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Howards End | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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Howards End | Chapters 3–4 | Summary



Chapter 3

On her train ride to Hilton, Mrs. Munt reflects on her late sister Emily's two daughters, Margaret and Helen, thinking them two "independent young women" very much in need of her guidance. They have declined her many offers to be their caretaker after their parents' deaths. When they come of age, she encourages them to switch their investments to safer local railways, rather than international companies, even as British shares decline in value. She also disapproves of the company they keep, as they regularly invite people from varying backgrounds come to their home for lively discussions of ideas and current events.

Mrs. Munt happens to meet Charles Wilcox at the train station, thinking that he is Paul. He offers to take her to Howards End in his car after he collects a package. He yells at the porter because he believes that he is taking too long and tells Mrs. Munt he would fire everyone at the station if he were in charge. In the car, Mrs. Munt reveals her mission, and so goes against Margaret's advice to speak to Helen alone. When Charles understands her to mean that Helen is romantically involved with Paul, he becomes angry. He explains that Paul has no money and is about to leave for Nigeria, making marriage impossible for him for many years. Mrs. Munt is deeply offended by what she feels is Charles's disparagement of Helen, and the two insult each other's families. Helen meets them as they arrive, telling her aunt that the relationship with Paul is over and begging her not to tell anyone. Mrs. Munt cries, and Charles yells for his brother. Mrs. Wilcox, hearing the commotion, quietly handles the situation. She has intuited what has happened and explains to Charles that Paul and Helen are no longer in love.

Chapter 4

Mrs. Munt convinces herself as time goes on that she had helped her nieces with their trouble with the Wilcox family. Helen realizes that she had really been in love, not with Paul but with the family and their way of life at Howards End. While there, she abandoned all her "Schlegel fetiches [sic]" in favor of their value system, which is more traditionally class-conscious and materialistic. It includes talking down to servants, and Helen wonders if the family is "just a wall of newspapers, and motor-cars and golf clubs ... with nothing behind it but panic and emptiness."

Paul had seen an opportunity with Helen and told her he loved her under the wych-elm before the two shared a kiss. Helen noticed the fear in Paul's face the next morning and knew it meant their love was over and that "the Wilcox family was a fraud": they were taken up by "the outer world" of "telegrams and anger" and failed to recognize "that personal relations are the real life." Helen and Paul had agreed they had "lost [their] heads" when they kissed. Helen received Margaret's telegram that Aunt Juley was on her way, but it was too late to stop her. The kiss remains, however a romantic, transcendent moment that lives on for Helen throughout her life.

The Schlegels' father had been a German who married their mother, Emily, an Englishwoman. Mr. Schlegel had been not the modern, commercial, nationalistic sort of German, but the German of "Hegel and Kant ... [an] idealist, inclined to be dreamy." The staunch national pride in Germany of the Schlegel relatives rivaled Mrs. Munt's British patriotism, and Margaret recognized even as a child that "either God does not know his own mind about England and Germany, or else these do not know the mind of God." The two sisters are similar in their views, although Helen is more social and open to the influence of other people, while Margaret more introspective and reserved.


In Chapter 3 the author introduces the first examples of mysticism into the novel, suggesting that Mrs. Wilcox was guided by the voices of her ancestors as she intervened in the disturbance between Mrs. Munt and Charles. No one has told her of Paul and Helen's relationship, yet she seems to understand perfectly what has transpired between them. Mysticism, notions of the supernatural, and the idea of the inner life of ideas and dreams are expanded through the description of Mr. Schlegel as well as in the conversation between Margaret and Helen about the inner versus outer world in Chapter 4. These concepts stand in contrast to the bustling world of "telegrams and anger" represented by the Wilcox family.

The author also sets up a contrast between romanticism and modernity, a central theme of the novel, by highlighting the differences between the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes. The narrator describes Mr. Schlegel as a German of the country of Hegel and Kant, two German philosophers who posited the centrality of the spiritual in interpreting experience of reality, and contrasts this to the rationalism and commercialism of modern Germany. Margaret and Helen are firmly convinced that the inner life of relationships and ideas is the real life, not the outer life they associate with the Wilcox family, summarized by Helen as "a fraud ... a wall of newspapers, and motor-cars and golf clubs ... with nothing behind it but panic and emptiness." Yet, readers may wonder why the Wilcoxes so captivate Helen that she is happy to cast all her values aside. Perhaps the lure of modernity is strong but is revealed as fraudulent in the light of further scrutiny, much as Helen finds the Wilcox family to be flawed when she reflects upon her experience with Paul. Indeed the trauma of the event solidifies her commitment to her former romantic values.

In Chapters 3 and 4 the author develops the character of well-intentioned and misguided Mrs. Munt, referred to as Aunt Juley by Margaret and Helen. She certainly loves her nieces and worries for their well-being. She offered many times over the years to be their caretaker in the wake of their parents' deaths. Mrs. Munt has an odd personality trait of "distorting the past," which allows her to view herself and her actions in a positive light. The narrator explains that she comes to convince herself over time that her blunder at the Wilcox home was really a favor she did for her nieces, saving Helen from her error in judgment about Paul, although this is clearly not the case. She is also thoroughly convinced about the superiority of her homeland, urging the girls to invest in British companies, rather than foreign ones, seemingly oblivious to the fact that British railway stocks are steadily in decline. She is dubious about the freedom that her nieces enjoy, especially when it comes to the company they keep. All these factors cause Mrs. Munt to believe that they need her guidance and oversight, although from evidence in just in the first few chapters, readers may doubt both the necessity of such a role as well as her ability to fulfill it.

Readers learn more of Charles's personality in both chapters, too. Not unlike Mrs. Munt, Charles is supremely self-confident. He shouts at the porter at the train station for taking too long to get a package, believing he would run the station better if he were in charge. He declares that servants are too ignorant to recognize manners, so one needn't be polite to them. Charles clearly believes his family's money makes him superior to just about everyone, including his younger brother, thinking him a fool. Forceful and domineering, he easily persuades Helen, at least for a time, of the correctness of his views.

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