Vacationing with Aunt Juley in Swanage, Margaret receives a letter from Mr. Wilcox, saying that he is moving to a different house and would be willing to rent the Schlegels his old one. He asks Margaret to come and inspect it. Margaret has a sudden premonition that he means to propose to her, but she dismisses the notion as silly. She makes the trip back to London, and takes a tour of the house with Mr. Wilcox--who, quite suddenly, does propose. Margaret is overcome with a surprising joy. She promises to write to him the next day with an answer, and returns to Swanage to talk things over with Helen.
Helen is appalled, thinking that, beneath their veneer of competence and confidence, the Wilcox men are made of "panic and emptiness." But Margaret defends Mr. Wilcox, and finally accepts his proposal. She is determined not to lose her independence, and thinks that love must solidify rather than transform their friendship. Mr. Wilcox travels to Swanage at once with the engagement ring, and he and Margaret take a walk together by the sea. Margaret realizes that Mr. Wilcox is afraid of emotion. His motto is "Concentrate," while hers is "Only connect." He kisses her suddenly, and she thinks that if she could only teach him to connect his passionate subconscious to his restrained, moralistic exterior self, she could help him, but he is too obdurate to be helped. When Helen tells him that she has received a letter from Leonard, saying that on Mr. Wilcox's advice he has left the Porphyrion for a much lower-paying job at a bank, Mr. Wilcox replies that the Porphyrion is not a bad company. Helen is outraged: Not long before, Mr. Wilcox had said that the Porphyrion was doomed to fail. Mr. Wilcox refuses to take responsibility for the matter, arguing that the struggles of the poor are merely part of the "battle of life."
When Charles receives the note from his father announcing the engagement, he blames Dolly: If she had not introduced Evie to her fiance, Mr. Wilcox would not have been lonely, and would not have been inclined to propose to Margaret. Charles suspects Margaret of wanting to get her hands on Howards End, and says that he will only tolerate her as long as she behaves herself.
After two failed attempts to unite the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes--and the aspects of the British upper class that they symbolize--Forster makes a third, climactic attempt in Chapter 18. In the first four chapters of the novel, we saw Helen's failed romance with Paul; later, we saw Margaret's more successful, but still tentative, friendship with Ruth Wilcox. Now, in Chapter 18, Forster introduces the most charged attempt yet at a connection between the cultural idealism of the Schlegels and the pragmatic idealism of the Wilcoxes: a marriage between Margaret and Mr. Wilcox (who is referred to as "Henry" for the rest of the novel).
Given the different treatments they have received in the novel so far--Margaret is a sympathetic, appealing protagonist, and Henry a vaguely hypocritical, somewhat pompous minor character--it may be difficult to fathom what might attract Margaret to a man like Henry. But throughout the book, Margaret has shown a fundamental sympathy to the Wilcoxes and to the "solid," hard-working Englishmen who make Margaret's leisurely life possible. As she says to Helen, she is tired of enjoying her money and criticizing the men who secure it for her. Beginning with her Christmas shopping trip with Mrs. Wilcox, and exacerbated by her dealings with Leonard Bast, Margaret has developed a profound appreciation for money and all that it represents. She is not a materialist, but she understands that her brand of idealism could exist without the leisure and security afforded by money. While Helen, who is more impulsive and flighty than Margaret, believes that poverty is somehow more "real" than wealth, Margaret understands that poverty only makes men suspicious and mean; men and women need financial security in order to develop their moral, intellectual, and spiritual selves. In this, Forster hints at a connection between the "seen" (the material world of money and work) and the "unseen" (the moral, intellectual, and spiritual). Margaret's attraction to Henry, and her unexpected happiness at his proposal, is in large part founded on her deep appreciation for "the outer world of telegrams and anger"--the seen, the material, the qualities symbolized by Henry and his family.
Still, Margaret and Henry remain extremely different people who represent extremely different ideas. Their differences are underscored by the credos each of them espouse in this section. Henry says that his motto is "Concentrate." He believes in seeing the world "steadily," or, as Margaret sees it, in focusing on the particular circumstances around him and disregarding whatever he considers to be irrelevant. Margaret's motto, which is the epigraph quoted at the opening of the novel itself, is "Only connect." She believes in seeing the world "whole," in making connections between herself and others, between the seen and the unseen, between the physical and the spiritual. The difference between "Concentrating" and "Only connecting" is the difference between Margaret and Henry; it is the difference between the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes, and the primary conflict in Howards End.