Howards End | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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Howards End | Chapters 33–34 | Summary



Chapter 33

Margaret travels to Hilton. Miss Avery's niece walks her to Howards End, and they find Miss Avery inside. She opens the door for Margaret who discovers, to her surprise, all of the furnishings from Wickham Place arranged throughout the house. She explains repeatedly to Miss Avery that there has been some sort of misunderstanding. She and Mr. Wilcox will not be coming to live at Howards End. Miss Avery responds cryptically: "You think that you won't come back to live here, Mrs. Wilcox, but you will." They walk over the grounds. It is clear Miss Avery's loyalties lie with the Howard family. She speaks disparagingly of the Wilcox family, with the exception of Mrs. Wilcox, who she believes should have married a man other than Mr. Wilcox. Margaret, exasperated, asks Miss Avery for the keys to the house. Margaret leaves to ask Mr. Wilcox's advice, which is to store the furniture and books in London, "but before this could be done an unexpected trouble fell upon her."

Chapter 34

Margaret learns of her aunt's illness, and fearing she will die, goes with Tibby to Swanage. They write to Helen, who says she will come briefly, but later telegrams that she is in London and will not come there if her aunt improves or if she dies. Margaret becomes alarmed that Helen is avoiding the family. Helen won't share her actual location, only providing the address of a bank at which to contact her. Margaret arranges to meet her there, but Helen does not show up. Margaret and Tibby guess at what could be the reason for her extraordinary behavior: they worry that she might be losing her mind. Margaret traces Helen's strange behavior all the way back to her kiss with Paul. At Tibby's suggestion they go to Mr. Wilcox for help. He believes the "sick ha[ve] no rights" and may be lied to "remorselessly." He tricked his first wife into going to a nursing home for this reason. His plan is to trick Helen the same way, telling her the books she has requested are at Howards End. When she arrives to get them, they can have a car waiting to take her to see a doctor. Charles advises his father to leave Howards End out of it, but Mr. Wilcox implies it is not Charles's concern, which offends his son. Margaret doesn't care for the deceit of the plan but goes along with it, writing Helen with the day and time for her to be at Howards End. Charles warns his father that this "may be taking on a bigger business" than he thinks.


Throughout the novel, the narrator occasionally meditates on the bustling metropolis of London in contrast to England as a whole. In Chapter 33 the narrator asks, "Why has not England a great mythology?" The desire for a national mythology reflects Forster's belief in the power of myth to counter the damage of modern life represented by London, with its reckless urbanization, alienation, and emphasis on progress at all costs. A shared national mythology would connect people to nature, to history, and to shared stories created by poets. For the author, this national mythology would repair problems like the displacement of people shunted into an urban setting which is increasingly dehumanizing.

Readers may notice in Chapter 33 that Miss Avery seems to have some sort of psychic understanding of the house or of Margaret. She implies that she knows the future, insisting, despite all Margaret's protests, that Margaret and Mr. Wilcox will indeed live at Howards End. Readers are left to wonder if Miss Avery is crazy, as so many suggest, or if she really knows something no one else does. She was very close to the Howard family, who originally owned the house, and to the late Mrs. Wilcox, who had a similar spiritual connection to the house. Perhaps Margaret is too quick to write off Miss Avery as senile. Miss Avery also presents Margaret with another challenge: she does not think much of the Wilcoxes, particularly Mr. Wilcox, who Margaret tries desperately to defend. When Margaret argues that "so long as my husband and his sons govern [the world] ... it'll never be a bad place," Miss Avery dismissively replies that the Wilcoxes are "better n'nothing."

In Chapter 34, the extreme change in Helen's character evidenced by her avoidance of the family even in light of her aunt's grave illness causes Margaret and Tibby to speculate that she may be mad. Margaret tries to think back to when her sister began making odd choices, and she pinpoints the strange behavior's start as the kiss with Paul Wilcox. All of Helen's behaviors since then are now cast in the light of mental illness as Margaret looks back over her behavior with the Basts, her negative reaction to the truth about Mr. Wilcox, and her extended absence abroad. Margaret both suggests and denies that Helen is insane, but agrees that she needs help and something must be done. Interestingly, no one conjectures that there could be a logical explanation for why Helen doesn't want to see them. As readers later discover, the family's speculations about Helen are misguided, revealing how Margaret and Helen are moving in different directions and leading very different lives.

Mr. Wilcox continues to seem more problematic as the novel goes on. He feels about the sick as he does about the poor: they are weak and therefore beneath him, and subject to his control. Chapter 34 also reveals how his "business mind" favors deceit as a means to an end. He does not hesitate to lie to his first wife when she becomes ill, promising her "a trip to Hertfordshire," while planning secretly to send her to a nursing home. Forster links this lack of ethics to British imperialism. By Forster's time, the British empire had expanded to include taking over parts of Africa and Asia, exploiting its natives and creating a booming industry in trade. Mr. Wilcox's involvement is implied by his ownership of a company that imports rubber: he is "the man who had carved money out of Greece and Africa, and bought forests from the natives for a few bottles of gin."

Charles stays true to form as well. He again shows himself to be possessive of Howards End because he resents the Schlegel sisters for getting their hands on it. He doesn't want his father to involve the house in the scheme to catch Helen. He is offended when his father implies that the house is not his concern, and he seems to resent Margaret all the more. His warning to his father about the scheme being "a bigger business" than he supposes serves as yet another ominous piece of foreshadowing adding tension as the book approaches its climax.

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