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Howards End

E.M. Forster

Chapters 27-31

Chapters 23-26

Chapters 32-36

Summary

Helen and Leonard discuss Henry at their hotel, while Jacky sleeps in another room. Helen regales him with theories about the concept of "I": A certain kind of person, she says, is missing the "I" from the middle of their brains. She says that Mr. Wilcox is such a person, perhaps the world will fall to such people, and so on. Leonard complains that life is all about money, and she argues that it is not, for the idea of death forces people to arrive at an idea of real meaning. At last, two notes arrive from Margaret, one for each of them.

At Oniton, Margaret contemplates how to react to the news of Henry's decade-old affair. She considers leaving him, but is motivated by love and pity to try to help him become a better man. She visits him in the morning. He tells her of his encounter with Jacky in Cyprus, where the affair occurred, and Margaret says that she has forgiven him. She is surprised, however, to learn that both Helen and the Basts have left the hotel--she is worried that she may have blundered, for she sent Helen a very critical note about Leonard, and Leonard a terse note saying that Henry did not have work for him.

Far from Oniton, Tibby is in his apartment at Oxford, where he is nearing his last year. Helen bursts in, crying and telling him all about Margaret, Henry, and the Basts. Tibby is detached but tolerant, and agrees to carry out certain instructions. Helen herself cannot bear to face Margaret, and so is taking a long trip to Germany. She asks Tibby to give the Basts 5,000 pounds of her money, a substantial portion of her fortune. However, Leonard refuses the check, and by the time Helen can write to Tibby to urge him to try again, the Basts have been evicted from their apartment and have disappeared. Helen reinvests her money, and becomes even richer than she was before.

As the lease at Wickham Place nears expiration, the house falls into a kind of desolation; the furniture is all sent to Howards End, which Henry has generously offered as storage space. Henry and Margaret are married, and go to live for a time at the Wilcoxes' house in London, with the intention of finding a bigger house soon. Time passes, and Henry becomes happier and happier with his choice of Margaret as a wife. She is clever, but also submissive, and seems to understand her place as a woman. Margaret, who understands every sacrifice she makes for Henry, continues to be motivated partially by pity for him; but she also begins to be less interested in discussing societies, debate, and theater, preferring instead to reread books and think on her own. Now that she has passed 30, she is passing "from words to things," a moment in her life when "some closing of the gates is inevitable...if the mind itself is to become a creative power."

Commentary

Toward the end of this section, another example appears of the symbolic importance of houses: the description of the house at Wickham Place falling into desolation as its inhabitants depart. This underscores a feature of the emergent middle-class lifestyle adopted by the Wilcoxes and the Schlegels that Forster consistently criticizes through his characters: its portability. Helen continually imagines that luggage will outlive humanity, and Margaret mourns the impermanence of people's relationships with houses. Mrs. Wilcox even suggests that it is a tragedy that someone would die in a room different from the room in which they were born.

Helen's conversation with Leonard (which, unbeknownst to the reader at this point, immediately precedes their sexual encounter) offers an important thematic insight into the question of the relationship of the seen and the unseen, the physical and the spiritual. Leonard complains that all of life is merely a quest for money, and Helen argues that it is not. She says that if people lived forever, Leonard would be right, but the mere fact of death forces them to seek some kind of meaning in their lives. Because their lives will end, they are forced to come to terms with the unseen and unknown. This realization immediately recalls Helen's previous observation that "goblins walk across the universe"--that life has no meaning and humanity has no greatness. Helen's realization here seems to imply that what banishes the goblins is the idea of death: People cannot accept the goblins, because they know that they will die. But this fact does not necessarily mean that the goblins are wrong; instead, it suggests that they are psychologically unsatisfying. As Helen realizes at the Beethoven performance, the goblins can return at any time, and they are ultimately unanswerable.

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