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[Easy Chair]

Driven to Distraction


“Only connect” are the words that E. M. Forster is most famous for. What they actually meant to him, however, often fades behind a vague notion that his was a boosterish, pro-connection position. The phrase comes up when Margaret Schlegel, the protagonist of his novel Howards End (1910), drifts in reverie after accepting a marriage proposal. “Only connect!” we read. “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.” Margaret hopes to turn her industrialist fiancé into a person who knows what he feels and questions what he thinks—into a person possessed of self-awareness and empathy, which in the case of the widower Henry Wilcox represents a major remodeling job.

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