E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End

“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 Despite that none of the family want to live there and feel it’s outdated they value it as a piece of property and don’t feel right parting with it to a stranger.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?

Memorable Quotes

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.

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6 thoughts on “E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End

  1. Katherine, you make Howards End seem better than it really is, for me, that's what I think.I read it last July. I love all novels where the concept of “house” or “home” or “neighbourhood” take the central role. But I didn't get this book. I thought it was silly and shallow (and for a while I avoided 20th cent English lit) Maybe because the book I read just before that was about the Bolshevik Revolution, capitalists, injustice and Marxism everywhere. I was in the mood for high ideas with a wish to change the world. Then came Forster with a really irritating set of characters and lack of intelligent plot. That was my reaction at the time and while I'm not criticising the book (since I was “drunk” in a way), I don't have a pleasant experience with it. I'm not nasty here – I read it in a wrong time.That said, I want to reread it now, thanks to you, in a different state that I'm in now. :) I've heard so many people say how wonderful this novel is – I'm really sad that that was reception of it… I really am.

  2. @Ruby: I hope you like it a little better on your second read. But I know what you mean. I think part of my disillusion with Eliot's The Mill on the Floss is because I read it after Parade's End, same with Waugh's Scoop (which is almost pure satire– although I stopped reading it, deciding to save it for later).I have a second post with a little more on Howard's End coming up. In many ways even though the house is central to the plot and throughout the story it's almost as though all the characters are displaced until the end when they actually live there.

  3. I found it a calm, pleasant enough read though not wonderful – but I think you have a sensitivity for these unexciteful things. Which is useful because you see things the rest of us don't see. But I read a prominent critic said (and I agree with him) that Forster's chief fault was to make Margaret and Wilcox marry. There was no real attraction between there and it was all too contrived to make up a plot or theme. I haven't finished the book, but I felt Mrs Wilcox didn't get enough space of her own. I think it's in Penguin English Library if I'm not mistaken. Their Tenant of Wildfell Hall has a beautiful cover. I tried Parade's End and was promptly bored with the meaningless detail which I felt added no power. My more liberal friend, who actually bought and read the book couldn't get past 3 chapters. I guess your ability to digest and enjoy books with deep depressing reality (and I think you are a realist and likely a perfectionist) lets you enjoy these works. Perhaps it's why you can't enjoy Eliot (whose world seems semi-idyllic and the speech a bit staged) or Scoop (which satire is in another sort of world.) I read for some form of escape, and to appreciate the inner forces of motivation, and only powerful things can excite me. Which is probably why I don't dig dark depressing reality , unless it has poetic prose and great emotional power.Howards End seems to be trying to be too intellectual, like using the house as some kind of symbol instead of focusing on emotional power and warm-hearted conversation. But that could be reflecting the colder, more reserved and cerebral Edwardian era compared to the early Victorians.

  4. @Caroline: Agreed, her marriage to him is unfathomable.I'm sure I'll enjoy Scoop when I pick it up again, I chuckled quite a few times. It's not that I don't appreciate wit or satire but the contrast of the two works was just too much.What intrigues me with Parade's End is the prose and characters. It took me a few chapters to accustom myself to the language and style– it being so totally different from the 1800s. It was so stimulating and I really had to focus until it became my language too, so to speak. It is a very emotionally moving book, if you decide to try it again. I love idyllic art so I'd think idyllic literature would be something I enjoy. I had a hard time with Eliot's Mill on the Floss, possibly, because the only character I really liked was Maggie and even then up to a point and it did feel very staged. Daniel Deronda may be more to my taste, we'll see. ;) Eliot is certainly intellectual in her writing as well though and I loved some quotes within the work.

  5. The language of Parade's End isn't hard – it's the description which is so plodding, a total contrast to Jane Austen. If you moan about the lack of description in Austen, at least you can't condemn her for long boring descriptions. But when I have time and a different mood my tastes may change. Satire doesn't really last the decades so well as emotional darkness, which is why Scoop doesn't last so well as Brideshead Revisited. I tend to dislike modernist works because the characters are rarely altruistic – but of course all of us became selfish after the Wars. Then there isn't the same love of nature and poetry, or the love of teaching oneself out of books like the Victorians did. Victorian novels tend to emphasise on improving yourself, the modernists tend to look at reality darkly and sordidly. I think the Victorians were too idealistic, the modernists too pessimistic – there are such things as happy events even in miserable times.I enjoyed Mill on the Floss more than Eliot's other works though I still think Middlemarch is the best. It had emotional power but I rolled my eyes at the stagedness of Maggie's and Philip's conversations. And the part about her adulthood isn't touched on so much. Stephen Guest was more a figurehead than a person. Still, it gives more perspectives than Jane Eyre, even though Jane Eyre is more “perfect.” I guess you could compare Pride and Prejudice to Mansfield Park. The latter is deeper but P&P is funnier and more “perfect.

  6. “What really intrigued me is how and if Margaret Schlegel could care for Mr. Henry Wilcox.”Agree. After giving it some thought, I realised that it could be Margaret's only way to remain a respectable woman in society despite her liberal upbringing and a need to take care of someone in life as her siblings enter adulthood and she no longer needs to play a motherly role.But I hated him, pretty much like Helen did.

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