(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Howards End E. M. Forster

English novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and biographer.

The following entry presents criticism on Forster's novel Howards End (1910). See also E. M. Forster Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 2, 3.

In Howards End (1910) Forster explored the often violent and disturbing struggle for survival and dominance among English social classes in the first years of the twentieth century. Ultimately arguing in favor of the fundamental integrity of the individual and the primacy of personal relations, Howards End focuses largely on the simplicity of its famous dictum: “Only connect!”

Plot and Major Characters

Howards End begins with the depiction of a series of seemingly unrelated encounters and events that soon cause the lives of individuals in three distinct English social classes to intertwine, with permanent and sometimes shocking consequences. Margaret and Helen Schlegel are sisters who represent the middle level of the English middle class. Financially independent but not wealthy, the Schlegel sisters are categorized as intellectual humanists, devoted to the arts and literature rather than the capitalist interests of the upper-middle-class Wilcox family, who cannot be bothered with intellectual or emotional issues because they are entirely focused on rigid financial and social pursuits. A third class level is illustrated by Leonard Bast, a lower-middle-class clerk at an insurance company who loses his job because of some advice he takes from Henry Wilcox. It is primarily Margaret Schlegel who serves as the bridge among the three social groups. Margaret befriends Henry Wilcox's first wife, Ruth, who is the inheritor of the country house Howards End and who feels an affinity for Margaret that she does not have with any of her family; eventually, she tries to bequeath Margaret the house in her will. Margaret also becomes closely acquainted with Henry, whom she eventually marries. Helen has a child with Leonard Bast, who dies from heart failure after receiving a beating from Henry's son Charles. After a series of misunderstandings and separations, the three main characters—Margaret, Helen, and Henry—are reunited at Howards End, where they all choose to live, along with Helen and Leonard's child. Margaret's famous plea, “Only connect,” beseeching others to observe and unite the various aspects of life—the mundane and the extraordinary—serves as a unifying theme among the disparate classes and characters.

Major Themes

Forster's themes in Howards End are many and varied. Most important is the antagonism among the classes in Edwardian England. The second half of the nineteenth century in England—as well as in America—saw a burgeoning of the middle and upper-middle classes, as industrial spread and businesses, particularly factories, grew. This business class, which had money but few family or social connections to the gentry, was known for its pragmatic approach to living, valuing material acquisition over patronage of the arts and liberal education. The tension between the Wilcoxes and the Schlegel sisters revolves around these differing values. By making the sisters part German, Forster also called to attention to sociopolitical relations between England and Germany at the turn of the century. The sisters' relationship with each other also is important to understanding Forster's themes. With each sister involved with men of different classes, they represent a separate facet of class awareness. The central symbolic image in the novel is Howards End, the house itself, which serves as a symbol of unity and community in an unstable and chaotic social world.

Critical Reception

Howards End is acknowledged as one of Forster's greatest achievements in fiction. Critics have noted, however, that Forster seemed uneasy about representing physical relationships. The events that occur between Helen Schlegel and Leonard Bast have received the most negative commentary, with many critics finding their relationship baffling. Nonetheless, opinion of Howards End generally places it among Forster's most important commentaries on Edwardian society.

Principal Works

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Where Angels Fear to Tread (novel) 1905

The Longest Journey (novel) 1907

A Room with a View (novel) 1908

Howards End (novel) 1910

The Celestial Omnibus, and Other Stories (short stories) 1911

Alexandria: A History and a Guide (nonfiction) 1920

The Story of the Siren (short stories) 1920

Pharos and Pharillon (nonfiction) 1923

A Passage to India (novel) 1924

Aspects of the Novel (criticism) 1927

Abinger Harvest (essays) 1936

Two Cheers for Democracy (essays) 1951

The Hill of Devi: Being Letters from Dewas State Senior (nonfiction) 1953

Marianne Thornton: A Domestic Biography (biography) 1956

Maurice (novel) 1971

James Hall (essay date 1963)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hall, James. “Family Reunions: E. M. Forster.” In The Tragic Comedians: Seven Modern British Novelists, pp. 11-30. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963.

[In the following essay, Hall argues that Forster presents a conservative view of family dynamics in Howards End.]

The breakup and continuance of the family are such consistent themes in E. M. Forster's novels that every reader must understand them in a way. But, asked anything specific about them, he is unlikely to understand much more than that they exist, and even less likely to understand their relation to other themes to which critics have given a more prominent place. So my turning Eliot's title to Forster's feeling for family continuity does not mean to be whimsical but to focus an apparent paradox. Most critics of Forster have made much of his liberalism. But, unlike Eliot, the avowed conservative, who in his plays distrusts a return to family roots, Forster in every novel but one uses a sense of family continuity to make reconciliation with the adult world possible. A conservatism about the family sustains his liberalism about other institutions—though sustains is a simple word for a more dynamic process.

Roughly, two of Forster's novels are about breaking away from the family, two about trying to restore it, and the fifth about trying to live without it. Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Room with a View do show rebellions against the passive acceptance of family values. The Longest Journey is Ricky's struggle to accept members of his family whom he cannot readily accept—mother, wife, brother—and ends in partial acceptance and a promise of reconciliation in a new generation. Howards End deals with the estrangement of two sisters who are eventually reconciled with another promise of fuller reconciliation in a new generation. A Passage to India, his most pessimistic and searching novel, carries the resolution in Howards End through a sterner test and concludes on the most skeptical note about personal relations in Forster. (Margaret's defense of Helen in a crisis—the defense of a social outcast by an uncomfortable member of the comfortable class—leads to a “happy” ending. A Passage to India tests the community of spirit induced by an uncomfortable Englishman's defending a Mohammedan doctor in a British Indian court, and finds it successful during the crisis but no basis for understanding because interests diverge too far.)

But each main action has a counteraction. When Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Room with a View are read only as rebellions in favor of a freer, more natural life, the family becomes a restrictive conspiracy opposing growth and intruding into the hero or heroine's adult life an archaic set of don'ts. But this restrictiveness is only one side. In both novels the scenes from family life also give a base of habitual affections and resentments on which the Archimedean main figure can stand. And the characters in both novels make more sense as groups than as individuals. By themselves they are startlingly incomplete. In A Room with a View George needs Mr. Emerson and his theories for his own brooding naturalism to mean anything, Lucy needs Charlotte and Mr. Beebe to give direction to the passive side of her nature. In Italy Lucy resists some of Charlotte's ideas and is bewildered by others, but Charlotte is Lucy's conscience and is obeyed, disobeyed, liked, and disliked in about the way consciences can expect. Without Charlotte's negatives and hesitations, Lucy would be only the girl who plays Beethoven with a little too much enthusiasm. And if Lucy's marriage to George were a straightforward rebellion against the family don't's, she should in all logic slough off Charlotte, who as chaperon constantly reminds Lucy that she speaks for her mother. But, although by Howards End Forster can say that “conversion is an idea peculiarly appealing to half-baked minds,” A Room with a View ends with two conversions—of Lucy and the chaperon. And active cooperation, not merely passive assent, is required from Charlotte for the marriage to take place. Lucy and George, separated by misunderstandings, can be married only when Charlotte has been converted to the fuller life and passively conspires in the arrangements with Mr. Emerson.

A similar conversion of the chaperon happens in Where Angels Fear to Tread. Philip finds a freer, more natural way of life in Italy, but again the spinster loosely attached to the family must be converted before Philip can believe in his own experience. (Forster, like Mr. Beebe, is a connoisseur of spinsters.) Caroline Abbott, the chaperon who has tried to atone for her previous failure by making sure that Philip carries out the family mission, leads him to see that the “rescue” of Gino's baby is wrong, though Philip has been seeing that in a way all along. The discovery of Italy is a tourist's discovery in both novels and must be absorbed by the more meaningful life in England. It is not enough for Lucy and Philip to rebel. Without the chaperon's participation the rebellion has no standing or promise of endurance. In both his novels about breaking away from the family, Forster's conservatism leads him to carry the family authority along with the rebels.

But these chaperons are not so much “authority” as Forster's special way of by-passing the problems of authority. Since the fathers are dead in his novels, the chaperons are the nearest approaches to moral authority; but, though they have a set of imperatives, they have a happily limited power of enforcing them. Charlotte's position as a poor relation makes her power equivocal, and Caroline and Harriet cannot make Philip do anything. But these spinsters, whose lives are arrested and who ape the older generation, are far sterner than the mothers. The mothers in these novels are more motherly and less saintly than the withdrawn, dying ones in the last two novels. They are comfortable, irritating, complaining, fussy, lovable. Philip's relation with his mother has added the value of a permissive disregard. She gives him a comfortable way of living, nags him, but, except for the trip to Italy, leaves him free to do as he pleases. She objects, but her objections have become conventionalized and can be disregarded without consequence to their relation.

This conservatism about the family even in the novels of rebellion forecasts a stronger conservatism in Howards End. Howards End shows the reasons for the breakup of the Schlegel family, the efforts to establish individual ways of life, and the reconciliation on a basis which allows for adult experience. At the beginning of the novel the Schlegel sisters have no problem of breaking away from parents—they are as free as people can be. They have money, friends, intelligence, and apparent stability. The novel treats the further difficulty in personal relations caused by different views of human nature.

Howards End involves a dichotomy between structure and texture or, to use other terms, between formal and sympathetic structures. Everyone who writes on Forster must respect Lionel Trilling, but Forster's plots are among the most diagrammable in English literature and Trilling's interest in a modulated liberalism makes him emphasize the formal structure of Howards End—intellectual versus businessman versus underdog—at the expense of the sympathetic structure. The truly interested writing in Howards End, like the truly interested writing in Trilling's own The Middle of the Journey, is about intellectual versus intellectual—the split between Margaret and Helen over how life should be lived and their reconciliation by including something from both their values. (There is a second, though weaker, kind of vitality in Forster's condescension to Leonard Bast, the clerk who aspires to the Schlegel values, knows he will not achieve them, and becomes morally significant in rejecting a sentimental, quickie view of the possibilities of experience. Leonard cannot achieve anything positive, but he can discover that an all-night walk in the woods is painful, not romantic.)

In saying this I do not mean that a reasonable structure of the novel cannot be set up through the conflict between activist, intellectual, and underdog. But a telling point in a “comedy” of manners is, when is it comic? Howards End can be comic about Leonard's puzzling over Ruskin's “Seven miles to the north of Venice. …” But Forster says that the greatest feeling is the sense of space and, by the criterion of free movement, the comic and telling parts of Howards End are in the Schlegels' tone about serious matters. The scene where Margaret urges Tibby to choose a career has this kind of ease. Tibby's significance lies in his commitment to being uncommitted. But Margaret has been thinking of marriage and the Wilcoxes, and would like to impose a little Wilcox spirit on Tibby. What comes out is a community-in-difference:

Did he at all know where he wanted to live? Tibby didn't know that he did know. Did he at all know he wanted to do? He was equally uncertain, but when pressed remarked that he should prefer to be quite free of any profession. Margaret was not shocked, but went on sewing for a few minutes before she replied:

“I was thinking of Mr. Vyse. He never strikes me as particularly happy.”

“Ye-es,” said Tibby, and then held his mouth open in a curious quiver, as if he, too, had thought of Mr. Vyse, had seen round, through, over, and beyond Mr. Vyse, had weighed Mr. Vyse, grouped him, and finally dismissed him as having no possible bearing on the subject under discussion. That bleat of Tibby's infuriated Helen. But Helen was now down in the dining-room preparing a speech about political economy. At times her voice could be heard declaiming through the floor.

“But Mr. Vyse is rather a wretched, weedy man, don't you think? Then there's Guy. That was a pitiful business. Besides”—shifting to the general—“every one is better for some regular work.”


“I shall stick to it,” she continued, smiling. “I am not saying it to educate you; it is what I really think. I believe that in the last century men have developed the desire for work, and they must not starve it. It's a new desire. It goes with a great deal that's bad, but in itself it's good, and I hope that for women, too, ‘not to work’ will soon become as shocking as ‘not to be married’ was a hundred years ago.”

“I have no experience of this profound desire to which you allude,” enunciated Tibby.

“Then we'll leave the subject till you do. I'm not going to rattle you around. Take your time. Only do think over the lives of the men you like most, and see how they've arranged them.”

“I like Guy and Mr. Vyse most,” said Tibby faintly, and leant so far back in his chair that he extended in a horizontal line from knees to throat.

But Tibby, apparently downed, sees through Margaret and craftily turns the talk to marriage and the Wilcoxes.

Forster varies his community-in-difference theme skillfully through a scene as different as Helen's story about Mrs. Bast:

As she spoke, the door was flung open, and Helen burst in in a state of extreme excitement.

“Oh, my dears, what do you think? You'll never guess. A woman's been here asking me for her husband. Her what?” (Helen was fond of supplying her own surprise.) “Yes, for her husband, and it really is so.”

“Not anything to do with Bracknell?” cried Margaret, who had lately taken on an unemployed of that name to clean the knives and boots.

“I offered Bracknell, and he was rejected. So was Tibby. (Cheer up, Tibby!) It's no one we know. I said, ‘Hunt, my good woman; have a good look round, hunt under the tables, poke up the chimney, shake out the antimacassars. Husband? Husband?’ Oh, and she so magnificently dressed and tinkling like a chandelier.”

“Now, Helen, what did happen really?”

“What I say. I was, as it were, orating my speech. Annie opens the door like a fool, and shows a female straight in on me, with my mouth open. Then we began—very civilly. ‘I want my husband, what I have reason to believe is here.’ No—how unjust one is. She said ‘whom,’ not ‘what.’ She got it perfectly. So I said, ‘Name, please?’ and she said, ‘Lan, Miss,’ and there we were.”


“Lan or Len. We were not nice about our vowels. Lanoline.”

“But what an extraordinary—”

“I said, ‘My good Mrs. Lanoline, we have some grave misunderstanding here. Beautiful as I am, my modesty is even more remarkable than my beauty, and never, never has Mr. Lanoline rested his eyes on mine.’

“I hope you were pleased,” said Tibby.

“Of course,” Helen squeaked. “A perfectly delightful experience. Oh, Mrs. Lanoline's a dear—she asked for a husband as if he were an umbrella. She mislaid him Saturday afternoon—and for a long time suffered no inconvenience. But all night, and all this morning her apprehensions grew. Breakfast didn't seem to be the same—no, no more did lunch, and so she strolled up to 2, Wickham Place as being the most likely place for the missing article.”

“But how on earth—”

“Don't begin how on earthing. ‘I know what I know,’ she kept repeating, not uncivilly, but with extreme gloom. In vain I asked her what she did know. Some knew what others knew, and others didn't, and if they didn't, then others again had better be careful. Oh dear, she was incompetent! She had a face like a silkworm, and the dining-room reeks of orris-root. We chatted pleasantly a little about husbands, and I wondered where hers was too, and advised her to go to the police. She thanked me. We agreed that Mr. Lanoline's a notty, notty man, and hasn't no business to go on the lardy-da. But I think she suspected me up to the last.”

In comparison, when Forster sets Schlegels against Wilcoxes, the intellectual woman against the new rich, his scenes become angry and he is almost always outside his characters. He is edgy with Charles Wilcox even about Charles' liking for automobiles. He treats Evie's sporting life and Dolly's talk to her child as equal absurdities. He makes Mr. Wilcox foolish for thinking about subletting instead of worrying about Leonard, whom Mr. Wilcox does not know. In showing the new rich, Forster loads the situations so much that the writing becomes satiric and often too irritable to be telling. Right quarrels with wrong, and the reader is uncomfortable with the easy distinction.

The interesting conflict in Howards End, then, is not between right and wrong, but between two rights—which ought to be complementary and are not. Forster portions out between Margaret and Helen attitudes and qualities he admires with a minimum of reservation. Both are right, their tone is right, and the family scenes work in a way that the diagrammable scenes do not. And scenes of the Schlegels with Leonard work, though in a different way.

The family conflict and reconciliation has a structure of its own, with turning points different from those of the class conflict. The novel opens with the family unity upset by Helen's attraction to and quick revulsion from the Wilcoxes. The first part—to the time the Schlegels are forced to leave the house in Wickham Place so that new apartments can be built—shows the family unity being subjected to the strain of interests changing with age. Forster places Margaret's drama at the moment in her life when she is losing interest in the “life of lectures and concerts.” She is reluctant to part from the banter and enthusiasm of life at Wickham Place, but her own restiveness is the inner wish which matches the threat from outside—the tearing down of the house in the name of “progress.” She wants to make other arrangements, and is being forced to. Her weariness with lectures and concerts comes out explicitly after her marriage.

As for theatres and discussion societies, they attracted her less and less. She began to “miss” new movements, and to spend her spare time re-reading or thinking, rather to the concern of her Chelsea friends. They attributed the change to her marriage, and perhaps some deep instinct did warn her not to travel further from her husband than was inevitable. Yet the main cause lay deeper still; she had outgrown stimulants, and was passing from words to things. It was doubtless a pity not to keep up with Wedekind or John, but some closing of...

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Barry R. Westburg (essay date winter 1964-65)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Westburg, Barry R. “Forster's Fifth Symphony: Another Aspect of Howards End.Modern Fiction Studies 10, no. 4 (winter 1964-65): 359-65.

[In the following essay, Westburg interprets Helen Schlegel's response to hearing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony as indicative of her feelings about the various dichotomies the novel suggests.]

Helen Schlegel, one of E. M. Forster's characters in Howards End, envisions “heroes and shipwrecks in the music's flood” when she hears Beethoven's Fifth Symphony at a Queen's Hall concert; and she goes on to imagine “gusts of splendour, gods and demi-gods contending with vast swords, colour and fragrance broadcast...

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George H. Thomson (essay date 1967)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Thomson, George H. “Howards End.” In The Fiction of E. M. Forster, pp. 170-99. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1967.

[In the following essay, Thomson examines the symbolic objects in Howards End.]

Rigidity and Chaos, these two forms of the negative are directly opposed to the creative principle, which encompasses transformation, hence not only life but also death. Across the diabolical axis of rigidity and chaos cuts the transformative axis of life and death.

—Erich Neumann

The center of our attention in Howards End is to be the object as archetype rather than...

(The entire section is 13354 words.)

Michael Levenson (essay date summer 1985)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Levenson, Michael. “Liberalism and Symbolism in Howards End.Papers on Language and Literature 21, no. 3 (summer 1985): 295-316.

[In the following essay, Levenson argues that Howards End “gives the experience of modernity a turn toward politics and toward mysticism.”]

Liberalism and symbolism, both unwieldy terms, become more unwieldy when brought together. They seem to belong to such different orders of description and such different strains of modernity that it provokes a small mental shudder to recall that John Stuart Mill and Charles Baudelaire were near contemporaries. Although no one would mistake E. M. Forster for either Mill or...

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Pat C. Hoy II (essay date summer-fall 1985)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hoy, Pat C., II. “The Narrow, Rich Staircase in Forster's Howards End.Twentieth Century Literature 31, no. 2-3 (summer-fall 1985): 221-35.

[In the following essay, Hoy discusses Howards End as a record of Forster's disillusionment with nineteenth-century idealism.]

Forster's earlier novels, as well as Howards End, were shaped by his desire to do for modern England what Arnold and Ruskin had tried to do for Victorian England: deliver her from the repressive forces that were destroying her spirituality, her redemptive power. But Howards End is different. Earlier, Forster had advocated the body not the mind as the primary source...

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Mary Pinkerton (essay date summer-fall 1985)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Pinkerton, Mary. “Ambiguous Connections: Leonard Bast's Role in Howards End.Twentieth Century Literature 31, no. 2-3 (summer-fall 1985): 236-46.

[In the following essay, Pinkerton finds that Forster's treatment of the character Leonard Bast in Howards End prefigures his ending of A Passage to India.]

E. M. Forster, in “The Challenge of Our Time” (1946), clarified what he saw as the dilemma of Victorian liberal humanism:

The education I received in those far-off and fantastic days made me soft, and I'm very glad it did, for I have seen plenty of hardness since, and I know it does not even pay. … But...

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H. M. Daleski (essay date 1985)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Daleski, H. M. “Howards End: Goblins and Rainbows.” In Unities: Studies in the English Novel, pp. 111-25. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1985.

[In the following essay, Daleski examines personal fragmentation in Howards End.]

About midway through Howards End—in a passage that is right at its center—the novelist describes a pervading condition of personal fragmentation:

Margaret greeted her lord with peculiar tenderness on the morrow. Mature as he was, she might yet be able to help him to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion. Without it we are...

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N. N. Feltes (essay date 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Feltes, N. N. “Anyone of Everybody: Net Books and Howards End.” In Modes of Production of Victorian Novels, pp. 76-98. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

[In the following essay, Feltes examines the ways in which Forster's narrative strategy in Howards End reflects the history of the publishing industry at the time.]

In her book on Mudie's Library, Guinevere Griest's answer to her own question, “Who killed the three-decker?” is neither precise nor satisfying. She rightly dismisses the proud claims of individuals, of George Moore or his publisher, Henry Vizetelly, or of other publishers who had independently issued single-volume...

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Perry Meisel (essay date 1987)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Meisel, Perry. “Howards End: Private Worlds and Public Languages.” In The Myth of the Modern: A Study in British Literature and Criticism after 1850, pp. 166-82. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.

[In the following essay, Meisel explores the influence of major writings and thoughts of the Bloomsbury group on the themes in Howards End.]

The senior Forster's Howards End recapitulates the myth of the modern at the level of story while simultaneously putting it into question at the level of narration. The manifest thematic that leads Forster, quite ironically, to ask that we “Only connect” in the book's epigraph turns out to be evacuated...

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Paul Delany (essay date 1988)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Delany, Paul. “‘Islands of Money’: Rentier Culture in E. M. Forster's Howards End.English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920 31, no. 3 (1988): 285-96.

[In the following essay, Delany discusses Forster's “lifelong preoccupation” with the privileged lives of upper-class Britons as revealed in Howards End.]

When he was eight years old E. M. Forster inherited eight thousand pounds from his great-aunt Marianne Thornton, who came from a well-to-do family of Victorian bankers. His widowed mother had about the same amount of capital, ensuring him a comfortable home, and a Public School and Cambridge education. The Longest Journey deals with...

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Herbert N. Schneidau (essay date 1991)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Schneidau, Herbert N. “Safe as Houses: Forster as Cambridge Anthropologist.” In Waking Giants: The Presence of the Past in Modernism, pp. 64-102. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

[In the following essay, Schneidau explores the ways in which Howards End evidences “autochthony,” or “an ideology of sacred space,” as symbolized by the house Howards End.]

Can what they call civilization be right, if people mayn't die in the room where they were born?

—Ruth Wilcox

Many agree with Lionel Trilling that Howards End is “undoubtedly Forster's...

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Alfred Kazin (essay date winter 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kazin, Alfred. “Howards End Revisited.” Partisan Review 59, no. 1 (winter 1992): 29-43.

[In the following essay, Kazin examines Howards End from the perspective of historical events of the later twentieth century.]

Howards End appeared in 1910, a date that explains an idealism important to our understanding of the book. It was E. M. Forster's fourth novel. He had written in rapid succession Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), The Longest Journey (1907), and A Room with a View (1908). Howards End was the last novel he was to publish for fourteen years. The next, A Passage to India (1924), was certainly...

(The entire section is 6956 words.)

Jeane N. Olson (essay date fall 1993)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Olson, Jeane N. “E. M. Forster's Prophetic Vision of the Modern Family in Howards End.Texas Studies in Literature and Language 35, no. 3 (fall 1993): 347-62.

[In the following essay, Olson argues that Forster's families in Howards End prefigure modern family structure.]

That contemporaneous reviewers of E. M. Forster's Howards End [hereafter referred to as HE] failed to recognize his prescient image of a radically new family structure is hardly surprising. In 1910 the institutional, middle-class family in England—static, authoritarian, and based on consanguinity and primogeniture—was still assumed as a given by most readers...

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Burkhard Niederhoff (essay date 1994)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Niederhoff, Burkhard. “E. M. Forster and the Supersession of Plot by Leitmotif: A Reading of Aspects of the Novel and Howards End.Anglia 112, no. 3-4 (1994): 341-63.

[In the following essay, Niederhoff examines similarities between Forster's discussion of novels in Aspects of the Novel and Howards End.]

In Aspects of the Novel, E. M. Forster writes about Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu, “The book is chaotic, ill-constructed, it has and will have no external shape; and yet it hangs together because it is stitched internally, because it contains rhythms.”1 To illustrate what he means by...

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Daniel Born (essay date 1995)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Born, Daniel. “Private Garden, Public Swamps: Howards End and the Revaluation of Liberal Guilt.” In The Birth of Liberal Guilt in the English Novel, Charles Dickens to H. G. Wells, pp. 120-39. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

[In the following essay, Born considers Howards End “the most comprehensive picture of liberal guilt in this century.”]

“I know that personal relations are the real life, for ever and ever.”

—Helen Schlegel, in Howards End

“We merely want a small house with large rooms, and plenty of...

(The entire section is 9410 words.)

Elizabeth Langland (essay date 1995)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Langland, Elizabeth. “Gesturing Towards an Open Space: Gender, Form, and Language in Howards End.” In E. M. Forster, edited by Jeremy Tambling, pp. 81-99. London: Macmillan, 1995.

[In the following essay, Langland explores sexual politics in Howards End, focusing on Forster's own homosexuality and admitted misogyny.]

E. M. Forster is a difficult writer to approach because he appears simple. His work presents none of the stylistic resistance and technical virtuosity characteristic of his notable contemporaries like Joyce and Woolf. Further, he seems to have recourse to a nineteenth-century liberal humanism in resolving his novels, an emphasis...

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Kenneth Womack (essay date summer 1997)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Womack, Kenneth. “‘Only Connecting’ with the Family: Class, Culture, and Narrative Therapy in E. M. Forster's Howards End.Style 31, no. 2 (summer 1997): 255-69.

[In the following essay, Womack examines Forster's social criticism regarding family issues in Howards End.]

Although David Lodge's Nice Work (1988) provides a surprising narrative of reconciliation between the academy and industry, its concluding pages allude to an even more pervasive cultural dilemma that has haunted English life for centuries—the mostly silent war that rages unchecked between the classes. Robyn Penrose, the novel's academic protagonist, recognizes the acuity...

(The entire section is 6917 words.)

Michael J. Hoffman and Ann Ter Haar (essay date spring 1999)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hoffman, Michael J., and Ann Ter Haar. “‘Whose Books Once Influenced Mine’: The Relationship between E. M. Forster's Howards End and Virginia Woolf's The Waves.Twentieth Century Literature 45, no. 1 (spring 1999): 46-64.

[In the following essay, Hoffman and Haar explore parallels between Howards End and Woolf's The Waves.]

In a letter to Ethel Smyth on 21 Sept. 1930, Virginia Woolf spoke of her friend Morgan Forster as “E. M. Forster the novelist, whose books once influenced mine, and are very good, I think, though impeded, shrivelled and immature” (Letters 4: 218). In earlier letters Woolf had often alluded to...

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Stuart Sillars (essay date 1999)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sillars, Stuart. “Howards End and the Dislocation of Narrative.” In Structure and Dissolution in English Writing, 1910-1920, pp. 31-61. New York: St. Martin's Press, Inc., 1999.

[In the following essay, Sillars examines Forster's allusions in Howards End to other texts of the Edwardian period in England to gain an understanding of the novel's “duality.”]

In many ways, Forster's Howards End is the central text of the Edwardian years. I mean this not in the sense that it demonstrates values that are fundamental to the period—even though, as I shall later show, it addresses many of the age's main concerns—but rather in the sense...

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Henry S. Turner (essay date fall 2000)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Turner, Henry S. “Empires of Objects: Accumulation and Entropy in E. M. Forster's Howards End.Twentieth Century Literature 46, no. 3 (fall 2000): 328-45.

[In the following essay, Turner examines the meaning of money, objects, and accumulation in Howards End.]

[T]here seems something else in life besides time, something which may conveniently be called “value,” something which is measured not by minutes or hours, but by intensity, so that when we look at our past it does not stretch back evenly but piles up into a few notable pinnacles …

—E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel 19...

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Further Reading

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


Barrett, Elizabeth. “The Advance beyond Daintiness: Voice and Myth in Howards End.” In E. M. Forster: Centenary Revaluations, edited by Judith Scherer Herz and Robert K. Martin, pp. 155-66. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982.

Examines Forster's attempt to create an English mythology in Howards End.

Bradbury, Malcolm. “Howards End.” In Forster: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Malcolm Bradbury, pp. 128-43. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.

Comments on Forster's ironic tone in Howards End.

Mezei, Kathy. “Who Is Speaking Here?...

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