Thursday, September 11, 2008


Y13 Literature: Lots of notes on Howards End


Plot Summary of Howards End
· Howards End begins with news of Helen Schlegel's brief affair with Paul Wilcox.
· In its wake, Helen's Aunt Juley travels to Howards End, the Wilcox home, to discuss the relationship with the Wilcoxes, not knowing that it has already ended. The Wilcoxes react with horror to news of the affair, believing, unlike the Schlegels, that Paul must make his fortune before he marries.
· Helen, her romance with Paul and the rest of the Wilcox family over, returns to the Schlegel house, Wickham Place, and she and her sister Margaret resume their old life together.
· They attend a concert of Beethoven with other family members, and Helen accidentally walks off with the umbrella of Leonard Bast, a poor clerk teetering on the edge of respectability.
· After accompanying Margaret to Wickham Place to retrieve his umbrella, Leonard accepts her card, and returns to his own shabby flat, where he lives with Jacky, a woman much older than he.
· The Schlegels learn that the Wilcoxes are taking a flat across the street from Wickham Place, and Ruth Wilcox soon calls on Margaret. Margaret writes a note suggesting that they should not meet because of the possibility of an encounter between Helen and Paul, and Mrs. Wilcox replies to her that they should meet, because there is no possibility of an encounter between the two former lovers.
· The two women strike up a friendship, in spite of Mrs. Wilcox's discomfort in Margaret's world.
· Mrs. Wilcox feels that Margaret understands her attachment to Howards End, and after a day of shopping together, she impulsively proposes they go there. Margaret wavers at first, but they leave for the train station, where they meet Henry and Evie Wilcox, Mrs. Wilcox's husband and daughter.
· Mrs. Wilcox is spirited off by her family, and Margaret's visit is postponed. Soon after, Mrs. Wilcox dies.
· The Wilcoxes are alarmed to discover that Mrs. Wilcox has left a note leaving Howards End to Margaret. They decide to burn the note, and not speak of it to Margaret.
· Two years pass. The Schlegels are about to lose their house at Wickham Place, which will be destroyed so that flats may be built there.
· Leonard Bast's wife, Jacky, comes round to the house looking for him. Leonard has disappeared for an evening, and Jacky thinks he is with the Schlegels. The next day, Bast appears at Wickham Place, explaining that he has taken an all-night walk outside of London.
· When he notes that the dawn was gray and not at all romantic, the Schlegels are charmed by him. When they mention Bast to Henry Wilcox, he tells them Bast's company is in danger of going under, and they resolve to warn Bast of this eventuality.
· They invite Bast to tea, and he is suspicious of their desire to talk business when he wants to talk poetry. The tea is interrupted when Evie and Henry Wilcox arrive at the house, and as Bast is leaving, he tells the Schlegels he will not call again.
· Mr. Wilcox thinks that Margaret is attracted to Leonard Bast, and feels an attraction for her as a result. Soon after, at a lunch with Evie, Mr. Wilcox offers to lease the Wilcoxes' Ducie Street flat to the Schlegels. While Margaret tours the flat, Mr. Wilcox asks her to marry him, and she accepts.
· Margaret wants to live at Howards End, but her fiancé is against it. Meanwhile, Helen has had a letter from Leonard Bast, who is leaving his company for another post at lower pay.
· When Margaret mentions this to Henry, he says that in fact Bast's company is a very stable firm. Though the Schlegels blame Henry for Bast's predicament, he shrugs off their criticism.
· Margaret and Henry make a trip to Howards End, where she is frightened by Miss Avery, who mistakes her for Ruth Wilcox.
· Margaret loves the house, but believes that she and Henry will live at Oniton, where they attend Evie's wedding to Percy Cahill. Helen, who has refused to attend the wedding, arrives there unexpectedly with Leonard and Jacky Bast, saying that she has found them starving.
· Margaret is planning to ask Henry to give Bast a place in his company, but before she can do so, Jacky recognizes Henry as her former lover. Helen takes the Basts to a hotel, where she and Leonard have an intimate conversation.
· Margaret, who believes Henry's unfaithfulness is the late Mrs. Wilcox's tragedy rather than hers, refuses Henry's offer to release her from their engagement, and they reconcile.
· Before Margaret can speak with any of them, Helen and the Basts leave their hotel.
· Before she goes to Germany, Helen attempts to give the Basts a substantial monetary gift, but they refuse. They are soon evicted and forced to rely on handouts from Leonard's family.
· Wickham Place is destroyed to make way for flats, and Margaret and Henry marry. With the family scattered, the Schlegels' furniture is stored at Howards End.
· When Margaret hears that Miss Avery has unpacked the Schlegels' things, she goes to Howards End. She is amazed to see how well her furniture fits in the house, but is soon called away to Swanage when she gets news of her aunt's illness.
· Margaret and her brother Tibby contact Helen, who has been in Germany for eight months, to tell her Juley is gravely ill, and Helen agrees to come to Swanage.
· When Helen hears that Juley has recovered, she refuses to see her family, but will get some books from Howards End. Believing her sister to be unwell, Margaret reluctantly agrees to Henry's plan to surprise Helen at Howards End.
· As the plan is carried out, Margaret realizes that "[t]he pack was turning on Helen, to deny her human rights," and it seems to Margaret "that all Schlegels were threatened with her." When she sees her sister, who is pregnant with Leonard Bast's child, she pushes her into Howards End, and bids her husband and the doctor to leave them.
· Helen, on seeing their furniture and other things, asks to spend the night in Howards End. When Margaret asks Henry if they may stay at Howards End, he refuses on the grounds that it would be immoral.
· Margaret is disgusted by his hypocrisy and she defies his wishes, spending a peaceful night at Howards End with her sister.
· Leonard Bast has been looking for Margaret, and Tibby tells him she is at Howards End.
· As Leonard approaches the house, he is filled with happiness, but when he enters the house, Charles strikes him, and he dies.
· In the wake of Bast's death and her own quarrel with him, Margaret tells Henry she will go to Germany with Helen. But Henry is broken by the certainty of Charles's conviction for manslaughter, and Margaret takes him to recover at Howards End.
· In the final scene of the novel, fourteen months have passed, and Helen, her child by Leonard Bast, Margaret, and Henry have become a loving family. In the presence of his children, Henry deeds Howards End to Margaret, who will leave it to her sister's son. When Dolly remarks that Margaret has gotten Howards End after all, Margaret realizes that she has conquered the Wilcoxes without even trying.


Miss Avery
Miss Avery is Ruth Wilcox's old friend and the caretaker of Howards End. She unpacks and arranges the Schlegels' furniture in Howards End, even though it is only supposed to be stored there.
Jacky Bast
Jacky is Leonard's dull, uneducated wife who was once Henry Wilcox's mistress.
Leonard Bast
Leonard is the lowly clerk who wishes to educate himself by reading books and attending concerts. "Such a muddle of a man, and yet so worth pulling though," says Helen Schlegel. He is described as being on the "abyss" of poverty, and is very self-conscious about his position in society. Suspicious of the rich, he will not be patronized by them, which is part of the reason he refuses Helen's offer of money. His two unfortunate mistakes are leaving his job on the advice of the Schlegel sisters (and Henry Wilcox), and becoming involved with Helen. The scene in which he dies, which includes a dramatic fall into a bookcase that showers him with books, has been criticized for its heavy-handed symbolism.
Frieda Mosebach
Frieda Mosebach is the Schlegels' German cousin, who attends the performance of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony with them.
Juley Munt
Juley Munt is the Schlegels' beloved but interfering aunt, whose famously comic scene in the novel occurs when she travels to Howards End for the purpose of convincing Helen to break off her engagement to Paul Wilcox.
Helen Schlegel
The charming sister of Margaret, Helen is high-spirited and hopelessly idealistic. Beethoven's Fifth Symphony affects her most profoundly, and reveals an interesting theme in the novel. She hears a "goblin footfall" in the music, which she imagines to represent the "panic and emptiness" of life, but she also hears a repetitive motif that she imagines as the heroism, magnificence, and triumph of life. These two aspects of life intrinsically bound together echo the highs and lows of Helen's own experiences. Her short-lived love affair with Paul at the beginning of the novel is indicative of her behavior throughout — heady excitement followed by disillusionment. Ruled by passion, she seldom considers the reality of a situation until it is too late. At first she is quite taken with all of the Wilcoxes, but the ill-fated love affair with Paul colors her feelings afterwards, and she is disappointed when Margaret and Henry Wilcox announce their engagement. Her liaison with Leonard Bast is the result of her sympathy for him and her anger at Henry, who will not help Leonard. Her anger at Henry also occasions a break with Margaret. Helen eventually reconciles with Margaret and Henry, who accept her and her illegitimate child (from Leonard Bast) at Howards End.
Margaret Schlegel
Margaret is the cultured, intelligent, and sympathetic protagonist of the novel. Although idealistic like her sister Helen, she is also very sensible and realistic. "Not beautiful, not supremely brilliant, but filled with something that took the place of both qualities — something best described as a profound vivacity, a continual and sincere response to all that she encountered in her path through life" is Forster's description of her. Some critics have found it hard to believe that Margaret would marry Henry Wilcox, a man most definitely her opposite. But Margaret sees things "whole," and although aware of Henry's faults, she also recognizes noble qualities in him. By the end of the novel, Margaret has had some effect on him. While it could be said that Helen reaches out to help Leonard, Margaret does the same for Henry. Indeed, Margaret is the connecting force between the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes; by the end of the novel, Henry seems less "muddled" and Helen seems less impulsive. But this does not occur until after Margaret nearly leaves Henry because of his refusal to allow Helen to stay the night at Howards End with her. In her famous speech to him, she implores him to connect his infidelity with Helen's transgression: "You shall see the connection if it kills you, Henry! You have had a mistress — I forgave you. My sister has a lover — you drive her from the house. Do you see the connection? Stupid, hypocritical, cruel — oh, contemptible! — a man who insults his wife when she's alive and cants with her memory when she's dead. A man who ruins a woman for his pleasure, and casts her off to ruin other men. And gives bad financial advice, and then says he is not responsible. These, man, are you. You cannot recognize them, because you cannot connect."
Tibby Schlegel
Tibby is Margaret and Helen's younger brother, the Oxford undergraduate. Although intellectual like his sisters, he is not interested in personal relationships as they are. His placid demeanor plays comically against their more passionate personalities, and is particularly evident in the scene where Helen visits him at Oxford to let him know of her plans to go to Germany.
Charles Wilcox
Charles is the philistine elder son of Henry Wilcox. Not especially fond of the Schlegels and their "artistic beastliness," he ridiculously suspects Margaret of scheming to get Howards End. His fierce sense of class superiority leads him to beat Leonard when he finds out that he is the father of Helen's child. Charles is convicted of manslaughter for Leonard's death.
Dolly Fussel Wilcox
Dolly is the chattering, good-hearted wife of Charles Wilcox. Like her husband, she foolishly believes Margaret is scheming to get Howards End.
Evie Wilcox
Evie, the daughter of Henry Wilcox, is a rather silly, superficial woman. Although she dislikes Margaret, she humours her father's interest in Margaret.
Henry Wilcox
Henry is the head of the Wilcox clan, who marries Margaret Schlegel after the death of his wife, Ruth. Critic Rose Macaulay describes him this way: "He has the business mind; he is efficient, competent, unimaginative, practically clear-headed, intellectually and spiritually muddled, uncivilized, a manly man, with firm theories about women, politics, the Empire, the social fabric." He is not given to self-introspection, a trait that almost costs him his marriage to Margaret. She insists that he acknowledge the connection between his affair with Jacky Bast and Helen's involvement with Leonard Bast. But his flaw is that he lacks the ability to connect his actions with the pain they might cause in another person's life, thus his indifference to Leonard's loss of employment. Furthermore, he cannot relate his own transgressions in life to another person's similar transgressions; therefore, he cannot sympathize with Helen. He cannot "connect the prose with the passion." By the end of the novel, Henry is broken by the imprisonment of his son, Charles, which forces him to reevaluate his life.
Paul Wilcox
Paul is the younger Wilcox son with whom Helen briefly falls in love. The incident sets the tone for conflict between the Wilcoxes and the Schlegels.
Ruth Wilcox
Henry's first wife, Ruth, is a kind, unselfish woman whose family adores her. However, she completely mystifies her family after she bequeaths Howards End to Margaret. She does so because she intuitively senses that Margaret will appreciate its "personality" and significance. The critic Lionel Trilling has written that Howards End represents England and its agrarian past, and that Ruth, while not intellectual, possesses ancestral wisdom that will be passed on to Margaret. Ruth is almost like a spiritual guide, or as critic Rose Macaulay states, a bridge between the unseen and the seen, and Margaret believes herself and the others "are only fragments of that woman's mind."
The major theme of Howards End is connection — connection between the private and the public life, connection between individuals — and how difficult it is to create and sustain these connections. Howards End focuses mainly on two families: the Schlegels, who represent intellectualism, imagination, and idealism — the inner life of the mind — and the Wilcoxes, who represent English practicality, expansionism, commercialism, and the external world of business and politics. For the Schlegels, personal relationships precede public ones and the individual is more important than any organization. For the Wilcoxes, the reverse is true; social formalities and the rules of the business world reign supreme.
Through the marriage of Margaret Schlegel and Henry Wilcox, these two very different worlds are connected. Margaret, unlike her wildly idealistic sister Helen, moves toward an understanding of the Wilcoxes. Helen's initial encounter with the Wilcoxes proves disastrous, but Margaret begins to realize that many of the things she values, such as art and culture, would not exist without the economic and social stability created by people such as the Wilcoxes. "More and more," she says, "do I refuse to draw my income and sneer at those who guarantee it."
Margaret and Henry's marriage nearly comes to an end, however, when Henry is unable to make an important connection between his sexual transgression with Jacky Bast and Helen's liaison with Leonard Bast. Margaret and Helen want to spend the night together at Howards End before Helen returns to Germany to have her baby. But the hypocritical Henry cannot tolerate the presence of a "fallen woman" on his property, and refuses to allow Margaret and Helen to remain there for the night. As the critic Malcolm Bradbury has written, Margaret insists on the "primacy of the standard of personal sympathy" while Henry emphasizes "the standard of social propriety." Margaret and Helen defy Henry by staying the night at Howards End, where they reestablish their relationship. By the novel's end, events force Henry to reconsider his values. He is reconciled to Helen, and along with Margaret and Helen's illegitimate son, they live together at Howards End under Margaret's guardianship.
Class Conflict
Another important theme in Howards End concerns struggle and conflict within the middle class. The aristocracy and the very poor do not make an appearance in this novel; the novelist states that "[w]e are not concerned with the very poor," but instead with the "gentlefolk, or with those who are obliged to pretend that they are gentlefolk." The three families in Howards End each represent different levels of the middle class. The Schlegels occupy the middle position, somewhere between the Basts, who exist at the lower fringes of the middle class, and the Wilcoxes, who belong to the upper-middle class. Leonard Bast, the clerk, lives near the "abyss" of poverty, while the Schlegels live comfortably on family money, and Henry Wilcox, the wealthy business man who grows steadily richer, has money for "motors" and country houses.
Leonard Bast is somewhat obsessed by class differences, and tries to improve himself by becoming "cultured." He reads books such as Ruskin's Stones of Venice and attends concerts. He meets the Schlegel sisters at a concert performance of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and becomes interested in them mainly because they seem to take his intellectual aspirations seriously. The Schlegels are fascinated by Leonard and his situation, but Leonard's connection to the Schlegels ultimately proves fatal. When Margaret and Helen hear from Mr. Wilcox that the company Leonard works for is about to go bankrupt, they advise him to find another position. The information proves to be unsound, but Leonard follows it, taking and then losing another position. As a result, he and his wife Jacky are left nearly penniless. In the scene where Leonard, Jacky, and Helen storm into Evie's opulent wedding, Forster illustrates the huge social and economic gulf between the nearly destitute Basts and the wealthy Wilcoxes. This scene, as the critic Frederick P. W. McDowell has noted, "suggests that the impersonal forces by which the Wilcoxes prosper have operated at the expense of Leonard and his class."
Leonard is destroyed by a combination of the Wilcox's indifference and Helen's sympathy. Helen tries to convince Henry that he has a responsibility to help Leonard, because his advice essentially caused Leonard's ruin. When that proves futile, Helen's sympathy for Leonard overwhelms her and she sleeps with him. Upon discovering that Leonard is Helen's "lover," the brutish Charles Wilcox beats Leonard with the flat of the Schlegel family sword. Leonard dies not from the beating, but from a weak heart. He sinks to the floor, knocks over a bookcase and is buried in an avalanche of books, seemingly a victim of his own desire for self-improvement.
Future of England
Closely related to the themes of connection and class conflict in Howards End is the theme of inheritance. The novel concerns itself with the question of who shall inherit England. At the time Howards End was published, England was undergoing great social change. The issue of women's emancipation, commercial and imperial expansion, and the possibility of war with Germany were all factors that contributed to a general feeling of uncertainty about the future of England.
According to the critic Lionel Trilling, Howards End itself symbolizes England. It belongs to Ruth Wilcox, who descends from the yeoman class, and represents England's past. Before Ruth dies, she befriends Margaret Schlegel, and on her deathbed she scribbles a note leaving Howards End to Margaret. She cannot leave it to her family because the only feeling they have for it is one of ownership; they do not understand its spiritual importance as she knows Margaret will. The Wilcoxes dismiss Ruth's note as impossible, and disregard it completely, ignoring the rightful heir. But Margaret's connection with Ruth Wilcox in the novel is strong. Not only is she Ruth's spiritual heir, but she actually becomes Mrs. Wilcox and, ironically, inherits Howards End through her marriage to Henry.
Foster's answer to the question of who shall inherit England seems to suggest a shared inheritance. As the novel draws to a close, the intellectual Schlegels and the practical Wilcoxes are residing together at Howards End, and its immediate heir, Helen's illegitimate son, seems to symbolize a classless future.
Topics for Further Study
Research the career of the famous German composer, Ludwig van Beethoven, focusing especially on his composition of the Fifth Symphony.
Trace the evolution of the British Empire from 1910 to the Commonwealth of Nations today. What are some key differences between imperialist Britain of the Victorian and Edwardian eras and Britain now?
What were the forces that led to WWI, and what was Britain's involvement?
Analyze the history of the class structure in Britain. What were some of the political, social, and economic issues facing the proletariat class and the middle class in 1910? Can you relate them to Forster's depiction of Leonard and Jacky Bast?
Style
Setting
The various locales represented in Howards End are related to the theme of inheritance and which of England's landscapes — countryside, city, or suburbs — will claim the future. During the Edwardian era, a great migration from the countryside to the city transpired, mainly because England was shifting from an agrarian nation to an industrialized nation. London, in particular, was growing at an alarming rate, and a great deal of rebuilding and restructuring of the city occurred. New modes of transportation, such as the automobile, tramcars, autobuses, and the subway, allowed people more mobility than ever before. Urban and suburban development, or "sprawl," followed the subway and tramway lines. The novel is wary of this type of progress and movement, preferring the stability of the country life and homes like Howards End versus the impersonal, chaotic world of London.
The three families in Howards End occupy three different locales: the Schlegels live in London, the Wilcoxes split their time between homes in London and the countryside (easily facilitated by their "motor"), and the Basts live in suburbia. A great deal of movement occurs between country and city, and moving house is a major activity in the novel. For Ruth Wilcox, nothing is worse than being separated from your home. When she hears that the Schlegels' lease on Wickham Place will expire and they will be forced to move, she is greatly distressed. "To be parted from your house, your father's house — it oughtn't to be allowed. Can what they call civilization be right, if people mayn't die in the room where they were born?" she says to Margaret.
Symbolism
Howards End is a highly symbolic novel; many critics have described it as parable with archetypal or mythic characters. The Wilcoxes symbolize the practical, materialistic, enterprising sort of people who have contributed to England's prosperity and strengthened the empire. The Schlegels symbolize the intellectual and artistic types who possess humanistic values and recognize the importance of the spirit. Margaret and Henry's marriage demonstrates the relationship between these two personalities, emphasizing a balance between the two.
Of all the Wilcoxes, Ruth is the only one who does not fit the Wilcox "mold." She is withdrawn from modern life, intuitive, spiritual, and not at all intellectual, but as Lionel Trilling states, representative of traditional values and ancestral knowledge. Along with Miss Avery, the caretaker of Howards End, Ruth Wilcox symbolizes the importance of the human connection to nature and the earth. The wych elm tree with the pig's teeth, the vine, and the hayfield at Howards End also emphasize this connection. The movement of the seasons and the rhythms of nature are contrasted to the senseless movement of the modern, industrialized city, symbolized by the motorcar. The motorcar is never portrayed in a very attractive light: chaos and confusion seem to follow it everywhere, as in the scene where Charles hits the cat.
Other important symbols include the Schlegel books and bookcase and family sword at Howards End, which play so significantly in Leonard's death. When Leonard falls from Charles's blow with the sword and literally buries himself in books, it appears that the culture and intellectual sophistication he so desperately sought become his ruin. It is noteworthy that the sword and books belong to the Schlegels, however. Ostensibly, it seems that Leonard dies at the hand of the Wilcoxes — Henry, by giving him bad advice, and Charles, by actually dealing the final blow with the sword. But if Helen had not been overwhelmed by her sense of injustice, her anger toward the Wilcoxes, and her pity for Leonard, he would at least still have his life. The novel's bitter irony is that the person who tried to help Leonard the most effectively destroyed him.
Humour
Forster received high praise for his use of humour. Many situations in the novel are quite satirical or ironic. One of the earliest comic scenes in the novel involves Aunt Juley's trip to Howards End on Helen's behalf. When Aunt Juley mistakes Charles for Paul, the comedy begins. The discovery of the error only leads to an argument over Helen's behavior, which progresses to an argument over which family is better, the Schlegels or the Wilcoxes. The silly argument betrays the well-mannered facade of two supposedly well-bred gentlefolk. It also foreshadows the more serious conflict that will arise between the two families.
Another humorous scene involves Margaret trying to engage Tibby in a discussion about his future. She wants Tibby to think seriously of taking up a profession after he graduates. Of course, her reasons have nothing to do with the need for money. Rather, she believes it would build character. When she mentions a man's desire to work, Tibby replies, "I have no experience of this profound desire to which you allude." The aesthetic Tibby has no reason to consider a profession because he is financially secure. One of his satirical comments is that he prefers "civilization without activity."
Another semi-comic scene is the Wilcox family meeting concerning Ruth's bequest of Howards End. The Wilcoxes operate the meeting in an impersonal, business-like manner that reflects their style. Their mistrust of personal relations leads Charles to suggest that perhaps Margaret manipulated his mother into leaving her Howards End. Dolly irrationally fears that Margaret, as they speak, may be on her way to turn them all out of the house. The scene illustrates how suspicious and ill-mannered the Wilcoxes can be, and how they always suppose people are trying to get something out of them.
Criticism
Jane Elizabeth Dougherty
Dougherty is a Ph.D. candidate at Tufts University. In this essay, she discusses Forster's depictions of the characters' relationships to their dwelling places in Howards End.
Daniel Born notes that "discussion of values in Howards End is never pursued apart from a material context of physical living space." In Howards End, a novel which takes its name from the Wilcox family's country house, the "material contexts" of the characters and their relationships to these material contexts defines each of the three families: the Schlegels, the Wilcoxes, and the Basts. As Michael Levenson notes, Howards End is a novel "not of three classes, but of three households." Throughout the novel, each of the three families is defined by their relationships to their physical living spaces. These differing relationships are, in fact, shown to be in conflict in the novel, and this conflict is resolved only uneasily by the novel's end.
The novel begins with Helen's descriptions of Howards End, where she has gone to visit the Wilcoxes. In the opening paragraphs of her first letter to Margaret, she writes:
It isn't going to be what we expected. It is old and little, and altogether delightful — red brick. From hall you go right or left into dining-room or drawing-room. Hall itself is practically a room. You open another door in it, and there are the stairs going up in a sort of tunnel to the first-floor. Three bedrooms in a row there, and three attics in a row above. That isn't all the house really, but it's all that one notices — nine windows as you look up from the front garden.
Then there's a very big wych-elm — to the left as you look up — leaning a little over the house, and standing on the boundary between the garden and meadow. I quite love that tree already. Also ordinary elms, oaks — no nastier than ordinary oaks — pear trees, apples trees, and a vine. I only want to show that it isn't the least what we expected. Why did we settle that their house would be all gables and wiggles, and their garden all gamboge-coloured paths? I believe simply because we associate them with expensive hotels — Mrs. Wilcox trailing in beautiful dresses down long corridors, Mr. Wilcox bullying porters, etc.
Helen's letter to her sister shows that the Schlegels have spent some time speculating on what Howards End was going to be like, based on their acquaintance with the house's owners. Clearly, the Schlegels believe that one's house is, or should be, a reflection of one's personality, of one's personal relations. Howards End does not seem the type of house that Wilcoxes would live in, and it is true that only Mrs. Wilcox has a personal relationship with Howards End. The house has stood for centuries, sheltering Mrs. Wilcox's ancestors, who worked the land and lived in close relationship to it. The romanticized and pastoral Howards End stands in contrast to the ever-changing landscape of London. Of the Schlegels' house, Wickham Place, the narrator says
Their house was in Wickham Place, and fairly quiet, for a lofty promontory of buildings separated it from a main thoroughfare. One had the sense of a backwater, or rather of an estuary, whose waters flowed in from the visible sea, and ebbed into a profound silence while the waves without were still beating. Though the promontory consisted of flats — expensive, with cavernous entrance halls, full of concierges and palms — it fulfilled its purpose, and gained for the older houses opposite a certain measure of peace. These, too, would be swept away in time, and another promontory would arise upon their site, as humanity piled itself higher and higher on the precious soil of London.
The sea is a recurring metaphor in the novel: as when Margaret says that they "stand upon money as upon islands," the sea represents the ever-changing and threatening reality of modern life. The Schlegels, in their house on Wickham Place, are protected from the roiling sea of modern life, and their house is another island upon which they stand. Yet the Schlegels' house is constantly threatened by the "sea" around it: they will eventually lose their lease, and their house will be torn down to build more flats. The ever-increasing London masses have lost their relationship to the "precious soil" on which they live, and as a result lost what Frederick Crews calls "the last fortress of individualism in a world of urban sameness." Mrs. Wilcox reacts with horror when Margaret tells her the Schlegels will lose their house:
"It is monstrous, Miss Schlegel; it isn't right. I had no idea that this was hanging over you. I do pity you from the bottom of my heart. To be parted from your house, your father's house — it oughtn't to be allowed. It is worse than dying. I would rather die than — Oh, poor girls! Can what they call civilization be right, if people mayn't die in the room where they were born? My dear, I am so sorry —
It seems that Mrs. Wilcox is about to say that she would rather die than be parted from her house, but in fact she has been parted from it, because her husband has decided they should take a flat in London. The forces of "civilization," in the person of Mr. Wilcox, are stronger than the forces of continuity and individualism. The other Wilcoxes do not have Mrs. Wilcox's reverence for Howards End, and at the end of her life, Ruth chooses to leave Howards End to Margaret, believing Margaret to be her spiritual heir. Ruth's husband and children do not understand this decision, seeing Howards End solely as a piece of property — not a very useful or valuable one, but one which legally belongs to them. They decide to disregard their mother's wish, and do not inform Margaret of Mrs. Wilcox's bequest.
Two years after the novel's action commences, the Schlegels do lose their house, and become subject to the threatening sea of modern life. In this, they become like the Basts, of whose flat the narrator says that "it struck that shallow makeshift note that is so often heard in the modern dwelling-place. It had been too easily gained, and could be relinquished too easily." The Basts, who are always barely able to survive financially, do not have any islands on which to stand. When they are financially ruined, they lose their flat and do not have the means to let another one. The Schlegels feel spiritually and emotionally bereft when they lose their house, but they can get another one; the Basts do not have the luxury of ever living in a house that is meaningful to them, though Leonard would like to. Perry Meisel notes of Bast that he is "a grossly thematic reminder that the state of one's psyche and of one's economy are disastrously intertwined." Bast's tentative hold on financial solvency is echoed in his tentative interest in, and acquisition of, culture: like his flat, Bast's quest for meaning in his life can also be all-too-easily lost in the Basts' struggle for survival.
Like the Basts' flat, the various dwelling-places of the Wilcoxes have all been easily gained and can be easily relinquished, with the exception of Howards End. Henry Wilcox values property not for its meaning, but for its use, and he often decides that property he has acquired is unsuitable for his needs. As Levenson notes, Wilcox, unlike Leonard Bast, is a beneficiary, rather than a victim, of the ever-changing nature of modern life. When Henry and Margaret are engaged, Margaret keenly wants to settle into a house of her own, but they never seem to find one to which she is allowed to become attached. The differences in their attitudes toward Oniton, a house Henry has acquired, completely sum up the differences in their characters. Henry's attitude toward Oniton is perfectly prosaic:
Oniton had been a discovery of Mr. Wilcox's — a discovery of which he was not altogether proud. It was up towards the Welsh border, and so difficult of access that he had concluded it must be something special. A ruined castle stood in the grounds. But having got there, what was one to do? The shooting was bad, the fishing indifferent, and women-folk reported the scenery as nothing much. The place turned out to be in the wrong part of Shropshire, damn it, and though he never damned his own property aloud, he was only waiting to get it off his hands, and then to let fly. Evie's marriage was its last appearance in public. As soon as a tenant was found, it became a house for which he never had had much use, and had less now, and like Howards End, faded into Limbo.
Henry bases his opinion of Oniton on the property's use to him: whether he can entertain business guests in it, whether it increases his status, whether it offers him sufficient recreation. When he decides not to live at Oniton, he does not give it up, but lets it to a tenant so he can derive an income from it. It is as if actually living in a house is a poor investment, when one can rent it out and get money from it. The narrator notes that the Wilcoxes are an imperial family, always looking for new parts of England to conquer, as the English have conquered the globe. Henry's attitude towards his home at Oniton contrasts sharply with Margaret's:
Margaret was fascinated with Oniton. She had said that she loved it, but it was rather its romantic tension that held her. The rounded Druids of whom she had caught glimpses in her drive, the rivers hurrying down from them to England, the carelessly modelled masses of the lower hills, thrilled her with poetry. The house was insignificant, but the prospect from it would be an eternal joy, and she thought of all the friends she would have to stop in it, and of the conversion of Henry himself to a rural life. Society, too, promised favorably. The rector of the parish had dined with them last night, and she found that he was a friend of her father's, and so knew what to find in her. She liked him. He would introduce her to the town.
Margaret is stirred by the poetry of Oniton, and moreover, the community surrounding it links her to her father, because the rector had been a friend of his. Though she recognizes that the house itself is insignificant, she thinks not at all of the property's value in the real world, but only of its personal meaning to her. The Schlegels are interested in poetry and personal relations, the Wilcoxes in prose and investments. Yet, as for the first Mrs. Wilcox, her husband's wishes take precedence over Margaret's. They do not settle at Oniton. Margaret becomes estranged from her sister Helen because she has allied herself with the Wilcoxes: she no longer tries to influence Henry, but acquiesces to his wishes. It is only when Margaret and Helen meet at Howards End that Margaret sees that the Schlegels are threatened in a world run by Wilcoxes. She and Helen are reconciled to each other at Howards End, surrounded by their furniture and other possessions, when they realize that "they never could be parted because their love was rooted in common things." It is the history they share, represented by what they have jointly owned and jointly experienced, that binds them together. Because they value this common history, they also value Howards End, which is linked to the history of Mrs. Wilcox's family, to organic relationships rooted in a rural life. As Wilfred Stone notes, "[t]hough the Wilcoxes hold the 'title-deeds' and the 'door-keys,' these evidences of ownership do not impress the Schlegels," who instead value the meanings they can create from the physical space in which they live, meanings which can be more easily created at Howards End than in the impersonal and temporary dwelling-places of London.
The conclusion of the novel sees Howards End rescued from limbo: it becomes a home in which Henry Wilcox, the Schlegel sisters, and the child of Leonard Bast can live together in a life rooted to the precious soil and contained in a house which has witnessed the births and deaths of generations. Yet as Born notes, "that Forster interrupts his final scene with awareness of the encroaching London mass suggests he is not entirely happy with this one-sided vision of serene, private, poeticized culture." Though the Schlegels have conquered the Wilcoxes, the forces of "civilization" still loom in the distance. Though Howards End may represent an idealized solution to the problems of a modernizing England, the sea still threatens the island on which the new family stands.
Source: Jane Elizabeth Dougherty, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 2000.
What Do I Read Next?
In Bloomsbury Recalled (1996), Quentin Bell, son of Clive and Vanessa Bell, offers one of the most recent memoirs recounting the personalities and adventures of that famous literary group.
Joseph Conrad's 1899 novel, Heart of Darkness, reveals the injustices of British imperialism in Africa.
In Forster's first novel, Where Angels Fear To Tread, (1905) he contrasts the vibrant, free life of Italians with the artificial, hypocritical and bourgeois life of the suburban Londoners who visit an Italian village.
Forster's novel, The Longest Journey, published in 1907 tells the story of two half brothers, one of them illegitimate.
A Room with a View is Forster's 1908 novel about a young woman's love affair and her struggle with Victorian conventions.
Forster's last and most highly regarded novel, A Passage to India (1924) details the social and historical milieu of colonial India, and one Englishwoman's experience there.
Forster's posthumously published novel, Maurice (1971) tells the story of a young man's discovery of his own homosexuality.
Fellow Bloomsbury Group member Lytton Strachey revolutionized the genre of biography with his Eminent Victorians, offering unusually unflattering portraits of four British cultural heroes, including Florence Nightingale. Critics suggest that his incisive criticisms take on the difference between mere "moral righteousness" and "true humanitarianism."
Virginia Woolf's 1925 novel, Mrs. Dalloway, is at once the story of Clarissa Dalloway's party and a critique of the British social system.
Woolf's 1927 novel, To the Lighthouse focuses on the inner life and experiences of an English family.

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