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Howards End

E.M. Forster

Chapters 23-26

Chapters 18-22

Chapters 27-31

Summary

Margaret and Helen discuss Margaret's engagement to Henry; Helen admits that she does not like him, but promises to try to be civil to him. Margaret travels with Henry to Hilton, where they dine with Charles and Dolly, then take an excursion to Howards End. When they arrive, they realize that they have forgotten the key, and Margaret is left alone on the porch in a driving rain while Henry goes back to get it. She tries the door and discovers that it is unlocked; it is the first time she has ever been to Howards End, and as she looks through the empty house she thinks that it, like the giant wych-elm in the yard, is like England. It is so English that neither Henry nor her artistic friends would be able to understand it. As she opens the door to the stairs, she is startled to find an old woman coming down them: It is Miss Avery, a local spinster who says that Margaret frightened her. She thought that Margaret was Mrs. Wilcox's ghost.

Evie is annoyed and a little petulant about her father's engagement, and moves her own wedding up to August to distract herself. Margaret travels with Henry and some Wilcox family friends out to Oniton, where the Wilcoxes have recently rented an ancient estate (which Henry is already anxious to liquidate). A train trip is followed by a car trip; suddenly Margaret's car stops, and the men unload all the women and force them into the second car. Margaret demands to know what is happening, and learns that their car has hit a dog. Margaret demands to be let out so that she can return to the scene, but Charles patronizingly refuses to stop--it is nothing that a woman should see, he says. Furious, Margaret jumps out of the car, injuring her left hand in the process. As she approaches the scene, she learns that the car did not hit a dog; it hit a cat. Feeling foolish, she apologizes for jumping from the car, and tells Henry that she has been silly, knowing that he will chalk up her behavior to feminine nervousness.

After Evie's forgettable wedding, the bride and groom are driven away to their honeymoon, and Margaret and Henry return to the Oniton manor. Here, they find a trio of scraggly looking people waiting at the porch; Henry thinks they must be townsfolk, and Margaret promises to see that they leave. When she approaches, she is shocked to see Helen, accompanied by Leonard and Jacky Bast. Helen indignantly claims that Leonard has lost his job at the bank and is destitute; she says that it is all their fault, because they advised him to leave the Porphyrion. Margaret is annoyed with Helen for having dragged the Basts out to the country, but agrees to speak to Henry about giving Leonard a job. She asks him indirectly, and he agrees to speak to Leonard. When he approaches, however, the drunken Jacky calls him "Hen" and asks if he loves her. Margaret is embarrassed, but Henry seems excessively humiliated and awkward; he angrily tells Margaret that her plan has worked, and that she is released from their engagement. Confused, Margaret presses the matter and discovers that 10 years ago Jacky was Henry's mistress. Henry believes Margaret dragged the Basts down to Oniton to expose his secret. But Margaret is not interested in Henry's humiliation and suspicion. This is not her tragedy, she thinks, but Mrs. Wilcox's.

Commentary

The main narrative event of this section, obviously, is the revelation that Henry has had an affair with Jacky. This not only serves further to tangle the histories and fates of the three main symbolic groups of the novel (the idealistic upper-class Schlegels, the materialistic upper-class Wilcoxes, and the destitute lower-class Basts), it serves to introduce into the second half of the novel a major referendum on sexual mores and gender attitudes in early 20th century England. Margaret's plunge into a heightened consideration of gender relations began in earnest when she became engaged to Henry, who holds extremely conventional views about the role of men and women. It reaches an early climax in this section when Margaret leaps out of the moving car in defiance of Charles' orders, determined to decide for herself what she will do and where she will go, regardless of the opinion of men.

The emergence of Jacky as a former lover of Henry--and, by heavy implication, as a former prostitute (consider also Leonard's family's scandalized response to his marriage to Jacky)--does not assume its full symbolic significance in this section, but will before the end of the novel. By and large, this section is devoted mainly to foreshadowing key events. Jacky's revelation, Helen's highly agitated mental state, and Miss Avery's insistence that Margaret will soon come to live at Howards End all predict major development to come in the novel. Helen's imbalance predicts her coming sexual encounter with Leonard, Miss Avery's weird prophecy predicts the fact that Margaret will soon move into Howards End, and Jacky's revelation foreshadows the eventual exposure of Henry's hypocrisy and his collapse.

Another crucial moment in this section comes in Chapter 24, when Margaret, "starting from Howards End, attempted to realize England." Howards End has already been suggested as an important symbol for England itself, but in this chapter, its symbolic role in the novel becomes explicit. The question of "Who will inherit England?" begins to revolve around the various characters' relationships to Howards End: Margaret's awakening love for the house (and her awakening love of England), Henry's indifference to it, and Charles and the other Wilcox children's strange though possessive distaste for it. Each aspect of Howards End--its position halfway between a rural environment and an urban environment; its past as a farm; and its status as a former home to Mrs. Wilcox, a character who evokes the past of England--becomes metaphoric. Those elements parallel the condition of the England at that time, which was in a process of transition from a rural, farm-based economy to an urban way of life (symbolized by the ominous flats being constructed all around Wickham Place).

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