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Howards End | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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Howards End | Chapters 39–40 | Summary



Chapter 39

Tibby and Charles meet at Ducie Street, and the two are complete opposites. Helen's pregnancy confirms Charles's worst thoughts about the Schlegel family. He feels that she must be made to marry, whoever the father may be. He just knows that "Howards End was the objective" of the family and that he "was determined to defend it." Tibby, detached as always, isn't bothered by the scandal. He believes that Helen should do whatever she thinks is best. Charles badgers Tibby for any ideas of who the father could be. Tibby mentions the Basts as the last company Helen kept before leaving the country, inadvertently giving Charles a clue to pursue.

Chapter 40

Mr. Bast will be the future subject of a newspaper article, but at present Helen and Margaret are simply talking about him next to the wych-elm tree. Helen tells Margaret how she felt so angry at Mr. Wilcox's coldness that she felt even sorrier for Mr. Bast than she would have otherwise. She says she "drew him to her," persuading him to tell her the truth about Jacky and Mr. Wilcox. She now understands how Mr. Wilcox "ruined him in two ways, not one." Helen also admits that she offered Mr. Bast some of her money to make her feel as if she didn't have to see him again. She compares her night with Mr. Bast to the kiss she shared with Paul as both began with "loneliness, and the night, and panic afterwards." Helen says that she will never like Mr. Wilcox, but she does not hate him.

Margaret feels as if everything they have been through, Howards End, and they themselves, are "only fragments" in Mrs. Wilcox's mind, who "knows everything ... is everything." Miss Avery bids the ladies goodnight. Helen asks Margaret to go to Germany with her. Margaret considers it. She imagines that Mr. Wilcox will forgive her "outburst," but she wonders if she can return to things the way they were. The two sleep at Howards End.


The author contrasts Tibby and Charles in Chapter 39 to show how they represent two very different kinds of men. Tibby proves himself to be a progressive man, or at least one uninterested in controlling women, as he is happy to let his sister make her own choices. He seems even more docile next to Charles who badgers him for information. Charles seems even more traditionally male, domineering, aggressive, and controlling in comparison to Tibby. Charles has a plan, and is determined to get the information he wants, while Tibby seems willing to go along with whatever is decided by others.

In Chapters 39 and 40 readers learn the identity of the father of Helen's baby and a little of the circumstances that led her to have sex with him. In Chapter 39 Tibby identifies, unintentionally, not only the person with whom Helen had relations but also the event that made their meeting possible. He recalls that Helen had brought the Basts to Oniton on the night of Evie's wedding. In Chapter 40 Helen confides in Margaret that she got carried away with her pity for Leonard, "dr[awing] him to her" and "press[ing]" him to tell her the truth, which leads them to sleep together at the hotel. Readers may infer that Mr. Bast is the father of her baby. By comparing that night to her surreptitious kiss with Paul, Helen acknowledges it to be a futile mistake.

In Chapter 39 Charles's resentment and suspicion of the Schlegels is turning to aggressive action. He wants to force Helen to marry the man who fathered her baby and make her pay for the scandal she is bringing on his family. He doesn't care what sort of man the baby's father may be or about the impact such marriage would have on Helen, whose wishes don't register for Charles. Nothing matters but his own sense of self-righteousness and feeling of being threatened by a family who is out to take what is his. It is unclear at this point what Charles intends to do with the clue Tibby gives him about Mr. Bast, and readers can only wonder what Charles will do next. The tension in the plot is reaching a breaking point.

Howards End grows in spirituality and mysticism as Margaret wonders in Chapter 40 if they all aren't just "fragments" of Mrs. Wilcox's mind, she who seemed to know all. Ever since Helen's visit to the place, the Schlegels and Wilcoxes have been drawn back to Howards End and toward each other. Even Miss Avery, who foretold their return, spookily appears when Margaret invokes Mrs. Wilcox's name. It is as if they are all just characters in a dream.

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