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Howards End | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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Howards End | Chapters 41–42 | Summary



Chapter 41

Mr. Bast has been wracked with guilt in the eight months since his night with Helen. He feels as if he has ruined a priceless piece of art. The only good to come of it has been his newfound sympathy and tenderness for Jacky, whom he feels is no different from him now. Unemployed, he has been forced to beg his family for money. He recalls seeing Margaret and Tibby by accident, when they had been in London looking for Helen, but when he decided to approach them to confess, they had already left. He spent several days trying to find Margaret and eventually asked after her at the house on Dulcie Street. He learned from the maid that she had gone to Howards End. He takes a train to Hilton and goes to the house. As he approaches, he hears voices. He enters the hall and declares he has done wrong. Charles grabs him by the collar and hits him with the flat side of a sword. Mr. Bast collapses with a pain in his heart. A shower of books falls over him. They take him outside at Charles's command where Helen splashes water on his face, but he is dead. Miss Avery carries the sword out of the house and calls what has happened murder.

Chapter 42

After Charles had left Ducie Street, he went back to Hilton. Margaret didn't return to Charles's home that night, where Mr. Wilcox expected her. Mr. Wilcox confided to his son that he fears she is at Howards End. He refused to call his earlier blowup with Margaret a quarrel, and described her as having been simply "over-wrought." Charles felt further justified in his distrust of the Schlegels and said he would go up to Howards End in the morning. His father urged him to "use no violence."

When Charles returns home after Mr. Bast's death, he stops at the police station to tell them what has happened. He then goes to explain the incident to his father. He was speaking with Margaret. She had just asked him to tell his father that she would be going to Germany with Helen when she cried out Mr. Bast's name. Charles believes that Mr. Bast had been in the house, "hiding" with the two women. According to Charles, he hit Mr. Bast once or twice across the shoulders with the flat side of the sword hanging in the house, which was the handiest thing available, and Mr. Bast pulled the bookshelf down on himself. Charles assures his father that the "real cause" of Mr. Bast's death was heart disease. He secretly hopes that what he has told his father will cause him to separate from Margaret. Charles anticipates a police inquiry, which Mr. Wilcox confirms the next morning, and Charles boasts about how he "shall naturally be the most important witness there."


Both Chapters 41 and 42 move backward chronologically to tell past events from other characters' points of view. Chapter 41 goes back eight months to cover Mr. Bast's experience of the night with Helen and the events that followed in his life. The narrator explains how remorse over the event motivated Mr. Bast to confess to Margaret. Chapter 42 goes back to when Charles left his meeting with Tibby the day before Mr. Bast's death. Charles had visited his father where he learned of the Schlegels' request to stay the night and about Mr. Wilcox's fight with Margaret. The author includes these events from various characters' perspectives to show what led up to the death of Mr. Bast, the climax of the novel. Because of these peeks back in time, readers know what led Mr. Bast and Charles to come to Howards End that day and what their intentions had been. Readers understand Mr. Bast's motivation as a pure, well-intentioned one and see Charles as motivated by self-righteous indignation and unfounded suspicion.

Chapter 41 is the climax of the novel. Charles's beating and inadvertent killing of Mr. Bast is the culmination of all his animosity toward the Schlegel family, and it will also be, as readers will find out, the catalyst for their permanent residence at Howards End. All of the tension between the Schlegel and Wilcox families, which began in Chapter 1 with Paul and Helen's kiss, has been building toward this confrontation, which is really motivated by jealousy over ownership of the house. Helen's interactions with Mr. Bast, beginning with her innocent theft of his umbrella, has woven their stories together and led to his tragic demise. Now he is also connected to Howards End.

Readers are likely unsurprised at Charles's reaction to the death of Mr. Bast in Chapter 42. He remains true to character and is completely untroubled with what has happened. He feels that he did just what was proper considering the scandalous behavior he attributes to Mr. Bast and the shame it has cast on his family, right in his mother's own house. He sounds like he wants to impress his father with his actions, which he sees as totally justified because he was defending his family. He argues that the death was not related to his actions anyway: Mr. Bast died of heart disease. This contrasts sharply with Miss Avery's comment at the end of Chapter 41, in which she labeled Mr. Bast's death "murder," not because Charles meant to kill him, but because Charles represents how one class heartlessly decimates another. Mr. Bast's death by heart attack is symbolic of how the lack of "connection," or compassion, devastates the poor and vulnerable.

Charles sounds a lot like his father when he explains what happened. His main concern is justifying his own actions, avoiding any emotion, and evading responsibility. For his part, Mr. Wilcox writes off Margaret's blistering assessment of his character as another instance of a woman being "over-wrought," meaning overemotional. He won't even admit that he and Margaret quarreled or that anything she said was just, and he still insists that Margaret and Helen must leave Howards End.

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