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Howards End | Chapters 1–2 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1

The first chapter of the novel comprises three letters from Helen to Margaret, written from the country home of the Wilcox family, Howards End. The two sisters originally met the Wilcoxes on a trip abroad. In her first letter, composed on Tuesday, Helen writes that the home is not at all what the sisters imagined. Instead of a sprawling estate, it is a charming, small brick home set among gardens and farmland. Next to the home stands a striking wych-elm tree. The hay in the pastures is making the Wilcox family sneeze. Helen laments that her brother Tibby's hay fever prevents Margaret, who is caring for him back at home, from joining her.

Helen describes the home and the habits of its inhabitants as if she were watching a play. Mrs. Wilcox is a quiet lady who enjoys the gardens of her home, while Mr. Wilcox is a forceful man who effectively talks Helen out of her views of women's equality, as she describes in her second letter. The eldest son, Charles, enjoys practicing croquet and taking the family and visitor for drives to see local scenery. Evie is the Wilcox's daughter, and their younger son Paul is due to arrive on Wednesday. The family persuades Helen to stay a few more days than she intended. On Sunday Helen writes a brief letter declaring that "Paul and I are in love."

Chapter 2

Margaret discusses Helen's announcement with their Aunt Juley, also known as Mrs. Munt. The Schlegel family, who are part German, live in an expensive apartment in London, a type of dwelling doomed to be torn down to make way for the ever-expanding urbanization of the city. Margaret wants to go to Howards End to be with her sister. Mrs. Munt is concerned at the sudden declaration of love, and worries that they know so little of the Wilcox family. She asks, "Are they our sort?" wondering if the Wilcox family appreciates art and culture, as her own family does. Margaret does not share the same concerns. She believes that love is intensely personal. If she were in love she would declare it just as boldly as Helen. In addition, Margaret would be supportive of her sister, whomever she fell in love with, even someone of a much lower class. Mrs. Munt believes that the engagement, which she assumes exists, must be broken off, and doesn't feel Margaret will handle things correctly. Margaret, worried about Tibby's health and wishing to stay with him, agrees to let her aunt go, but urges Mrs. Munt to speak only to Helen about her concerns. Margaret takes her aunt to the station to take the train to Howards End. The narrator describes train stations as gates to the universe and adventure, but also what people must pass through when they return to their real lives. When Margaret returns home, she receives a telegram from Helen saying the relationship with Paul is over, and not to tell anyone.

Analysis

The author introduces the setting from which the title of the novel is derived: Howards End, the home of the Wilcoxes. The house is almost another character in and of itself. It is a peaceful bucolic home, rather small but idyllic. Its rural setting adds to the sense that Howards End is set apart, a refuge from the modern, bustling city of London, where Margaret and Helen, the novel's two main characters, reside.

Margaret and Helen are sisters. Margaret is the elder sister, tasked with caring for their sickly younger brother, Tibby. This action, as well as her concern for her sister after the alarming letter in which Helen declares that she and Paul are in love, shows that Margaret is responsible, caring, and loyal, with a special vibrancy all her own. She may not be "beautiful, but [she is] supremely brilliant," and full of life, expressing "a continual and sincere response to all that she encounter[s]." She is also in touch with the world of emotion and compassion, claiming she would shout her love from the rooftops, like her sister, and that she would be supportive of her sister no matter the social class of Helen's lover.

Helen proves an entertaining, observant, and responsive correspondent with a taste for drama. She is also gregarious and outgoing, showing a real affection for the Wilcoxes during her visit. In contrast to her sister Margaret, Helen is impetuous and rash. She follows her romantic heart recklessly: she declares herself in love with Paul, for example, whom she barely knows, almost immediately. Helen is also quite changeable. It appears from her discussions with Mr. Wilcox about women's suffrage that she is easily influenced.

From the first chapter, readers may gather that women's rights will be a concern of the novel. Helen expresses support for the equality of women before Mr. Wilcox seems to dissuade her from the position. Readers may also infer that Helen and Margaret's family is matriarchal, as Margaret is in charge of her younger brother and Helen to some extent, being helped by an older aunt. These women think and make decisions about the family, without the authority of a man. Feminist concerns of the day will appear throughout the novel.

The first chapter of the novel is written in epistolary style. This type of writing, made up of letters written and sent between characters, is a traditional technique of some of the first novels written in English. The most famous of these is probably Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded (1740) by Samuel Richardson, which is entirely made up of written correspondence. The letters and telegrams in the first two chapters of Howards End not only introduce readers to the novel's setting and characters, but they also point to the theme of connection. Letters serve as forms of communication connecting the characters to each other when they are separated geographically. When similar letters appear sporadically in later chapters, they often signal important moments when characters succeed or fail to connect, meaning to communicate or understand each other.

The crisis of the relationship between Helen and Paul, announced so abruptly in Chapter 1, sets into motion the conflict around which the whole novel will grow—the connection between the Wilcox and the Schlegel families and the as yet unclear role of Howards End in that relationship. The two families are set to meet, as Aunt Juley boards a train to Howards End, under less than favorable circumstances. Margaret urges her aunt to speak only to Helen of her concerns about the relationship between Helen and Paul, worried that her aunt may offend the Wilcox family. Aunt Juley is equally dubious of Margaret's ability to handle the delicate situation properly. Helen's urgent telegram announcing the end of her very brief relationship with Paul adds suspense to the rising action because Aunt Juley has left already and will arrive at Howards End without this key piece of information. Readers wonder what will happen between the two families when she arrives, and if she will take Margaret's advice to speak only to Helen about Paul.

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