at the circumlocution office
How to evade the tendency to view an individual life as somehow symbolic or representative of the lives of an entire group of people (or subculture); for instance: repressed homosexuality (‘abnormal sexual desires’) the root of all Corvo’s problems according to Symons (2003.108). Well, then. Far be it from us to suggest that Corvo/Rolfe was simply queer in every sense of the word, as an entire human being rather than simply a sexual entity. Now that Rolfe’s been pigeon-holed, categorized, classified, safely labeled and tucked away, let’s move on, shall we?
Leonard Bast — clerk with intellectual aspirations in Forster’s Howards End, ultimately crushed by the weight of what he aspires to understand. If one follows The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, though, Bast is an inaccurate representation of the entire class of clerks with intellectual aspirations who, unlike Bast, successfully found an outlet for their fomenting thoughts by writing for one of the new (dare we say, ‘vulgar’?) periodicals. That this misrepresentation is an instance of Forster’s bourgeois
hypocrisy mentality or blindness, a sort of nostalgia for a cultured England which never was. Or perhaps what was true of Bast in the novel was merely true for Bast as an individual — not as a representative of his ‘class’ or ‘station.’ That when Forster/Margaret Schlegel says ‘only connect’ it is as much about dealing with the people in the room as it is about class consciousness;1 that the characters are at once themselves and something more, their actions and manners as symbols and selves refracting through and against each other to form a single image, though as neither the one nor the other are they wholly entire.
- Or, if you prefer, a conspiracy of the self-identified intellectuals and capitalists against those less fortunate than themselves. [↩]