Howards End Analysis
by E. M. Forster

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Howards End

Howards End. Modest farmhouse near Hilton owned by Mrs. Wilcox, an hour by train north of London, England. E. M. Forster based the house on his boyhood home, called Rooksnest, in Hertfordshire. Both Rooksnest and Howards End are just outside the suburban ring of 1910 London. Although it takes Aunt Juley an hour to get to Hilton by train, following the Great North Road, this is still a journey too far for Paul Wilcox to commute to the city daily for work. As he says, it is somewhere between country and town.

The house is heavily symbolic. To Ruth Wilcox, “it had been a spirit, for which she sought a spiritual heir.” On her deathbed Mrs. Wilcox tries to leave Howards End to Margaret Schlegel. Both Howards End and Mrs. Wilcox are tied to the past of working farmers with owners and laborers living side by side, not of manor houses, domestic servants, and vast estates. The house and grounds stand for England itself and embody the native mythology of the countryside. Modern England is seen to be encroaching on this land: The Wilcox children and their father are ill-suited to it, and they all end the novel inside while Helen and her son are out in the fields. Meanwhile, the “red rust” of the city is moving nearer.


*London. Capital of Great Britain and city in which the Schlegel family has a house. The Schlegel’s Wickham Place address is a middle-class row house in the fashionable southwest section of the city. The house is to be torn down and replaced by a block of flats when the Schlegel’s ninety-nine-year lease has expired. It is into a flat across the street that Mrs. Wilcox moves when she becomes ill. Forster’s attitude toward London is ambiguous. London stands opposed to the country, to nature, in the novel. Forster sees London as modern, as the place of “telegrams and anger,” while the country holds the true values of English society.

London has created and nurtured the class of people that the Schlegels represent, that is, intelligent, cultured liberals. At the same time, another class of people is not as nurtured as the Schlegels. These are the Leonard Basts of England, former country dwellers whose occupations have been made obsolete by the industrial revolution and who are drawn to the city by menial, low paying jobs. Located in a newly built block of flats (“constructed with extreme cheapness”) on the south side of the River Thames, Leonard’s flat is also on the edge of the abyss of poverty.


*Swanage. Town in Dorset, along the southern coast of England. The Schlegels’ Aunt Juley lives in a house at The Bays. Forster’s paean to the English countryside begins with a view of the nearby Purbeck hills and encompasses rivers, valleys, villages, and churches, and “beyond that onto Salisbury Plain itself,” the site of Stonehenge. The view also encompasses suburbia and “the gates of London.”

Oniton Grange

Oniton Grange. Country estate in Shropshire near the border of England and Wales. Oniton is the symbol of the transitional state of the English class system in the early twentieth century. It is a grand country manor acquired from an aristocratic family by the rich industrialist Henry Wilcox, who has made his money from the Imperial and West Africa Rubber Company. Forster treats a similar situation in Maurice (1971), in which the Durhams’ estate is crumbling due to declining income and rising costs. As at Howards End, Wilcox is hardly aware of the history and cultural significance of his estate. Rather he sees Oniton as an investment and a status symbol, much as he sees his London house on Ducie Street.

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

The Influence of King Edward VII
The Edwardian Era is so named after King Edward VII of England. Although King Edward's reign spanned only nine years, from 1901-1910, many historians extend the period to the start of the First World War in 1914. King Edward's personality had a major influence on the attitude of the day; his hedonism characterized the era. He loved ceremonial and...

(The entire section is 4,826 words.)