(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Howards End cover image

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.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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.)