Howards End by E.M. Forster: Topic Analysis

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

The attempt to connect the two different worlds of money and ideals is a central theme in E.M Forsters Howards End. The concept of money is most strongly represented by the Wilcox family. Idealism and intellectualism are the driving forces of the Schlegels especially the younger sister Helen. Establishing the rainbow bridge (page 187) between these two is Margaret Schlegel, the novels protagonist.

The central relationship in the novel is between Henry Wilcox, who has made his fortune through the rubber industry, and the elder Schlegel sister, Margaret. The novel follows their courtship and consequent marriage through a journey of obstacles and revelations. Henry Wilcox is driven by money and power with little time for culture and intellectual thought. He is obtuse but also kindly. Margaret is an intellectual who cares for the troubles of the world but cares most for the welfare of her siblings and her husband.

The other characters in the novel represent more extreme types. Helen, Margarets much loved younger sister, is a bohemian idealist who responds passionately to situations. Charles Wilcox is the most prosaic character. The clerk, Leonard Bast, is tormented by a glimpse of societys privileged he is at the extreme verge of gentility and though not in the abyss (page 58) he is aware of it. His gaudy wife, Jacky, represents the seedier side of society. She is in the abyss but does not seem aware of it. Mrs Munt (Aunt Juley) is awfully English, with little genuine understanding of Art and Literature but a great understanding of its importance in cultured society. Mrs Wilcox represents an ideal wife, a gentle diplomat who is not passionate about anything that might be controversial but is passionate that people should have a home.

The upbringing of the Schlegel sisters is one of liberal idealism from their German father and bone-deep Englishness from their mothers side. The maternal side of the family is represented by Aunt Juley.

The Schlegels have money, and a constant flow of it as they invest wisely. Aunt Juley agitates over their decision to invest in foreign things and encourages them to have an old, safe investment in Home Rail which does not do as well (due, possibly, to increasing use of the motorcar). Not having to worry about money puts the Schlegels in the leisured class they have the freedom to read well, to attend lectures and public meetings (page 41) to cultivate their minds and to discuss issues developing strong ideals of right and wrong within the two sisters, especially Helen.

Margaret, the eldest sibling and surrogate mother to Helen and Tibby, is intelligent and idealistic but more pragmatic than her younger sister. She is concerned about the haste of Helens engagement to Paul Wilcox but feels that as long as her sister is in love it doesnt matter even be it with a penniless clerk (page 25). When it comes to money Margaret is shrewd but not obsessive. At the dinner party in Chapter 15, she automatically calculates what how much per annum a million dollars will result in.

She impresses Henry with her direct division of how he should spend his income in Chapter 20 not requesting any for herself, give away all you can, bearing in mind Ive a clear six hundred. What a mercy it is to have all this money about one! (page 182).

Academically, Margaret supports the plight of the poor though this does not affect her behaviour as it does Helens. Margaret creates a stir at the ladies dinner party where the conversation revolves around how a million dollars should be distributed and how best to aid the Mr Basts of the world. Says Margaret, Money; give Mr Bast money, and dont bother about his ideals. Hell pick up those for himself, (page 134). Margaret has a bad time between the idealists and the political economists indicating that she is neither (page 134).

Where Margaret theorises, her sister Helen acts upon her ideal that all men are created equal including Mr Bast and Mr Wilcox. Helens idealistic notions of equality drive her to distraction by the time of Evies wedding where she brings the now poverty stricken Basts. She demands that Mr Wilcox see the outcome of his flippant advice and takes accountability for his actions. Flung into this uncomfortable situation Leonard comments – Poetrys nothing your money, too, is nothing There will always be rich and poor (page 225). Leonard has become resigned to the ways of the world at the end of Edwardian England. Mr Wilcox also believes there will also be rich and poor but that comes from the theory that the fittest will survive. Helen views the situation as unjust. Margaret sees the unjustness but her stronger desire is to avoid conflict between the differing opinions of Helen and Henry.

Helen is the most idealistic character in the novel. It is Leonard Basts walk through the forest in Surrey that initially appeals to her ideal of Romance. She longs to help Leonard Bast as though he is a project – some proof that when given the right opportunity (a job, money) the poor can become as successful as the rich.

She fails this, through her impetuousness and because the Industrial England at the turn of the century was driven towards output and productivity and less sympathetic to the welfare of the lower classes. Helen is emotional in her expression of ideals, no more so that when she sleeps with Leonard after the disastrous encounter with Henry Wilcox at Evies wedding.

In Chapter 22 of the novel the reader discovers that to Only connect! is what Margaret strives for – she wishes to connect the prose in us with the passion (page 188). She wants to see a harmonious link established between prose (pragmatism, materialism, money) and passion (emotion, culture, ideals). Margaret believes to be truly happy humans should be a mixture of both Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts. (page187). Henry is represented as a monk he believes bodily passion is bad (page188). The term beast is similar to Bast.

In a sense Margaret is successful in building her rainbow bridge. She brings the two worlds of money and strong idealism together in harmony – the glue being Howards End where Helen comes to live with her illegitimate son and Henry agrees to live with Margaret. But both Helen and Henry come to Howards End mellowed, Henry, by the conviction of Charles and Helen by childbirth and greater acceptance of the ways of the world. Much of her change of attitude comes from Leonard himself. After Evies wedding Helen and Leonard discuss his future and Jackys past. Leonard says he would be okay if I could only get work and that he doesnt trouble after books any more (page 235). Helen implores him to remember all the beautiful things, the romanticism of music and walking at night. But Leonard discards this as nonsense. He sees clearly where he stands after the bailiffs fingered his Ruskins and Stevensons; I see one must have money (page 235).

Helen tells him that the real thing is not just money but also death and that awareness of death shows the emptiness of money. Leonard recognises that Helen speaks of an ideal but she does not comprehend his reality: Death, Life and Materialism were fine words, but would Mr Wilcox take him on as a clerk? (page 236).

In Howards End, within the boundaries of love, truth, equality, and politics, Forster questions whether it is possible for a man to elevate his position in society by improving himself. Leonard Bast tries to improve himself through Art and Literature. He recognises this is what he does and yet cannot help trying to obtain Culture: Oh, it was no good, this continual aspiration. Some are born cultured; the rest had better go in for whatever comes easy. (Page 67). Helen Schlegel tries to improve him through the offer of money and a job the wealthy aiding the disadvantaged. Helen believes all men (and women she believes in suffrage) should be given equal opportunity an idealistic notion. Leonard is at first cheered by this, after his second visit with the sisters he is filled with permanent joy that the Schlegels had not found him foolish. Somehow the barriers of wealth had fallen, and there had been he could not phrase it a general assertion of the wonder of the world (page 131). Margaret believes an outlay of money would give a man the opportunity to develop his own ideals should he not take advantage of the opportunity, so be it. The Wilcoxes believe society is naturally formed with some weaker and some stronger. People should not challenge the status quo as this is disruptive and futile: You do admit that, if wealth was divided up equally, in a few years there would be rich and poor again just the same. The hard-working man would come to the op, the wastrel sink to the bottom, (Henry to Margaret, page 160).

Due to the position in society of the Wilcoxes it is easy to understand why they would not like to change the status quo.

In the end, Forster suggests none of these stances are correct. Despite Leonards worthy attempts to become cultured he loses his job, is stuck with his bawdy wife, and dies a death of little dignity. But neither do the Wilcoxes conquer; Charles goes to prison and Henry becomes a broken man. Margaret succeeds in bringing all her family together at Howards End which means it is not quite the end of Ruth Wilcoxs (nee Howard) legacy. However, the house looks to have a temporary future. London is spreading towards it, Margaret and Henry are unlikely have a child together and while Helens illegitimate child will grow up there it is the Charles Wilcoxes who, in the words of Mrs Avery, breed like rabbits (page 268).

The relationship between money and ideals is one that is fraught with conflict the conflict between the characters who represent these worlds and its resolution via an intermediary, Margaret, forms the novel. Forster demonstrates to the reader that while neither world is perfect they both have their merits and with careful diplomacy have the potential to operate harmoniously together.

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