Family Ties and Nineteenth Century England

February 28, 2019 by Essay Writer

E.M. Forester’s Howards End illustrates the social interaction between economic classes present in nineteenth century England. Forester’s novel focuses specifically on England’s middle class on several varying levels: the upper middle class, which is further categorized into two groups, those of new money and those of old money, and the lower middle class. Forester embodies each of these social factions through one of the novel’s three major families, the Schlegals, Wilcoxes and Basts. Throughout the novel, Forester shows that each family, despite profession and monetary worth, deserves a stake in the future of England, which is metaphorically represented by the Wilcox’s country home, Howards End. Forester, through characterization, relationships, and social connections, uses these three families to convey his own views towards the path nineteenth century English society should follow en route to economic and society prosperity and which social grouping stands to ultimately inherit England. Margaret and Helen Schlegal represent old English traditions and money. Given their annual six hundred pound inheritance, it is unnecessary for either sister to work. This void of employment leaves the sisters time to indulge themselves in practices of idealism and intellectualism, mainly in the realms of art and literature. This preoccupation with the arts develops another focus for the Schlegal sisters, the importance of maintaining connections in every aspect of life. “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its highest. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed for the isolation that is life to either, will die” (Forester 159). While somewhat vague, this idea of connection is prevalent in many facets of existence. Both sisters busy themselves, maintaining social connections with others, connections with the arts, and spiritual connections with the world in which they are immersed. It is this idea of connection that links Margaret Schlegal with Ruth Wilcox and her family. While Mrs. Wilcox shares the same spirituality and sense of tradition as the Schlegals, she is the dark horse of the entrepreneurial and materialistic Wilcox family. The Wilcox family represents the opposing side of England’s upper middle class, the catalysts of England’s Industrial Revolution. “The Schlegals represent the humane liberal culture, the fine civilization of cultivated personal intercourse, while the Wilcoxes have built the [British] Empire; they represent the short-haired executive type – obtuse, egotistical, unscrupulous, cowards spiritually, self-deceivers and successful” (Levenson 309). Unlike the Schlegals, the Wilcoxes do not stand to inherit an annual income and therefore must work to earn their wealth. This necessity for employment disallows the Wilcoxes time to focus on the importance of art and literature, which causes them to lose sight of English ideals and traditions. Instead, an emphasis on work and money-making causes a fixation around the ideals of materialism and accumulation to develop. Unlike the Schlegals, the Wilcoxes are not concerned with social or spiritual connections. Instead, the Wilcoxes motto is “Concentrate” (Forester 160). While marginally unclear, this concentration arguably focuses on the realms of business, profit and material accumulation. This clash of traditional and industrial ideals causes a rift to develop in English society. In terms of the novel, Forester personifies this social conflict by juxtaposing the Schlegals and the Wilcoxes. He uses their interactions and evolutions to present his personal views concerning the fate of English society. In an attempt to recreate a more realistic social circle, Forester also includes Leonard Bast and his lover, Jacky, to portray the lowest sector of England’s middle class. Unlike the Wilcoxes, the Basts do not reap the same monetary benefits of a capitalist England. Despite his efforts, Leonard is trapped in a dead-end and low paying job, a far cry from the colonial conquests of the Wilcoxes. He and his lover do not lead the lavish lives of either the Schlegals or the Wilcoxes and instead endure a rather meager existence. Forester’s inclusion of the Basts is important for several reasons. First, in spite of his efforts to improve himself, Leonard does not have the means to progress his place in society. Through Bast, Forester demonstrates and criticizes the rigidity of the British hierarchical scale. However, at the end of the novel, Leonard is somewhat assimilated into upper class through his relationship with Helen Schlegal. While his deliberate efforts to gain social ground are in vain, Helen offers the Basts and the rest of the lower class a chance of social gain by lending part of herself to Leonard through their relationship. Forester nudges open the door of opportunity for the lower classes when he creates a scenario for Helen and Leonard’s illegitimate child to potentially inherit Howards End, or, metaphorically, England. Each of these three families represents varying dimensions of British society. Using his novel, Forester unites these far-reaching social classes and begins to tear down the structure of England’s caste system. Through a multitude of relationships and connections, each family and its members blend to create a less rigid social system, allowing for more mobility. The key to Forester’s plan for society is that no social group reigns over another, instead each sector becomes interdependent on the others. Through this integration, Forester believes a more productive and prosperous England will develop. One of the most important relationships in Howards End involves Margaret Schlegal and Ruth Wilcox. This friendship lays the initial framework for the entire novel. Unlike her family, Mrs. Wilcox embodies the ideals of Old English aristocracy. Rather than in business or enterprise, she places great value on the traditions of family and the home. “To be parted from your house, your father’s house-it oughtn’t to be allowed. It is worse than dying” (Forester 71). Upon meeting Margaret Schlegal, Mrs. Wilcox is immediately drawn to her similar sense of tradition. Mrs. Wilcox perceives this bond to be so strong that she alters her will and leaves Howards End to Margaret, rather than to her own family. Keeping with the novel’s symbolism, Mrs. Wilcox demonstrates her desire to keep England (Howards End) immersed in Old England and its traditions. However, upon further consideration, the presence of contradiction within this potential inheritance shows Forester’s skepticism that traditional England can prevail. Despite Mrs. Wilcox’s love for England and tradition, she inadvertently leaves Howards End to a successor of mixed descent. Margaret, while embodying the values of England, is not a complete product of it. While she is described by her aunt as being “English to the backbone” (Forester 7), Margaret and her siblings are actually of both English and German heritage. In her attempt to adhere to tradition, Mrs. Wilcox has unintentionally left her beloved home to an outsider. Another source of hypocrisy stems from the idea of family lineage. Old English tradition calls for valuable familial possessions to be kept within the confines of the family and to be passed on to subsequent generations. In her attempt to preserve Old English tradition, Mrs. Wilcox breaks it by leaving her home to a person outside of her family. This situation foreshadows the impending fall of Old England later in the novel. Following a short, but important, friendship with Margaret, Mrs. Wilcox dies fairly early in the novel. Forester writes, “Ah, the old sort was dying out” (Forester 75). Her death characterizes the final fall for the aristocratic class. This demise sets the stage for Mr. Wilcox and England’s industrial class to seize power. While this ascension to power is not instant or lasting, their momentary hold is nonetheless firm. Following Mrs. Wilcox’s death, Mr. Wilcox and his immediate family assemble to carry out her will. The family is shocked to discover that Margaret Schlegal is set to inherit Howards End. However, this scene symbolizes the transition of power from Old England to Industrial England. Despite Mrs. Wilcox’s wishes to pass Howards End to Margaret and prolong traditional England’s rule, Mr. Wilcox intervenes and reroutes the power to the business class by deciding to keep Howards End in the family. This highlights industrial England’s rapid acquisition of power. In a very short time, Mr. Wilcox gains possession of Howards End from his wife, or symbolically, industry and business have become the controllers of England and Old England ceases to exist. Mrs. Wilcox death also sparks another vital relationship in the novel between Mr. Wilcox and Margaret. This union is notable because it is Forester beginning to unite the worlds of intellectualism and materialism. Initially, Margaret allows Mr. Wilcox to feel that he possesses the upper hand. “A younger woman might have resented his masterly ways, but Margaret had too firm a grip on life to make a fuss. She was, in her own way, as masterly. If he was a fortress, she was a mountain peak” (Forester 156). Despite Mr. Wilcox’s perceived superiority, Margaret maintains confidence in her equality, in spite of what she leads him to believe. Regardless of her confidence, Margaret realizes that her future monetary well-being hinges upon Mr. Wilcox and the business class. “Despite her reticence, Margaret eventually realizes that the Wilcoxes and the commercial community provide the financial island upon which the intellectual stands” (Thomson 124). This reinforces Forester’s idea of class interdependence. While Margaret is intent on maintaining her intellectual roots and preserving the traditions of England, she is aware that without embracing industry, the class of old money will come to an end when their annual inheritances run out. This failure to assimilate will undoubtedly lead to absolute power for the commercial class and the loss of English tradition forever. In order to preserve the past to some extent, Margaret realizes that the financial support that Mr. Wilcox provides is necessary to keep her and her peers afloat. Through this relationship, Forester establishes a level of equal importance between those of new money and those of old. The interdependence of the two will eventually lead to economic and social prosperity for England in the future. Arguably, the unification of the two aforementioned groups is relatively simply. However, Forester includes the Basts to represent the lowest sector of England’s middle class. Without anything to offer the rest of society, it is unclear as to how this group will avoid slipping through the cracks of English society, as it has nothing to contribute. Forester remedies this conflict with the philanthropic Helen Schlegal. Consumed with the idea of personal connections and relationships, Helen feels personally responsible for the faulty advice Leonard received which ultimately leads to his unemployment. Rather than disregard Leonard as an unimportant pauper, Helen honors her friendship to Bast and becomes determined to help him. This dedication to Leonard quickly blossoms into a romantic relationship between the two and ultimately results in an illegitimate child. Despite his virtual scarcity in the text, the child is the most important character in term of Forester’s overall message. Before the birth of the child, Leonard Bast “is killed by the Schlegals’ sword in the house of the Wilcoxes” (Delbaere-Garant 102). While no one is directly responsible for his death (although Charles Wilcox is criminally charged), both the Schlegals and the Wilcoxes indirectly contribute to the death in terms of means and location. Forester shows us that Leonard is “a victim of the class war” (Delbaere-Garant 102). However, Leonard’s death is not in vain and represents the death of the lower class as it previously existed. Along with Leonard, England’s rigid hierarchical system dies as well. While Leonard is dead, part of him remains in him and Helen’s child. Leonard alone could not pull himself out of social and economic despair, with the help of Helen, Leonard and the lower class gain opportunity through the baby. This is another paradigm of Forester’s class interdependence. Without the upper classes, the lower class cannot flourish. However, with a little help and opportunity, possibilities arise and class structure becomes less firm. The child’s most important symbolic purpose comes at the novel’s end. After Leonard’s death, Margaret, Mr. Wilcox, Helen and her child all move into Howards End. The symbolic ramifications of this scenario are evident. Each inhabitant represents a different place on the social spectrum: Margaret and Helen the intellectual class, Mr. Wilcox the industrial class and the child a combination of all three, all of whom come together to happily occupy Howards End, or England. Forester tells us that this class unification and interdependence are optimal for England’s future. When the Wilcoxes have sole possession of Howards End, it falls apart and begins to deteriorate. Forester warns the reader that if England becomes too preoccupied with industry, the essence and beauty of England will be lost. After Helen and Margaret are displaced from Wickham Place, all of their belongings are move to Howards End. While the Schlegals belongings fill the house, “the house is dead” (Forester 251). Similarly, Forester again warns the reader that if the intellectuals do not take an active role in England and simply take up place in an industrial run society, it will still fall. Forester chooses to end the novel with each class playing an active role in Howards End; he is stressing class integration. The house is most alive when it is occupied by all three families. Forester takes this idea a step further when Margaret inherits Howards End. However, this return to Old England is short lived. Upon Margaret’s death, Howards End will be inherited by Helen and Leonard’s child. Since the child represents all of England’s social classes, Forester is sending the reader a message. Howards End is alive and functioning while occupied by Helen, Margaret, Mr. Wilcox and the baby. England will be prosperous when all of its classes can unite. However, by leaving the baby to inherit Howards End, Forester makes a more emphatic claim. The baby represents an absence of class in that it cannot be classified into one of England’s pre-established groups. Through this inheritance, Forester calls for the eventually abolition of social structure. According to Forester, maximum prosperity for England lies in a classless environment. Arguably, Howards End was written to answer the question “Who will inherit England?” Upon completing and considering Forester’s work, it becomes evident it will not belong to a single sector of society. Forester tells the reader that the new England will have room to accommodate everyone.

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