Howards End | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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Howards End | Chapters 19–20 | Summary



Chapter 19

Mrs. Munt and Helen take visiting Frieda to a ridge overlooking the British countryside. They observe the train in which Margaret is returning from London and wonder if she decided to rent the house on Ducie Street. Helen tells Frieda of the many homes the Wilcox family owns. They see Margaret and Tibby coming in a cart to join them. Helen runs toward them asking about the house. Margaret whispers her news of Mr. Wilcox's proposal and tells Helen she plans to accept it. Helen "burst[s] into tears" and begs her sister not "to do such a thing." Margaret is puzzled by her sister's response. Helen has disliked Mr. Wilcox ever since her short romance with Paul. Margaret explains that she has thought it through. She says Helen and Paul had a romance, but that her relationship with Mr. Wilcox will be more like prose than poetry. She is aware of Mr. Wilcox's faults and knows "there are heaps of things in me that he doesn't, and shall never, understand." She appreciates that men like him have made lives like hers and Helen's possible.

Chapter 20

Mr. Wilcox, whom Margaret now calls Henry, visits her in Swanage with an engagement ring. The two discuss how he intends to provide for his family as well as his new wife. Margaret attempts to speak frankly of finances, telling him of her 600 pounds per year, but he declines to share specifics about his own income. They also speak of what to do with the house on Ducie Street, where they could live, and when their wedding will take place. They plan on a September wedding, after Evie's. He walks her back to her aunt's home as it grows late and abruptly kisses her, then leaves quickly. Later she reflects on the sudden kiss, which was not accompanied by any tender words, and it reminds her of the one between Paul and Helen.


Chapter 19 opens as the narrator continues what has become a pattern in the novel of contrasting the fast-paced urban growth of London with more suburban or rural parts of England. In this case, there is a description of the landscapes that stretch beyond London all the way to the sea and escape the reach of London, which "shall never touch" them. London is lively and full of wonders, but also imposing, even domineering, in its ruthless drive for modernization and wealth. Margaret, for example, has come to dislike its "continual flux," which seems to sweep away everything in its path in favor of progress.

Mr. Wilcox proves to be a divisive figure who creates a rift between the Schlegel sisters, who have always been so close. Helen cannot understand how Margaret can marry someone so different from themselves, and Margaret doesn't understand why Helen sees the difference as insurmountable. She says her relationship with Mr. Wilcox will be thoughtful and stable in contrast to Helen's passionate, but brief, romance with Paul. This, along with her assertion that she has thought things through very carefully, implying that Helen is impulsive, are sufficient evidence to her mind that her marriage is a good idea.

In Chapter 20 Margaret once again bows to Mr. Wilcox's wishes. She now calls him by his first name of Henry, which signals their increasing closeness. She tells him her exact income, but when he refuses to do the same, she doesn't insist on knowing his net worth or how he will provide for her and his children. She also accepts his refusal to allow her to live at Howards End. Margaret seems to take for granted earlier in Chapter 19 that Mr. Wilcox will never be able to fully understand her, and perhaps this is the reason she doesn't press him on these issues. She knows that he will not be able to understand or appreciate her concerns, so she lets them go. Or perhaps she does so because she's so in love with him, nothing else seems to matter that much.

Whatever the case, Margaret does not know that Mr. Wilcox continues to withhold from her his previous wife's desire that she should inherit the property. Ever the prudent businessman, he stage-manages the situation, telling her only that the house will someday go to his son. Chapter 20 opens with a frank assessment that marriage is an extension of the "twin rocks" of "Property and Propriety," rather than a pure and unsullied expression of "Love." It is not that marriage may not include love, but it concerns other, more worldly, issues as well, such as money. This applies clearly to Margaret and Mr. Wilcox's situation.

The first kiss between Margaret and Mr. Wilcox, in Chapter 20, is unexpected and passionate, but furtive. Readers may wonder why he would grab her, kiss her, and then hurry away. It suggests he is embarrassed by physical affection or is ashamed in some way, perhaps by this sudden, and uncharacteristic, show of emotion on his part. The kiss-and-run nature of the embrace, as well as it outdoor nighttime setting, recalls the kiss shared by Paul and Helen. These parallels to the ill-fated young couple in the first chapters of the novel foreshadows trouble for the older couple.

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