Howards End | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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Howards End | Chapters 29–30 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 29

Mr. Wilcox tells Margaret he is not worthy of her and releases her from their engagement, but she objects. He proceeds to disparage her privileged life a bit and wonders if she is properly "womanly," then tries to explain to her why he had the affair with Jacky—he had been far from home and subject to temptation. Margaret reflects that "the skies would have fallen" if the tables were turned and she told him that she found his male servant somewhat attractive. Mr. Wilcox can't quite believe her when she says she forgives him, nor does she believe that he is truly remorseful. They discover that Helen did not sleep at Oniton but instead at the hotel. Margaret worries that Helen may have spoken to Jacky and learned Mr. Wilcox's secret. A servant at the hotel says Helen left, alone very early, while the Basts left later. When Margaret returns from her inquiry at the hotel, "the old Henry fronted her ... and the great thing now was to forget his failure." When she tells him of her worry of rumors, he tells her to never mention Jacky again, and she agrees, except if it is necessary for practical reasons. They leave Oniton, and Margaret, who loves the place and wants to live there, is unaware that it is the last time she will see it.

Chapter 30

An upset Helen goes to visit Tibby at Oxford University. She tells him that she has learned something disturbing about Mr. Wilcox and doesn't know what to do. Tibby guesses that Mr. Wilcox has had an affair, and Helen confirms it. She shares the details of Mr. Wilcox's treatment of Jacky and Mr. Bast, claiming that he "has ruined two people's lives." She tells her brother that she can't face Margaret and plans to go abroad. She leaves the fate of the secret about Wilcox and Jacky up to him. She tells him that she will give Mr. Bast half of her inheritance, and Tibby is shocked, but he agrees to get the money to Mr. Bast. When he receives the check, Mr. Bast returns it, refusing the offer. At Helen's instruction, Tibby goes to insist that in person, but he finds only the Bast's possessions. They have been evicted for nonpayment of rent, and have disappeared. Helen reinvests her money and earns a profit.

Analysis

In Chapter 29, both Margaret and Mr. Wilcox are eager to put the mess of the previous night behind them, though for different reasons. Margaret isn't really interested in hearing his excuses about the affair with Jacky. She thinks it needn't have anything to do with their relationship and would rather forgive him and move on. While her response initially surprises him, Mr. Wilcox seems to get over his disbelief for a more practical reason. Accepting Margaret's forgiveness soothes his conscience and provides a convenient shortcut to putting his past mistake out of his mind. Mr. Wilcox simply wants to forget the whole thing happened.

Their discussion also gives readers a closer look at the importance of gender roles in Margaret and Mr. Wilcox's relationship. Even as he claims to be ashamed of his affair, he criticizes Margaret, questioning whether she is "altogether womanly" because she is thoughtful and "reads books that are suitable for men only." Mr. Wilcox orders her sternly to never to speak of Jacky again, unaware that she has already taken steps to close the Basts out of their lives forever. Even before they marry, Margaret and Mr. Wilcox have begun to settle into a pattern based on gender roles: Margaret "played the girl until [Mr. Wilcox] could rebuild his fortress and hide his soul from the world." As Margaret understands that his male ego and his sense of emotional detachment have suffered a rude shock from which he is trying to recover by "rebuilding his fortress." She is aware that her husband is not really remorseful. The narrator is not convinced either, noting how Wilcox "improves [his] emotion." Nevertheless, Margaret "play[s] the girl" in order to help him resume his life as a powerful man in control.

Readers learn in Chapter 30 that Helen does indeed know of Mr. Wilcox's past with Jacky, although it is not said how she came across the information. Readers also see evidence of the sincerity of Helen's convictions. When she visits Tibby, he notices that she has "altered." Previously in the novel, Helen has impetuously and passionately leapt from one trendy theory to another. She seems to be all talk and no action. But now she puts her money where her mouth is, promising half of all she has to the Basts in an effort to right the wrong she feels Mr. Wilcox has done them. Helen mistakenly assumes, however, that it was Mr. Wilcox who forced Margaret to write the letters about the Basts, not realizing how her sister actually took matters into her own hands.

Tibby does not appear often in the novel, but he plays an important role in this chapter. At first, he is merely annoyed by Helen's visit and her requests for his help. A student at Oxford, he is bookish and doesn't really take an interest in other people's lives as she does. But even Tibby is moved when Mr. Bast turns down Helen's money, deciding that "Leonard Bast seemed somewhat a monumental person after all." There is something behind his sister's intense devotion to the Basts after all. Unfortunately, they have suddenly disappeared. They were evicted for not paying their rent, and there is no way to know where they have gone. Readers are left to wonder if the impoverished Basts are really gone for good. Helen resigns herself to their disappearance and seems to give up on helping them. She reinvests her money, making an easy profit. Her healthy finances go on as they always have in contrast to the Bast's steady decline into ever greater poverty.

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