“It was the kind of scene that may be observed all over London, whatever the locality— bricks and mortar rising and falling with the restlessness of a water in a fountain, as the city receives more and more men upon her soil.”
The only permanence in the novel is Howard’s End, a place which has a pivotal effect towards all the characters. Even though the main setting is in London, it’s presence is felt throughout. The Wilcox’s wrongfully keep the home after Mrs. Ruth Wilcox passes. She wrote a note in pencil that she wished her friend, Margaret Schlegel, to have it. Despite that none of the family want to live there and feel it’s outdated they value it as a piece of property and don’t feel right parting with it to a stranger.
The Schlegel’s are very different from the Wilcox’s.They have an appreciation for the arts and for emotions. They challenge their thoughts and look at other points of view, associating with diverse people– they want to know life beyond the norm of society. Margaret, Helen, and Tibby each are very different individuals; they have their own personalities and interests. Margaret has a strong backbone, she’s witty, understanding and thoughtful. Helen’s wild, impulsive, and passionate. Tibby doesn’t try to impress anyone and is not worldly ambitious, he studies what he finds interesting and works very hard at it. The Wilcox’s struggle is to stay within the norm. They suppress emotion, seeing it as a weakness and are determined to be successful in the material world. Those in the family share common characteristics, very little differentiates them from one-another.
Margaret had often wondered at the disturbance that takes place in the world’s waters when Love, who seems so tiny a pebble, slips in. Whom does love concern beyond the beloved and the lover? Yet his impact deluges a hundred shores.
What really intrigued me is how and if Margaret Schlegel could care for Mr. Henry Wilcox. The same might be said for Ruth. Was it his vulnerability, which only they saw, that was part of his attraction? The worldly comfort? or just the desire of marriage? It’s not because he’s flawed that I fail to grasp the two’s choice of husband but because their minds and spirits and so dissimilar to his. Ruth and Margaret both have very sensitive souls, although Margaret’s more forward-thinking. But they both marry this man who doesn’t try to understand himself, doesn’t really have independent thoughts– just stands with what he’s been brought up to do and think. He seems imperceptive to humanity and the side of the world which Margaret really is a part of.
Helen and Mr. Wilcox were both tangled in adulterous affairs– they both crossed the boundaries of Edwardian morality but where Helen recognizes this, Mr. Wilcox refuses it. He was married to Ruth. Leonard Bast was married to Jacky. Jacky Bast was Mr. Wilcox’s mistress years ago. When he learns of Helen’s pregnancy he refuses to let her stay at Howard’s End. She has done wrong. That he did the same thing can’t be admitted. Margaret tries to make him face his hypocrisy but he keeps it buried under unrelenting denial. He wants to portray himself as the ‘model gentleman’ and because this illusion has been broken and Margaret knows the truth it’s the end of their marriage. He doesn’t forgive himself nor anyone else, even though as humans we cannot be perfect.
Helen’s moment with Leonard might have been her way of showing him they are equals. While Mr. Wilcox sees his previous affair as degrading, he never saw Jacky as an equal. He leaves Jacky stranded without a care for her welfare. Leonard sticks by his promise to marry her and is cut off from his family. He feels responsibility. Something Helen chides Mr. Wilcox for his lack of. Especially when his information about the Porphyrion causes a lot of problems for the Basts.
Leonard really wants to improve himself but in the beginning he forces it too much. When he plays a bit of Grieg on the piano, it’s described as harsh and vulgar. I think Forster means Leonard doesn’t understand the piece and plays it tempestuously thinking, perhaps that he’ll feel more– convey more and forgets the nuances, the contrasts of the piece, and probably technique. He has great fear of his own ignorance and when he first meets the Schlegels all he can do is be silent and wary. He fails to discern they wouldn’t judge him harshly but be intrigued by his eagerness.
When he goes out for his all-night walk he begins to realize that the true greatness of culture isn’t always analyzing or comparing but having those works influence his life, inspire him to transcend beyond his daily routine.
Mr. Wilcox with all of his wealth and privileges doesn’t come to this realization. But he begins to sense the imbalance of how he interprets life after he’s broken by the scandal of his son’s actions which hurry on Leonard’s end. Done because of a belief that he must defend Helen’s honor, another erroneous assumption because it was probably Helen who seduced Leonard– but Mr. Wilcox is taken into Margaret’s wing and the ending leaves a sense that maybe he will understand. Surrounded as he is now by Margaret, Helen, and Helen’s son. Learning along with the child?
What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives? They have never entered into mine, but into yours, we thought–Haven’t we all to struggle against life’s daily greyness, against pettiness, against mechanical cheerfulness, against suspicion? I struggle by remembering my friends; others I have known by remembering some place–some beloved place or tree–we thought you one of these.
Charles and Tibby met at Ducie Street, where the latter was staying. Their interview was short and absurd. They had nothing in common but the English language, and tried by its help to express what neither of them understood.