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Howards End | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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Howards End | Chapters 37–38 | Summary



Chapter 37

Margaret and Helen find it difficult to talk to one another as Helen suspects Margaret of trying to trap her, and Margaret wonders why Helen didn't confide in her about her pregnancy. Helen says she will leave England for good because she has "done something that the English never pardon." She plans to live with her child and her friend Monica in Munich. Margaret is pained at the thought of Helen's moving away permanently, and Helen feels talking is useless. But the sisters find they are able to reconnect over shared childhood memories revived by the furniture and belongings from Wickham Place. Helen feels at home at Howards End, claiming that "we know this is our house, because it feels ours." Margaret believes Howards End "has wonderful powers ... [because] it kills what is dreadful and makes what is beautiful live." Miss Avery sends a little boy named Tom over to deliver milk. He asks if they want eggs in the morning. Helen asks Margaret if the two of them can spend the night at Howards End. Margaret knows it will upset Charles. He already resents having their furniture in his mother's home. Margaret, still "a loyal wife," feels obligated to ask Mr. Wilcox for permission. She leaves to speak to him, remembering Miss Avery's "prophecy" in Chapter 23 that Margaret would live in Howards End.

Chapter 38

Margaret speaks to her husband about the house, and "the tragedy beg[ins] quietly enough ... by the man's deft assertion of his superiority." Mr. Wilcox asks Margaret if Helen is pregnant, and when she confirms it, he asks if she has learned the name of Helen's "seducer." She has not. He tells her that he has contacted Charles and Tibby, although Margaret says this was unnecessary because it has nothing to do with them. She asks if they intend to force the man to marry Helen, and if they have considered what to do if the man is already married. Mr. Wilcox does not understand the connection is making to his own past sexual history with Jacky. He says if the man is married, he will "be thrashed within an inch of his life."

When Margaret asks if she and Helen may stay the night at Howards End, Mr. Wilcox refuses. She points out that he doesn't use the house at all and how much it would mean to Helen to have one last night among her family things before she leaves. He still refuses, and Margaret lets loose. She calls him "stupid, hypocritical, [and] cruel" because he "cannot connect": he fails to recognize that "what Helen has done," he has done, only his actions were worse since he was married. She reminds him of his refusal to take responsibility for the "bad financial advice" which led to Mr. Bast's tragic decline. Margaret regrets she has "spoiled" her husband for so long. He says his case is not the same as Helen's and repeats that he does not give the sisters permission to stay at Howards End.


When Chapter 37 opens, the sisters struggle to communicate. The situation is awkward, and they have taken very different paths. As the chapter continues, however, the sisters reconcile and reinforce their bond, inspired by seeing their family possessions arranged around them. The scene takes place during the spring, a time of rejuvenation and renewal. Margaret understands that Howards End itself restores life because it "kills what is dreadful and makes what is beautiful alive." Over the course of the chapter, Helen returns to her old self, returning readers to the very start of the novel: "she was the Helen who had written the memorable letters four years ago." She notes that "we know this is our house." By taking possession of Howards End, even for a single night, the sisters take possession of themselves and their destinies. However, for Margaret, this is a thorny issue. Helen may be ready to be defiant and claim their right to a night in Howards End. Margaret, despite her act of rebellion, is still "a loyal wife." Instead of simply agreeing with Helen, she hesitates, worries that Charles won't like it if they stay there, and then says she must speak to her husband about it.

It is a simple request, to spend the night in an uninhabited house, yet Margaret is wary to ask because of Charles's feelings. She knows that even their furniture in Howards End annoys him.

When she decides to make the request anyway at the end of Chapter 37, the author is building tension leading to the climax. Readers are meant to wonder what Charles's reaction will be. At the end of Chapter 39, readers wonder what Margaret will do when Mr. Wilcox refuses to give her permission. Mr. Wilcox has sent for Charles. Surely he must be on his way to Howards End even as they speak. Margaret realizes uneasily that Miss Avery's prophecy has come true. Margaret is coming to live at Howards End, if only for a night. Miss Avery sends the boy, Tom, over with milk and promises of eggs in the morning, as if Margaret and Helen are already permanent residents. Readers wonder if there is more to it than a single night. What does the old lady know about the future of Howards End and the two families it ties together?

The opening of Chapter 38 announces the coming climax of the novel to be a "tragedy," one started by a man "asserting his superiority." This is vague enough to peak reader's interest and wonder if the man is Mr. Wilcox or another and how he will assert himself. Readers have only to finish the chapter to recognize the tragedy, still unclear in and of itself, must be started by Mr. Wilcox's refusal to let Helen and Margaret stay at the house. He is clearly trying to assert his authority over the house, as well as over his wife and her sister.

Misogyny, represented again by Mr. Wilcox, comes out clearly in Chapter 38. He assumes that Helen's pregnancy is a problem that men need to solve for the sake of social propriety. He calls together the other men in the family, Charles and Tibby, to sort out the mess without consulting Helen or Margaret. He does not seem to hear Margaret when she claims that this is unnecessary because the matter doesn't concern the men. In fact, men don't figure into this for her much at all. She hasn't even thought to ask the name of the father of Helen's baby. By describing the man as a "seducer," Mr. Wilcox assumes that Helen has been manipulated and used. In contrast, Margaret sees Helen as an equal participant in her pregnancy, rather than as a victim.

In Chapter 38, Margaret finally says what readers have been thinking for so long in her confrontation with Mr. Wilcox. She explodes in anger and disbelief that he is unable to see the connection between his own behavior and Helen's. She shouts at him, saying all the things she has left unsaid for their courtship and marriage, even announcing that she regrets not saying them, "spoiling" him as one might coddle a child. She says he is a stupid hypocrite who has mistreated women through his affairs, even as he threatens the father of Helen's child with a beating. He remains obtuse as ever, denying any connection exists. She says "Helen has done" just what Mr. Wilcox has done. She equates the two. He certainly does not, claiming the two are completely different. He clings to his authority over the women around him by denying their simple request and disregarding their feelings and needs. Readers are left to wonder what their relationship will be like now that she has told him what she really thinks of him.

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