Howards End | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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Howards End | Chapters 31–32 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 31

The Schlegels' belongings are moved out of Wickham Place. The empty property turns into a "corpse, void of emotion" as "houses have their own way of dying." It is demolished, vanishing "back into the gray." Mr. Wilcox offers the Schlegels Howards End as a place to store their belongings. He is in possession of it once more because his tenant, Bryce, has recently died abroad. Mr. Wilcox has moved past the episode with Jacky, even confusing it in his mind with "another episode ... in the days of his bachelorhood."

Margaret and Mr. Wilcox marry in a small ceremony with family. Although they honeymoon in Austria, they do not see Helen, who is traveling nearby in Germany, much to Margaret's annoyance. She writes to Helen about "the need of charity in sexual matters," but Helen only thanks her "for her kind letter," which Margaret finds strange. She speculates that Helen simply "disliked meeting Henry." Margaret makes her marriage a pleasant one by curtailing her intellectual pursuits somewhat, making herself available whenever her husband wishes, and letting him win every discussion. However, she has "a bad attack of ... nerves" when he tells her he has found a tenant for Oniton. She is annoyed that he had rented out the place she wanted to be her home without asking her. He claims that Oniton is damp, and he had originally bought it for Evie. He proposes they should live at Ducie Street for the winter, until they decide on a permanent home.

Chapter 32

Dolly visits Margaret the next spring. Margaret is looking over the plans for the house she and Mr. Wilcox have plans to build in Sussex. Dolly comments on how odd it is that Helen is still abroad; it has been eight months. Margaret learns a piece of gossip from Dolly about Evie. It seems she returned an expensive wedding gift of a pendant from Miss Avery, who then threw it into a lake and wrote Evie "a perfectly awful letter." Charles has sent Dolly to tell Margaret that Miss Avery has been unpacking the Schlegels' things at Howards End. Margaret writes to ask Miss Avery not to unpack their things. She goes alone to Howards End to pack them back up herself.

Analysis

In Chapter 31, readers learn that Jacky wasn't Mr. Wilcox's first sexual impropriety. He had another "episode" before his first marriage, and in his mind he lumps the two indiscretions together as "one crop of wild oats." He doesn't seem to think that either affair affects anyone but himself. There is no thought for how this affected any of the women involved, including his first wife or Margaret. It is easy for him to forget the past and be happy with Margaret as a result, especially since he sees her as "so lively and intelligent, and yet so submissive." His desires take precedence over hers in their marriage, while his overall view of women's inferiority remains unchanged. He appreciates Margaret's intelligence when it makes him look good ("it distinguished her from the wives of other men"), but otherwise puts it down, perhaps because he feels threatened by it. At one point, he refers to Margaret to her face in the third person, as "it": "What a practical little woman it is! What's it been reading?" His choice of words reveals Mr. Wilcox's need to dehumanize her in some way to maintain his sense of power and control.

The odd story of Evie's return of Miss Avery's wedding present demonstrates how gender and social class influence one another. Dolly calls Miss Avery "dotty" and "an old maid." She looks down on her because she is "only a farm woman." Evie gives in to pressure from the men in the family, including Mr. Wilcox and Charles, to return the gift. If she accepts it, she will have to invite Miss Avery, who they consider their social inferior, to her wedding. As Dolly says, "What is a girl to do?" She then speculates that Miss Avery "meant to be invited to Oniton, and so climb into society." Like her father-in-law, Dolly assumes there must always be a hidden agenda, a desire to increase one's status. As Margaret points out, this is an unlikely scenario, but even she is unnerved to discover that Miss Avery has been unpacking the Schlegels' possessions. She writes a "pleasant note" telling her to stop, then rushes to Howards End to secure her property by packing it all back up.

The author returns to the notion that houses are alive and have souls in Chapter 31 with the demise of Wickham Place. It has been empty of inhabitants for some time, and by that September, when the lease is up, the removal of the Schlegels' belongings turns the house into a "corpse, devoid of emotion." The narrator states that "houses die," and Wickham Place is torn down by workmen who resemble "undertakers." The news from Dolly in Chapter 32 that Miss Avery is unpacking the Schlegels' belongings serves to draw Margaret back to Howards End. Her return to the house, which is so central to the novel, is the first step toward the events that will lead to the novel's climax. Chapters 31 and 32 also offer two small clues about what is going on with Helen, which also foreshadow the novel's climax. In Chapter 31 Helen responds to Margaret's letter asking for her to show "charity in sexual matters" by thanking her. Readers must ask themselves the reason for this seemingly strange response, especially after she seemed so upset about Jacky's past affair with Mr. Wilcox. The next clue, in Chapter 32, comes from her extended absence from England. She left after Evie's wedding, around the time Dolly's last baby was born. Dolly notes that Helen has now been gone for eight months.

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