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Howards End | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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Howards End | Chapters 23–24 | Summary



Chapter 23

Helen tells Margaret that she dislikes Mr. Wilcox, but that if anyone can "attempt difficult relations" and make a marriage with him work, it is Margaret. She warns Margaret that she will lose something in the marriage and not to expect to come to her for help. Helen declares that she will go her own way while continuing to love Margaret as much as ever. Margaret asks Helen to be civil to Mr. Wilcox, and Helen agrees. Margaret feels reassured that their "inner life" and relationship is safe.

Margaret meets Mr. Wilcox and Charles at their business before they drive down to Hilton together. As they drive, she feels a "loss of space," the scenery blurring as they speed past. They stop for lunch with Dolly at Hilton, discussing what a hassle Bryce has created by leaving Howards End only a month into his three-year lease. They drive through the rain to Howards End, then discover they don't have the key, so Mr. Wilcox leaves Margaret on the porch to go get it. She admires the beauty of the place, and finds the door unlocked. As she walks through the house, she "recaptures her sense of space." Then she hears a noise, and an old woman comes down the stairs. She says she thought that Margaret was Mrs. Wilcox because she has "her way of walking." The woman leaves.

Chapter 24

At tea back at Hilton, Mr. Wilcox tells of Margaret's startling encounter with Miss Avery, a neighboring spinster who had the keys to the house. Dolly recalls that Charles's uncle, Mrs. Wilcox's brother, had once proposed to Miss Avery, but he had died. He had been the last of the Howards. Mr. Wilcox is annoyed by Dolly's talk, and Margaret deduces that proximity to her and his son is the real reason Mr. Wilcox doesn't wish to live at Howards End.

The narrator recalls how, when they had been at Howards End earlier, Mr. Wilcox had showed Margaret around and told her more of its history, revealing his improvements to the property. Margaret found the wych-elm beautiful. To her, it bends over the house, like a true companion. She looked for the pigs' teeth, and Mr. Wilcox was surprised to see them. He wondered how she knew about them, and she, following his lead, avoided mentioning Mrs. Wilcox, simply saying she heard about them in London.


Chapter 23 opens with the description of a conversation that might have signaled a major rift between the Schlegel sisters. Helen has been troubled by Margaret's engagement for a while, but she has come to a decision. She thinks Margaret will lose something and that the marriage will be difficult. She doesn't like Mr. Wilcox, and she isn't going to pretend to. Helen will do no more than try to be civil, and she doesn't want Margaret to come running to her for help when things turn out just the way Helen fears they will. Nevertheless, she assures Margaret that she will always love her. Margaret's response is to ask Helen to be polite to Mr. Wilcox, and she seems unperturbed at Helen's dislike for her future husband. Mostly, she is relieved that the "inner life" between her and her sister is safe. In this way, the sisters manage to connect, reinforcing their love for each other, despite their differing points of view.

At this moment, the sisters manage to attain "proportion," or a reasonable balance, in their relationship. Proportion is something Margaret values, and she tries to bridge the gap whenever possible to balance opposing beliefs. Lack of proportion is a problem because it obscures the truth: "the businessman who assumes that life is everything, and the mystic who asserts that it is nothing, fail, on this side and that, to hit the truth." The narrator suggests taking a different approach, which is an ongoing process: "continuous" movement between extremes is the only way to reach the truth.

Forster explores one of the many ills of modern technology in Chapter 24, which is the way it disconnects people from nature and from their own humanity. In the car, whizzing down the country lanes, Margaret feels "a loss of space." Older methods of transport allowed people to observe their surroundings, to feel a part of nature, but the rapid movement of the car blurs and distorts the scenery it passes. People, land, and animals become unrecognizable. Margaret feels dizzy, unable to focus, and worried for the children and chickens who might be hurt by the car as it speeds along the road. Automobiles bypass nature, perhaps even endanger it with their "sense of flux," echoed in the forward motion of the Wilcoxes, with their emphasis on progress and profit.

Modern technology like automobiles is quite a contrast to the bucolic setting of Howards End, which serves to connect people with nature and is a place "where friends might shelter." When she is on its porch, Margaret feels a connection to all the plants around her. It is peaceful, safe, and inviting. A "sense of space" returns to her as she walks through its rooms, imagining people gathering there.

In both chapters readers also find evidence of Margaret's mystical, spiritual connection to Howards End. The house opens to her even though it is presumably locked. It turns out Miss Avery has unlocked the house for her, and for a moment, she even thinks Margaret is the late mistress of the house, Mrs. Wilcox. Margaret feels a kinship with the house and the nearby wych-elm, which she calls a "comrade." The way the tree bends over the house, embracing it, protecting it, represents another instance of connection. When she shows Mr. Wilcox the wych-elm, Margaret knows the secrets of the pig's teeth in the tree's trunk because of her connection to Mrs. Wilcox, a tale to which Mr. Wilcox is, as usual, oblivious. Instead, he discusses the history of the purchase and renovation of the house, demonstrating his bloodless, practical side by remembering how it was mismanaged until he scooped it up. Margaret understands this, but still loves him for saving the house, trying, as always, to find a sense of proportion.

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