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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1000

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 think over both the rental of the house and the proposal of marriage, and a few days later she agrees to marry Mr. Wilcox.

Before Margaret’s marriage, Mr. Wilcox’s daughter is married at a house owned by the Wilcoxes near Wales. Helen, who disapproves of Margaret’s approaching marriage, appears at the wedding celebration with Leonard and his wife. Helen learns that through their bad advice Bast lost everything he had, including his job. Helen thinks that Mr. Wilcox ought to recompense the young man. Mrs. Bast is discovered in a tipsy condition on the lawn. There, she reveals to Mr. Wilcox and Margaret that she was Mr. Wilcox’s mistress many years before. Margaret is willing to forgive Mr. Wilcox but resolves not to help the Basts, which she feels, given the circumstances, is unnecessary and in poor taste.

Helen feels sorry for Leonard and spends part of one night with him, then remorsefully leaves England. She tries to give Leonard five thousand pounds, most of her fortune, but he refuses to accept her aid. The relationship between Helen and Leonard is unknown to Margaret, who goes ahead with plans for her marriage to Mr. Wilcox despite the fact that his sons do not approve of their father’s second marriage. Helen’s refusal to return for the ceremony does not surprise her sister, but when eight months go by without her return, Margaret begins to worry about her.

Helen finally comes back to England and sends word that she wants some books stored in the house at Howards End. She acts so mysteriously, however, refusing to meet with them directly, that Margaret becomes seriously concerned. When Margaret sees Helen, however, the reason becomes clear, for Helen is pregnant. When Helen asks to be permitted to spend one night with her sister in the unoccupied house at Howards End, Mr. Wilcox refuses to give his permission.

The two sisters stay in the house nevertheless. The following morning, Mr. Wilcox’s older son, Charles, comes to force them to leave. Directly after his arrival, Leonard comes to the house in search of Margaret, from whom he hopes to get a loan. When Charles sees him, he seizes a saber that hangs on the wall and strikes Leonard on the shoulders with the flat of the weapon several times. The shock of seeing Helen and the beating are too much for Leonard’s weak heart, and he dies suddenly.

Charles is tried for manslaughter and sentenced to three years in prison. The disgrace is too great for his father, who becomes disabled. Margaret sees no alternative to the situation than to move her husband and her sister into the house at Howards End, where Helen’s child is born. Mr. Wilcox comes to love the baby during his illness and convalescence, and Helen and the child, much to the displeasure of the other Wilcoxes, are permitted to remain. A few months before Charles’s release from prison, Mr. Wilcox calls a family conference to tell them that he made a new will giving all of his money to the children by his first marriage, but the house at Howards End is to go to Margaret and after her death to Helen’s illegitimate child. The mansion that had played so great a part in all of their lives thus eventually comes to Margaret, just as the first Mrs. Wilcox wished before her death.

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