Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Howards End, sometimes proclaimed as Forster’s most mature novel, uses the country house as a symbol of cultural unity. On the title page of the early editions is the phrase “Only connect.” Forster admonishes humankind that its most significant failure is the reluctance to establish relationships with each other and eliminate the obstacles of prejudice that divide and subjugate individuals. The Schlegels and the Wilcoxes represent two different ways of life. The Schlegels signify culture (“sweetness and light”), and the Wilcoxes represent materialism (acquisitiveness and power). The threat of the “machine in the garden” or the growing materialism in Edwardian England challenges the order of traditional English society. Although the mood of the novel is social comedy, it exhibits the trappings of a novel of manners, and the serious subject of social and political upheaval is implied.
The narrative begins with Helen Schlegel’s letter to her sister Margaret. She writes from Howards End, where she is a guest of the Wilcox family. The Wilcox family had met the Schlegels while both families were vacationing in Germany. Both sisters had been invited to Howards End, but Margaret stays with Tibby, their brother, who is ill. Helen Schlegel falls in love with Paul Wilcox and the Wilcox family, but both families are opposed to the match. In a rather indelicate manner, Helen breaks off her relationship with Paul. In a bumbling rescue by her aunt, Mrs. Munt, Helen returns home. Mrs. Munt breaks every rule of decorum and embarrasses Helen and herself. Soon the Wilcox family rents a flat across the street from the Schlegel home. The Schlegel home is a leasehold property, inherited from their father. At the expiration of the lease, they will have to move. Mrs. Ruth Wilcox and Margaret Schlegel become good friends.
Helen Schlegel accidentally takes an umbrella from Leonard Bast at a concert. This working-class young man intrigues the Schlegel sisters, who do not know of his attachment to Jacky, a woman some years older than Leonard and soon to become his wife.
Shortly after Ruth Wilcox and Margaret Schlegel become friends, Ruth dies. She leaves Howards End to Margaret, much to the dismay of her husband and son. No one tells Margaret of her inheritance since it is...
(The entire section is 941 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The Wilcox family meets Margaret Schlegel and her sister Helen while both families are vacationing in Germany. Neither group expects the chance acquaintance to amount to anything more, but later, after all return to England, Helen is invited to visit the Wilcox family at Howards End, their country home near London. While there, Helen falls in love with Paul Wilcox. The Wilcox family disapproves of the match and Paul backs off. With that, the acquaintance ends. Several months later, however, the Wilcoxes rent a house across the street from the Schlegel home. Both of the young people are out of the country, and when Mrs. Wilcox and Margaret meet again, they become friends.
Acquainted also with the Schlegels is a young man named Leonard Bast, whose umbrella is accidentally taken by Helen at a concert. The young man interests the girls and their brother by his conversation when he calls to reclaim his umbrella. They do not know that he has a vulgar wife, a woman some years older than he who trapped him into a distasteful marriage.
Some months after the acquaintance between Mrs. Wilcox and Margaret ripens into friendship, Mrs. Wilcox becomes ill and dies. Much to the surprise of her husband and sons, she leaves, in addition to her will, a note giving Howards End to Margaret. Deeply upset at the idea of losing the house, the Wilcoxes decide to disregard the note, since it is not a part of the official will.
Margaret, who knows nothing of the bequest, is glad that the tie between herself and the Wilcox family is broken. She suspects that her sister might still be in love with Paul and fears that Helen suffers when she comes into contact with other members of the family.
Long after Mrs. Wilcox’s death, Margaret and her sister are sitting in the park one evening when they meet Mr. Wilcox. He tells them that the firm for which Leonard works is unreliable. Acting on that information, the girls advise the young man to change jobs, and he does so. A few weeks later, the long-term lease on the Schlegels’ home is due to expire. Although they search diligently, they find nothing suitable. Hearing of their predicament, Mr. Wilcox sends a letter to Margaret offering to lease them his house in London. Margaret goes with him to look at the house. While they are there, Mr. Wilcox declares his love. Margaret, who is well into her thirties, is surprised but not embarrassed or shocked. She asks only for some time to...
(The entire section is 1000 words.)
Chapters 1-2 Summary
Edward Morgan Forster (popularly known as E. M. Forster) published Howards End in 1910 at the age of thirty-one. Howards End was his first big literary success and is considered by many critics to be his masterpiece. As described by a 1910 critic in London’s Guardian, Forster wrote the novel with “what appears to be a feminine brilliance of perception.”
Howards End opens with three letters written by Helen Schlegel to her sister Margaret (“Meg”) Schlegel from the countryside, where she is staying with the Wilcox family. In the first letter, Helen describes the grand house and surrounding gardens where she is staying. Howards End is the name of the Wilcox manor. The grandeur...
(The entire section is 775 words.)
Chapters 3-4 Summary
Aunt Juley steps off the train and asks questions about the location of Howards End. Coincidentally, Charles Wilcox is at the train station. He has just put his father on the same train from which Aunt Juley has gotten off. When Aunt Juley asks a porter about Howards End, he introduces her to Charles Wilcox. Aunt Juley asks if Charles is “the younger Mr. Wilcox or the elder.” Charles thinks she is referring to his father as “the elder,” so he states that he is “the younger.” Aunt Juley mistakenly takes him to be his younger brother, Paul.
Charles offers Aunt Juley a ride to Howards End. In the course of their journey, Aunt Juley cannot stop herself from asking him questions about his relationship with Helen....
(The entire section is 739 words.)
Chapters 5-6 Summary
Helen, Margaret, Tibby, and their Aunt Juley attend a classical music concert featuring Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. As they listen to the composition, each has a different response. Helen relates the variations in the symphony to what has recently happened to her at the Wilcox home at Howards End. As Beethoven works through passages between major and minor keys, Helen thinks Beethoven had in mind an encounter between reality and imagination. She sees the Wilcoxes as people who deal with life on a very rational basis. She, in contrast, is one of the imaginative people who sees life differently. The meaning behind Beethoven’s music, Helen concludes, is that the world is not ruled merely by logic.
(The entire section is 682 words.)
Chapters 7-8 Summary
The news of the next day is that the Wilcoxes have moved into a flat across the street from where the Schlegel girls live. Aunt Juley is the first to notice the Wilcoxes as she is standing at the window arranging flowers. She is worried about their nearness, especially for Helen’s sake. Margaret tries to convince Aunt Juley that Helen no longer has feelings for Paul Wilcox. She is over him, Margaret says. However, when Helen comes into the room and Aunt Juley tells her about the Wilcoxes’ living so close by, Helen blushes.
After Helen leaves, Margaret changes the subject and discusses the differences between rich people and those who are poor. Rich people, Margaret tells her aunt, live on islands made of money. The...
(The entire section is 617 words.)
Chapters 9-11 Summary
In Chapter 9, Margaret has invited Mrs. Wilcox to come to tea and meet some of her friends. During the party, Mrs. Wilcox is very quiet. When Margaret tries to encourage Mrs. Wilcox to take part in some of the discussions, she shies away. It becomes clear that Mrs. Wilcox is not interested in any of the topics that fascinate Margaret and her friends.
The other people at Margaret’s house continue talking about art, German culture, and the difference between literature and journalism. Mrs. Wilcox listens to them all but without making any comment. It is not until they are on the topic of rights of women that Mrs. Wilcox offers her opinion: she admits she is glad she does not have to vote. Margaret amends the subject of...
(The entire section is 736 words.)
Chapters 12-14 Summary
Margaret knows nothing about Mrs. Wilcox’s intention to leave Howards End to her. She had suffered through Mrs. Wilcox’s illness as a compassionate friend, not as someone who wanted anything in return. Through the past few weeks of attending to Mrs. Wilcox in her declining health, Margaret grew fonder of the Wilcoxes, even the abrasive son, Charles. She now recognizes that her family and theirs are very different and will never be on the same social status—but each family has its own strength. Sometimes Margaret found that some of things the Wilcoxes would say or believe in were very stupid. But they did have all the right connections and always seemed to know whom to call or what to do whenever they were presented with a...
(The entire section is 882 words.)
Chapters 15-16 Summary
Helen and Margaret attend their women’s discussion group. The topic for the evening concerns how a millionaire should direct the disposal of her money when writing a will. One of the options discussed is giving the money to someone who is poor. All through the dinner that had preceded the discussion, both Helen and Margaret had talked about Leonard Bast. He had infiltrated their thoughts, so it was natural that when it came time for the discussion, Leonard Bast should reappear as the stereotype for the poor person.
There were no conclusions reached, but various opinions were considered, such as giving Leonard a small stipend each year and not giving him any money but providing him with objects like clothing or books....
(The entire section is 686 words.)
Chapters 17-19 Summary
Margaret is frustrated because she cannot find a new house for herself and her siblings. She also finds all their possessions a heavy load when she contemplates moving. They have lived in the same house all their lives and have many pieces of furniture that are more sentimental than practical. Some pieces belonged to their father, others to their mother; therefore, they cannot get rid of them even if the items are no longer needed or wanted. The sisters’ annual visit to their Aunt Juley’s home at Swanage is fast approaching, and Margaret had hoped to have a home established before they left.
To take a break from her worries, Margaret accepts a lunch invitation from Evie Wilcox, who has recently become engaged. Upon...
(The entire section is 733 words.)
Chapters 20-23 Summary
Mr. Wilcox arrives at Aunt Juley’s home. He has things to discuss with Margaret so they walk into town alone. It takes Margaret a while to realize that Wilcox wants to talk about money. She then becomes excited about the topic, but it is obvious that Wilcox does not really want her input—he merely wants to tell her what his ideas are. When he mentions that he wants to be fair with everyone as to how to distribute his money, Margaret asks him how much money he has. Wilcox is put off by this question; he feels that Margaret far too forward on the topic. There is no need for her to know how much he owns, he tells her, as long as she realizes that he needs to take care of his children and assure them that their inheritance will not...
(The entire section is 870 words.)
Chapters 24-26 Summary
Upon hearing that her father is to marry Margaret, Evie becomes upset. She feels Margaret is trying to steal her father. Dolly attempts a scheme. She suggests that Evie pretend to break her engagement off. Maybe then her father would come to his senses and not marry Margaret, because he would once again enjoy Evie’s company. Charles makes both Dolly and Evie stop their silliness. If she can do nothing else, Evie decides, she will at least change the date of her wedding from September to August, which she does.
Evie wants to hold the wedding not in London but rather in the countryside, at an estate her father has recently bought. The manor is located in Oniton Grange, far into the north country near the Welsh border....
(The entire section is 651 words.)
Chapters 27-30 Summary
Helen and Leonard are still at a hotel in Oniton, with Jacky asleep in the bedroom. Helen begins a discussion of the two different classes of people as she sees it. One group, of which she assumes Henry Wilcox is a member, has no consciousness of “I.” By this, she is not referring to individuals who are selfless but rather to those who have no sense of personal responsibility in anything they do or in anything that is happening in the world around them. In contrast, she and Leonard, Helen says, are well aware of the “I” that makes up the central part of their thoughts. They belong to other group.
Leonard is somewhat confused in this discussion. He is also distracted by more mundane thoughts, such as whether Mr....
(The entire section is 810 words.)
Chapters 31-33 Summary
Margaret and Henry are married in a small, quiet ceremony. Helen is invited but does not attend. She is traveling and sends frivolous excuses, but Margaret senses that Helen does not want to face Henry. Margaret sends her sister a long letter in which she encourages Helen not to judge Henry.
Margaret settles into her new life. She discovers one morning that she will not be living in Oniton when Henry announces he has rented out the house. He tells her that the house was too damp for them to live in. When Margaret asks why he had bought the place, Henry confesses he did so for his daughter, Evie. She had wanted to live there. She chose the house without completing a thorough investigation, and then shortly after the...
(The entire section is 517 words.)
Chapters 34-37 Summary
Aunt Juley is gravely ill. She has been sick for a long time with a series of colds and coughs. She has grown weaker and is now fighting a serious case of pneumonia. She is not expected to live. Margaret, Tibby, and Helen are called in. Helen was still in Germany but has wired that she is on her way back to London. Margaret and Tibby go immediately to their aunt’s home in Swanage.
Although the doctors had assumed that Aunt Juley would not recuperate, she does. She is weak but will eventually recover. Margaret and Tibby are thankful, but when they receive another telegram from Helen, Margaret must face another quandary. Helen is in London and asks about Aunt Juley’s health. If her aunt is feeling better, she will...
(The entire section is 958 words.)
Chapters 38-40 Summary
Margaret asks Henry that Helen be allowed to spend one night at Howards End. Henry turns down the request, believing firmly that he is in the right, as usual. Instead he focuses on the question of who has seduced Helen. He also informs Margaret that he has told Charles what is going on and has told Charles to notify Tibby. Margaret becomes angry at this news. There is no need for Charles to become involved and even less for Tibby, she tells her husband. Henry claims he has told Charles because one day Charles will inherit Howards End. The house where Helen wants to spend the night belongs to Charles. Henry also tells Margaret that she does not know the ways of the world. If they allow Helen to stay for one night, she will probably...
(The entire section is 461 words.)
Chapters 41-44 Summary
Leonard Bast, who is the father of Helen’s child, is filled with remorse. He has cheated on his wife and done wrong by another great woman. He believes the relationship between him and Helen (which had lasted only one night) was all his fault. He is unaware of the role Helen played. She felt sorry for him. She built up an image of him that was much grander than the man himself. So many other emotions had played out inside her head that night of Evie’s wedding. She was angry at Henry Wilcox for having ruined Jacky Bast’s life. She was also angry that it was Henry who had forced his son, Paul, away from her. So she had allowed Leonard Bast to make love to her that night out of loneliness and regret.
But Leonard does...
(The entire section is 729 words.)