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Howards End

E.M. Forster

Chapters 32-36

Chapters 27-31

Chapters 37-40

Summary

Margaret and Henry decide to build a new home in Sussex. One day, as Margaret looks over the plans, Dolly appears with a strange bit of news: Miss Avery has begun unpacking all of the Schlegels' luggage, and arranging their furniture and possessions at Howards End. Charles, Dolly inadvertently lets slip, suspects Margaret of ordering her to do so as part of a covert plan to take over Howards End. Margaret insists that she has done no such thing, and travels to Howards End to set Miss Avery straight. Here, the peculiar old woman insists prophetically that Margaret will soon be living at Howards End; she says that the house has been empty long enough, and that Mrs. Wilcox would like to see the Schlegels' furniture there.

Aunt Juley becomes ill with pneumonia, and Margaret and Tibby rush down to Swanage to be with her on what seems to be her deathbed. Helen, to Margaret's chagrin, has been lived abroad for many months, and her correspondence seems troublingly distant. She returns to England only reluctantly, and when Aunt Juley recovers, she declines to leave London. She only sends a note asking Margaret where her books are, saying that she intends to return to Bavaria at once and would like to bring a few of her things with her. On Tibby's advice, Margaret consults Henry about Helen's strange behavior; his practical mind can only suggest that she is exhibiting signs of mental illness, and he orchestrates a scheme to surprise her with a doctor at Howards End. On his orders, Margaret writes Helen a letter telling her when she can retrieve her books from Howards End; then she and Henry prepare to surprise her there.

At Hilton, Henry attempts to leave Margaret at Charles' house and go to Howards End alone, but Margaret leaps into the car just as he drives off. They stop to pick up a doctor, Margaret feeling increasingly reluctant about the entire plan. At Howards End, they find Helen on the porch. Margaret sees immediately what has prompted Helen's strange behavior: She is pregnant. She hurries Helen into the house, and with difficulty persuades Henry and the doctor to leave so that she can talk to Helen alone. Feeling as though she is fighting for women against men, Margaret ushers them away, then goes into the house to talk to her sister.

Commentary

This section of the novel is largely transitional, and serves chiefly to move most of the important characters (Leonard is the exception) into position for the final conflict of the novel. Forster builds suspense before the revelation of Helen's pregnancy by leading the reader to suspect that she is mad, or at least severely mentally unbalanced. Interestingly, the only clue we have that Helen has had a traumatic sexual episode with Leonard is her tearfulness when she visits Tibby the next day, and that clue also effectively plays into the idea that she is really mad. When Forster shows Margaret betraying her own principles to try to help Helen by going to Henry for advice, he sets the stage for a crisis situation. When Margaret discovers Helen's actual condition, the crisis is replaced by a moment of acute surprise, for the reader can hardly have suspected the truth.

At this point, any symbolic or thematic importance ascribed to Helen's pregnancy itself is postponed; what is important in these chapters is how Margaret reacts to it. Margaret's first concern is for her beloved sister, and she dismisses Henry and the doctor with an argument that the most important thing now is simply love. She says that she loves Helen more than they do, and therefore she is the only person who can help her. This kind of argument is utterly alien to Henry's rather thoughtless, emotionally repressed character, but Margaret fights the battle as though she were fighting for all women. Forster implies that the unjust sexual dynamic Margaret is forced to endure on a daily basis as a result of her marriage—a dynamic which Margaret understands, and endures willingly--has taken more of a toll on her than she had expected. Now, she associates a forceful restatement of her basic philosophy of life--that human relations are more important than anything else--with a forceful restatement of her independent identity as a woman.

Forster's critique of gender relations in Howards End is an extremely nuanced and subtle one, and the novel does not simply vilify men and glorify feminism; rather, it simply portrays as accurately as possible the way the individual characters really feel about their positions, admitting that one of Margaret's reasons for marrying Henry is that she is gratified to be loved by "a real man." But in this chapter, Margaret is simply sick of being bustled about and controlled by men. In the next section of the novel, her impatience with Henry's chauvinism will boil over into fury.

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