The boy, Leonard Bast, stood at the extreme verge of gentility. He was not in the abyss, but he could see it, and at times people whom he knew had dropped in, and counted no more.
And finally, and as if on cue, watertiger sends me this Guardian column about what keeps those tumbrels idle and the scaffolds disassembled:
Whether you're on the extreme verge of gentility or a solidly middle class wage slave, the abyss and its attendant anxieties feel perilously close during good times and bad. It's not "Hey, one day I could be rich!" but rather, "Hey, one day I could be poor!" that helps maintain the status quo. Keeping you anxious by, say, selling you credit rather than giving you wage increases for thirty years running, simultaneously keeps a small number of people obscenely rich, and those tumbrels in garages and those scaffolds in warehouses. Neat trick.
Howard's End is very worthwhile, by the way.