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Howards End | Chapters 25–26 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 25

Evie is unhappy to hear of her father's engagement and moves her own wedding date up. She wants her wedding to take place at Oniton, Mr. Wilcox's country home near the Welsh border. Margaret aims to make Oniton her home, not knowing that Mr. Wilcox intends to sell it after the wedding. Mr. Wilcox expects Margaret to help him entertain wedding guests, and Margaret finds she doesn't enjoy his friends, who are shallow.

A group of wedding guests take the train to Shrewsbury, then two cars to drive the rest of the way to Oniton. The car in which Margaret is riding hits what everyone supposes to be a dog. The women are herded into the other car, and Charles drives them away from the unsavory scene. As they depart, Margaret hears a girl screaming. She gathers what has happened and tells Charles to take her back. He ignores all her commands, and she jumps from the moving vehicle, hurting her hand. She walks back toward the scene of the accident, and learns from Mr. Fussell that the car had hit a cat. The men assure her the girl will be compensated, and Margaret goes back to the car. Margaret confesses to Mr. Wilcox that she has "been so naughty," calling herself "your poor Meg." Mr. Wilcox wants the whole story from Charles, and the two are unaware that Margaret "had artfully prepared" them to interpret her actions as fitting "all too well with their view of feminine nature." Charles continues to suspect that Margaret "means mischief," and worries she will take his money, even thinking for a few moments that she is trying to seduce him.

Chapter 26

Evie and Mr. Cahill are married, and Margaret plays the hostess, "kowtowing to the men." That evening she and Mr. Wilcox see new visitors arrive. Margaret goes to speak to them so tired Mr. Wilcox can rest, and find it is Helen, along with Mr. Bast and Jacky. Helen yells that Mr. Bast has lost his job, and she found the two starving in London. She has paid their rent, gotten their possessions back, and fed them. Margaret rebukes her sister for bringing them to Oniton and forbids Helen from confronting Mr. Wilcox, whom Helen holds responsible for the couple's ruin. Margaret says that she will speak to Mr. Wilcox about securing a new job for Mr. Bast, and tells her to go to a hotel with the Basts for the night. She then carefully broaches the subject with Mr. Wilcox, who agrees to find a job for Bast, as long as this does not establish a trend. They come upon Jacky in the yard. She is drunk and recognizes Mr. Wilcox as a former client of hers. Mr. Wilcox accuses Margaret of orchestrating the encounter to entrap him. It takes Margaret a few minutes to realize, to her horror, that Jacky had been Mr. Wilcox's mistress, but she decides it is "not her tragedy; it was Mrs. Wilcox's" after he tells her his relationship with Jacky occurred ten years ago. He offers to release Margaret from the engagement.

Analysis

Both chapters feature misogynistic episodes, in which women are treated with contempt. In response, Margaret learns to play a part to get what she wants, "kowtowing to men" and "artfully" arranging matters to influence their responses without their knowledge. Whereas readers may have wondered if Margaret was truly submissive to Mr. Wilcox or not in previous chapters, her role of helpless, self-effacing woman in these two chapters is clearly a part she takes on in order to influence the men's action toward her by turning their misogyny to her own advantage.

After their car hits what they think is a dog in the road, the men herd the women away from the accident like sheep, placing them in another car. When Charles ignores her pleas to stop the car so she can return to the scene of the accident, Margaret leaps defiantly from the moving vehicle. Later, she explains her leap from the car to the men, not as an act of rebellion and agency, but as a silly, emotional choice, rather than a rebellious act of will. By doing so, she knows it fulfills what Mr. Wilcox and Charles believe about female behavior: women and their nerves! Rather than seeing a woman act on her own behalf, they would prefer to stereotype her as illogical and overly emotional. Margaret chooses not to make an issue of what really happened in the car because it would not serve her to do so.

In Chapter 26 Margaret similarly placates Mr. Wilcox's friends by "kowtowing" to them in order to please her husband and ingratiate herself. She also knows that angrily confronting her husband about Leonard's lack of a job will not get her what she wants. Instead she goes to him apologetically, requesting his help. Readers can see why some women pretended to be submissive, silly, and emotional in order to achieve their own purposes, given the widespread misogyny of the time, although Margaret does not find it a particularly comfortable part to play. She also struggles throughout both chapters with her love for Mr. Wilcox and her perception of the differences between them as she enters his world. Her desire for proportion and "diplomacy" sometimes has a troubling side, forcing her to be in a limbo zone "between things as they are and things as they ought to be."

When Helen appears with the Basts, in contrast to her sister's "diplomatic" approach, she bluntly expresses her outrage and demands justice. Mr. Wilcox again fails to recognize Mr. Bast, and Margaret still does not fully grasp the truth about Mr. Bast's social reality: he has lost his job, and he knows this puts him in a downward spiral economically. As he ruefully notes, echoing Mr. Wilcox's earlier statement in the novel, "there will always be rich and poor," and he knows only too well which side he is on. Margaret is caught here, too, between the new world of her engagement to Mr. Wilcox, and the world of her family life before she met him.

The author throws readers a huge plot twist in Chapter 26 with the revelation that Mr. Wilcox used to sleep with Jacky. Interestingly, when confronted with his past sins, Mr. Wilcox responds by claiming he is just a man like other men. There had been no hint of his having a proclivity for adultery, given his adoration of his previous wife, unless it was his shame about physical passion. Perhaps he could act out desires with a prostitute that he was too ashamed to share with his wife. He then becomes angry with Margaret, even though she doesn't even really understand what's going on, accusing her of orchestrating the meeting with Jacky in order to trap him. In the end, he's just as suspicious of Margaret as Charles is, more evidence of their shared misogyny. Margaret is shocked by her fiancé's relationship with Jacky as well as his accusation of entrapment. But she reflects that it is "not her tragedy; it was Mrs. Wilcox's," because it happened long before he had met Margaret. Readers are left to wonder at the end of the chapter if Margaret will indeed end her engagement and what will happen to the Basts now.

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