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Howards End | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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Howards End | Chapters 35–36 | Summary



Chapter 35

Margaret and Mr. Wilcox have breakfast with Dolly, and they learn that Helen has already arrived in Hilton. Margaret is overcome with concern. Mr. Wilcox worries she is not up to the confrontation. While she is in the restroom, he tells Dolly he thinks it best to go to Howards End without Margaret. Just as he is leaving, Margaret hears Dolly scream as the driver narrowly misses her child in the yard, and Margaret is able to jump into the car. Although she is furious that her husband is treating her just the same as he is treating Helen, she acts completely calm. They stop to pick up the doctor, and he and Mr. Wilcox discuss Helen and the mental health of the Schlegel family. Margaret is angry that the two men "label" Helen, and she resolves to defend her sister against their "impertinences." They park the car out of sight, and Margaret, seeing Helen from the back on the porch, runs ahead of them "before her husband could prevent her." She "learn[s] the simple explanation of all their fears" when Helen turns toward her. Helen is pregnant. Margaret calls her sister "darling," unlocks the house, and pushes Helen inside. She then locks the door and stands in front of it.

Chapter 36

Mr. Wilcox wonders why Margaret has shut Helen in the house and remarks that his wife looks upset. For a moment, she is at a loss for words, but then tells him to go away. He orders her to give him the keys. She notices the doctor approaching, and Crane and the driver of the fly both standing up, watching. She realizes that "she [is] fighting for women against men ... [and] if men came into Howards End, it should be over her body." The doctor whispers to Mr. Wilcox revealing Helen's pregnancy, and Mr. Wilcox is horrified. They try to persuade her to get Helen to come out, but Margaret refuses. She tells them that she will handle it alone, insisting that the doctor is "not qualified to attend" Helen. Mr. Wilcox again commands her to give him the keys, and again she refuses. She tells the doctor "I do not need you in the least," and, more gently, tells Mr. Wilcox to go away. The men back down and leave. Margaret goes inside and asks Helen for forgiveness.


In Chapter 35 the real reason for Helen's absence and refusal to see the family is revealed. She is pregnant. A pregnancy outside of wedlock was a very shameful thing during the novel's time period. Women went to all manner of lengths to hide such a thing because it would ruin a woman's chance at a good marriage, wreck her social standing, and cast permanent shame on her family. Margaret understands this the instant she sees her sister is pregnant. Helen isn't crazy. She has been trying to spare her family dishonor, and she may be a bit embarrassed herself. Readers, along with Margaret, now understand that the timing of Helen's departure eight months earlier, as well as why she has been gone so long, although the paternity of the child is still unclear. Her odd response to Margaret's earlier letter, which urged "charity in sexual matters" now also makes sense in light of her pregnancy. Helen herself will need exactly this kind of compassion herself.

While Margaret begins Chapter 35 by feeling that she must "trust [her husband] absolutely, events take a dramatic turn, causing a profound shift in her relationships with her husband and sister. Margaret has an epiphany, a moment of sudden insight. She realizes that Mr. Wilcox treats her as someone with no rights the same way he set up the plan "to catch Helen" like an animal. His misogyny is never clearer than when he suggests she freshen up, so he can leave for Howards End without her. Despite her protestations, he decides that she is "not fit" for the confrontation with Helen, based on nothing more than a momentary gesture, when Margaret "lift[s] her hand to her eyes," because she is so concerned about her sister. For Mr. Wilcox, this is evidence supporting his assumption that women are too emotional, and thus weak and fragile.

Margaret races out of the bathroom and jumps into a moving car. Her action echoes Chapter 25, when she thwarted Charles with a show of her own willpower by returning to the scene of a car accident. Margaret still hides her true motives from Mr. Wilcox, however, acting calm when she is actually fuming "at his dishonesty." She decides that she isn't going along with his plan for her sister and runs ahead of him to meet Helen, shutting the garden gate in his face. When she pushes Helen inside Howards End, Margaret's spiritual home, it becomes a fortress to protect her sister. She tells off both the doctor and Mr. Wilcox, refusing their commands and insisting they leave. Although she is still kind to her husband, she does not obey him, refusing to hand over the keys or allowing the doctor to see Helen, and in fact she becomes the one issuing commands, telling the men to go away.

In Chapter 36 Margaret understands that protecting Helen is a struggle between men and women, and that Howards End can be a sanctuary for women. She orders the men off the grounds, insisting she is the only one qualified to take care of her sister. She decides she will not allow men to treat either of them as though they have no rights, which is at the heart of the men's plan and worldview. In the face of her resolve, theirs seems to melt. Perhaps they want to avoid an emotional scene or maybe they are stunned by Margaret's display of strength, but in either case Margaret has decided to protect her sister from the pack of men seeking to overpower and control her. Margaret, not the men, holds the keys, literal and spiritual, to Howards End.

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