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Howards End

E.M. Forster

Chapters 5-9

Chapters 1-4

Chapters 10-13

Summary

The Schlegels take Aunt Juley, a German cousin, and their cousin's suitor to a performance of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. There, Margaret meets and converses with a lower-class young man named Leonard Bast. Tibby watches the music with a score on his knee, and Aunt Juley taps her foot. During the last two movements of the symphony, Helen imagines goblins dancing over the universe, implying that no valor or heroism exists in the world. Moved, she runs from the room, accidentally taking Leonard's umbrella. After the concert, Leonard accompanies Margaret back to the Schlegel house on Wickham Place to retrieve his umbrella. At Wickham Place, Helen inadvertently insults the umbrella, causing Leonard to hurry away in shame. The Schlegels continue talking about art and literature, but they are slightly unsettled by their encounter.

For his part, Leonard is poor, but not desperately so: He has just enough education and sufficient possessions to assert that he is not inferior to the rich. Walking away from the Schlegels,' he passes a fellow clerk on the street and nods to him. He enters his dim basement apartment, accidentally breaks a picture frame surrounding a photograph of a smiling woman, and begins reading Ruskin's Stones of Venice in the hopes of learning to understand English prose. He thinks that if only he could acquire the kind of culture the Schlegel sisters possess, he would be in a different boat altogether. His lover Jacky, the smiling woman from the photograph, enters; thirty-three years old, she is plump, garish, and vulgar, and loudly demands to know when he intends to marry her. He repeats his promise to marry her on his 21st birthday. After a meager dinner, Jacky goes to bed, and Leonard ignores the sound of her voice calling him and continues to peruse the Ruskin book.

The day after the concert, Aunt Juley presents Margaret with what she thinks is terrible news: The Wilcoxes have taken a flat in a building on Wickham Place, opposite the Schlegels.' Margaret is unperturbed, saying that Helen's feelings for Paul are long since dead; Aunt Juley insists that the Wilcoxes' presence is a catastrophe. When Helen enters and learns what has happened, she blushes furiously, lending credence to Aunt Juley's theory. Luckily, Helen is planning a trip with their German cousin Frieda, and will be away until after the New Year.

Shortly after the Wilcoxes move into their new flat, Mrs. Wilcox calls on Margaret. Margaret, who is not home when Mrs. Wilcox appears, does not return the call, writing a note to Mrs. Wilcox suggesting that, given the difficult situation Helen and Paul placed them in, it would be best if they did not meet. Mrs. Wilcox writes a note back saying that Margaret has been rude--she only wanted to tell Margaret that Paul has left for Nigeria. Feeling horribly guilty, Margaret rushes to the Wilcoxes,' where she apologizes profusely for having offended Mrs. Wilcox. Frail and spending the day in bed, Mrs. Wilcox asks Margaret to keep her company; Margaret does so, and the two women gradually become friends. Margaret learns that Howards End actually belongs to Mrs. Wilcox, not her husband. She was born there and has lived there her whole life. Margaret gives a luncheon for Mrs. Wilcox, but it is a complete failure. Margaret's friends only talk about art, culture, and politics, leaving Mrs. Wilcox, who has spent her life caring for a husband and children, with nothing to say. Nevertheless, they all feel that in some indescribable way Mrs. Wilcox is greater than they are, as though she transcends their conversation. After the luncheon, Margaret apologizes to Mrs. Wilcox again; Mrs. Wilcox insists that she had a wonderful time, and the two women clasp hands with genuine feeling.

Commentary

The introduction of Leonard brings a third symbolic type into the novel to contrast with the wealthy and idealistic Schlegels and the wealthy and pragmatic Wilcoxes. Leonard Bast does not exactly represent the poor (Forster says that the actual poor are in an "abyss," and are unimaginable to anyone who is not poor), but rather the very bottom rung of the lower-middle class. He has an office job, a furnished apartment, and the rudiments of an education, but still he is light-years away from the lifestyle enjoyed by the Schlegels, as his visit to Wickham Place makes clear to him. His poverty makes him suspicious and mean-spirited, and his home life, with his bawdy, aging lover, Jacky, looming over his shoulder, is made worse by the terrible contrast between his surroundings and the book he is reading. Leonard believes that if he attends classical music concerts and reads Ruskin (a famous 19th century essayist and art critic), he will be able to better himself. But the cultured, pampered voice in the book is utterly irrelevant to his daily life as a low-level clerk for an insurance company.

Margaret's surprising friendship with Mrs. Wilcox is Forster's second attempt to bring the two main families of the novel--and the two symbolic ideas they represent--into a union. Mrs. Wilcox is a very different creature from her husband and children, replacing their materialistic hard-headedness with a kind of selfless, loving sensitivity to those around her. It is also a surprise for the reader to learn that Howards End actually belongs to Mrs. Wilcox (we will learn that her maiden name is Howard, and it was a family farm for generations). In this sense, as the novel progresses, Mrs. Wilcox emerges as a metaphor for England's past, and Howards End becomes a metaphor for England itself.

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