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Howards End

E.M. Forster

Chapters 41-44

Chapters 37-40

Study Questions

Summary

After his indiscretion with Helen, Leonard is consumed with a pitiless remorse that eats away at him. Seeing Margaret and Tibby in a cathedral one day, he resolves to confess his misdeed to Margaret, hoping to ease his conscience. However, he knows nothing of Margaret--not even that she is married to Henry Wilcox--and it takes him some time to discover her whereabouts. He learns that she and Henry have gone to Howards End; it is the very same day that Helen's pregnancy is discovered, when Henry and Margaret have their terrible fight.

The next day, Leonard takes a train to Hilton and walks to Howards End. On the way, he lapses into a kind of daze, in which his extreme sorrow seems to transform the squalor of his life into tragedy. His grief seems to awaken something great in him. In the meantime, Charles has gone to Howards End to force Margaret and Helen to leave. When Leonard arrives, he enters the house; Charles sees him, and, echoing his father's desire to "thrash him within an inch of his life," seizes the Schlegels' great German sword, and begins to beat Leonard with the flat of the blade. Leonard stumbles backward into the bookcase, which falls on him, covering him with books. Leonard experiences heart failure and dies. Charles leaves, stopping at the police station to tell them that Leonard had a heart attack. The police tell him that there will have to be an inquest.

Margaret answers the policemen's questions, saying that Charles' actions could not have caused Leonard's death, though they may have hastened it. She decides to go to Germany with Helen, and she tells Henry this; Henry shocks her by telling her that the police have found that manslaughter was the cause of death. Charles will spend three years in prison. Henry is shattered. On the verge of a nervous breakdown, he asks Margaret to take care of him.

Fourteen months later, Margaret, Henry, Helen, and Helen's child are all living happily at Howards End. Henry and Helen have learned to like one another, and are now good friends; Helen's little boy plays happily with the village children. London is barely visible on the horizon. Henry is exhausted, and still frail from his sudden confrontation with his inner weakness; he is not his old self. He calls all his children to Howards End--Dolly comes in Charles' place--to tell them that he is leaving the house to Margaret, in return for which she will receive no money when he dies. The children all accept the dictate, though Paul, now returned from Nigeria to run his father's business, is scornful. As they leave, Dolly comments that it is odd that Mrs. Wilcox wanted Margaret to have Howards End, and now she will after all.

When they are alone, Margaret asks Henry about Dolly's comment, and he reveals to her that his wife wished to leave her Howards End. She tells him that he did no wrong to keep it from her. Helen runs into the room with the baby, announcing happily that the meadow has been cut, and there will be "such a crop of hay as never!"

Commentary

The novel's conclusion is heavy with symbolism, but the symbolism is fairly simple compared to the nuanced ambiguities of the rest of the novel. Leonard's death comes when he topples a bookcase on top of himself, symbolizing his terrible obsession with educating himself and his failure to pull himself from "the abyss" (of poverty) with books--in a way, books ruin him as a human being before they smother him and cause his heart attack. Charles' surprising conviction for manslaughter indicates the eroding authority of the upper classes: no matter how conventional and "solid" he acts, he cannot kill a man with impunity and get away with it.

The final scene at Howards End provides a happy ending for the novel, with Helen and Henry becoming friends at last, and Henry's hypocritical edifice being replaced with a more genuine human presence. This final chapter also directly addresses the question of "Who will inherit England?" by featuring Henry's decision about who will inherit Howards End itself. Margaret will inherit Howards End, and she intends to leave it to Helen's child. In other words, Howards End will fall from the materialistic upper class to the idealistic upper class, and thence to an offspring of the upper and lower classes. In a sense, the final living arrangement at Howards End indicates Forster's belief that, if people could "only connect," there would be a place for every class at Howards End, and in England. The classes are becoming irrevocably mixed; London is encroaching on the countryside, and World War I is looming in the near future (unbeknownst to Forster at the time he wrote the novel, though even in 1910 he was certainly fearful of a conflict between England and Germany). But for the time, all is well; the classes can live together happily, and the future of England seems less uncertain, and less dim.

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