Skip over navigation

Howards End

E.M. Forster

Chapters 14-17

Chapters 10-13

Chapters 18-22

Summary

The next day, Leonard comes to visit the Schlegels to apologize for his wife's intrusion. Trying to speak loftily, he first refuses to explain why Jacky thought he was at Wickham Place. Eventually, he drops his awkward affectations and starts talking about how, in an attempt to get back to nature, he walked all night and much of the next day. Intrigued, the Schlegels think that he has made a heroic attempt to break through the dullness of his daily life and to connect with something spiritually real. That night, Margaret and Helen go to a dinner party discussion group, at which they debate the question of allocating money to the poor; they talk so much about Leonard that everyone at the party begins using his name as a kind of shorthand for the poor in general. Afterward, they meet Mr. Wilcox, who has doubled his fortune since Mrs. Wilcox's death. He tells them that he and Evie have rented Howards End to an invalid and moved to a much larger home. When they tell him about Leonard, he warns them that the Porphyrion Fire Insurance Company, where Leonard is a clerk, is an unsound operation that will crash before Christmas. The Schlegels agree to advise Leonard to find a new job.

They invite Leonard to tea, but the encounter is a disaster; associating the Schlegels with an abstract idea of wealth and romance, he blanches at discussing business with them, and they have no interest in listening to his ramblings about his reading when there is such an important consideration at stake. After Mr. Wilcox and Evie arrive unexpectedly, Leonard loses his temper and accuses Margaret and Helen of trying to pry into his knowledge of the insurance company to make money for themselves. He storms away, and the Schlegel sisters are left to play with the Wilcoxes' puppies.

As lapsing of the lease on the Schlegels' Wickham Place residence draws near, Margaret begins frantically searching for a new house. She hopes to find one before the siblings depart for their annual visit to Aunt Juley, but has no success. She dines with Mr. Wilcox, Evie, and Evie's fiance, Percy Cahill, and realizes that she and Mr. Wilcox are beginning to be real friends. She and Tibby take him to a faddish restaurant where all the people discuss spiritual auras and astral planes, a display which he tolerates with good humor. Eventually, it is time to visit Aunt Juley at Swanage, and the Schlegels have still not found a new house.

Commentary

The lives of the three main groups of characters--the Schlegels, the Wilcoxes, and Leonard--begin to intertwine in this section, with Leonard's second visit to Wickham Place and Mr. Wilcox's advice for the clerk to leave his job at the Porphyrion Insurance Company. Additionally, Mr. Wilcox and Margaret are beginning to form a surprising friendship. In the disastrous encounter at Wickham Place, when all three groups share a space for the first time and Leonard loses his temper, the belittling effect Forster ascribes to poverty is in full view.

Leonard has no reason to suspect the Schlegels, and certainly no reason to think that his very limited knowledge of the insurance business could bring them financial profit. But hard experience has taught him to be suspicious of other people, and when his carefully crafted idea of romance is disappointed by the actual environment at the tea, his petty suspicion is fueled by complex inner feelings. When he begins screaming at Margaret, he is really angry that his visit has not lived up to his romantic hopes of discussing books, beauty, and poetry, but unable to express those feelings, he accuses them of using him for profit instead.

As the impending loss of Wickham Place begins to loom over the Schlegels' lives, the symbolic importance of houses in this novel becomes a main thematic concern. Roughly interpreted, houses tend to express the ideals and positions of their occupants, so that Wickham Place is a haven of art and culture, while the Wilcoxes' flat (and flats in general, as the widespread construction of high-rise apartment buildings was a new development in London at the time the novel was written) represents the same middle-class detachment and materialism that the Wilcoxes themselves often represent. Howards End, on the other hand, is a more complicated symbol; it is the title of the novel, and is generally understood as a symbol for all of England.

Forster's guiding idea for Howards End was a question (as critic Lionel Trilling has expressed): "Who shall inherit England?" At a time of enormous social and economic change, Forster explored the forces affecting each social class in an effort to determine which set of values and circumstances would prevail in England as a whole. Remember also that one of the main concerns of the novel, introduced with Mrs. Wilcox's dying wish to leave her home to Margaret, and continued throughout in references made by Mr. Wilcox to his will, is "Who shall inherit Howards End?"

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us