling. Her first visit ends in tragedy when she falls in love with Paul Wilcox and her second visit includes a...
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