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Howards End

E.M. Forster


Study Questions

Study Questions

Study Questions

Study Questions

Compare and contrast the Schlegel and Wilcox families. How are they alike? How are they different? What ideals do they each represent?

The contrast between the two families is one of the most important thematic devices of the novel. Historically, the Schlegels represent the liberal social attitudes of the Edwardian era then emerging in England after the death of Queen Victoria. They are intellectual, cultured, talkative, and somewhat flighty, believing that their relationships with other people are the most important priorities on Earth. The Wilcoxes, on the other hand, represent a more conventional social morality received from the Victorian 19th century: they are pragmatic, materialistic, moralistic, and chauvinistic. What unites the two families thematically is money: They are both in the upper strata of the English class system, and are used by Forster to represent different aspects of the English class system in the early years of the 20th century.

In what way is Howards End a symbol of all England? How does Forster answer the novel's main question (posed by critic Lionel Trilling) of "Who shall inherit England?"

Howards End seeks to address the question of which class will prevail and define England's future. As a technique for exploring that question symbolically, Forster presents Howards End as a symbol of England, with its rural past and its more urban future, its quintessential English-ness, and its role in the lives of most of the main characters. As Forster poses it, the question of "Who shall inherit England?" becomes interposed with each character's relationship to Howards End. In the end, with characters of all class backgrounds sharing the house and the house posed to be inherited by the son of Helen Schlegel and Leonard Bast, Forster suggests that each class will be forced to adapt and intermingle, until the boundary lines between them are indistinct, and they share England equally.

Two minor characters who are contrasted powerfully at the end of the novel are Tibby Schlegel and Charles Wilcox. What roles do these characters portray in the novel, and how is their contrast illuminating?

Though Tibby, to his credit, shows a great deal of personal improvement in the novel, it is fair to say that Tibby and Charles represent the worst flaws of their respective family tendencies. Tibby, from the intellectual Schlegel family, is dry, academic, snobbish, peevish, frail, and uninterested in human beings; Charles, from the materialistic Wilcox family, is greedy, suspicious, bullying, and aggressive. Their contrast is illuminating because it enables Forster to expose the hypocrisies and flaws of each class position without turning the reader too far against the more important characters of the novel, such as Margaret, Helen, and Henry.

What is Margaret like as a character? How does she differ from Helen? Is it fair to say that Margaret is the conscience of Howards End?

Though Helen declares herself a suffragist in the first part of the book, Forster's exploration of gender politics in Edwardian England does not really take off until the second half of the novel, after Margaret marries Henry. What does their marriage say about the relations between men and women in general? What kind of critique does Forster offer: moral, social, or simply literary?

Discuss the conflict between the "seen" and the "unseen" as it plays out throughout the novel in different characters' thoughts. What ways does the novel suggest might be used to connect the seen to the unseen? What is the role of money in that process? What is the role of death?

How does Margaret's philosophy of "Only connect" conflict with Henry's adage, "Concentrate"? Is it fair to say that this conflict is the main conflict of the novel? Which idea prevails over the course of the novel?

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