Howards End | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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Howards End | Chapters 7–8 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 7

Mrs. Munt warns Margaret that the Wilcox family have moved into the apartment across the street from Wickham Place, and she worries that Helen's feelings for Paul may be renewed because of their proximity. Margaret believes Helen's feelings for Paul are gone. When they tell Helen the news, she blushes, causing both women concern.

Margaret and her aunt go to the registry office to try to secure a maid. Margaret can only get a temporary servant because of complaints about the amount of stairs in her home. Margaret comments that the money she and her siblings draw each year "pads the edges of things," and that the rich would do well to remember that they "stand upon money as upon islands." Less fortunate people are not free to love those they wish or to avoid those they despise. Margaret is grateful for their money, and tells Helen that they could go away for a while to avoid the Wilcox family if she wishes. Helen announces that she has plans to go abroad with her cousin Frieda for a time, but insists that she could never fall for Paul again regardless.

Chapter 8

On the day Helen and Frieda are to depart, Mrs. Wilcox pays the Schlegel family a call. Margaret writes Mrs. Wilcox a letter suggesting they not see each other because of her instinct about Paul and Helen. Mrs. Wilcox rebukes Margaret in a brief reply, telling her she had only called on them to let them know that Paul had left for Africa. Margaret realizes that her mistake has offended Mrs. Wilcox. She goes across the street to apologize in person and is shown into Mrs. Wilcox's bedroom, where the lady is taking a day in bed. Margaret tries to make amends, and Mrs. Wilcox admits that she too has been worried about Paul and Helen. They are both relieved because the two young people are now far apart. Margaret and Mrs. Wilcox chat about Charles's recent marriage to Dolly Fussell.

Mrs. Wilcox shares that she was born at Howards End, as well as some of the folklore of the house. Pigs' teeth are embedded in the trunk of the wych-elm beside the house, and chewing on its bark is said to cure toothaches. Margaret claims to "love folklore and all festering superstitions." Mrs. Wilcox enjoys her visit and remarks that she finds Margaret inexperienced but well-spoken.

Analysis

In Chapter 7 readers learn that the Schlegel family belongs to a class of people which blossomed after the Industrial Revolution called the independent, or rentier, class. Individuals in this class did not work but lived off yearly payouts from their investments. Margaret is thankful for the money that she and her siblings draw upon each year in this way. It is the foundation upon which their lives rest, granting them freedom, ease, and independence that many others do not enjoy. She notes how her wealth and the Wilcox's allow them "to stand upon money as upon islands. It is so firm beneath our feet that we forget its very existence." Margaret's metaphor of islands represents how money shelters and protects them, but also disconnects them from people unlike themselves. Readers may also recall how Mr. Bast's view of money differs from Margaret's: he is constantly aware of financial instability and vulnerability and the limitations that poverty imposes upon his life.

In Chapter 7 Margaret visits a registry office in hopes of hiring a maid. In England around the turn of the twentieth century, registry offices connected employers with servants. Servants registered themselves with descriptions of their skills and provided references. Potential employers relied on the registry to provide suitable candidates. It seems from this chapter that servants shared information with each other about employers as well, as Margaret cannot find a steady maid, only a temporary one, on account of the number of stairs in Wickham Place. This tidbit of information subtly calls into question the statements about the power Margaret claims comes along with her wealth and the utter dependence and misery of those without it. Perhaps even the poor have some agency, and the rich are not as independent as they like to think.

In Chapter 8 the relationship between the Schlegel and Wilcox families shifts. What was an uncomfortable interaction in which they try to keep two young lovers apart transforms into a friendship between Margaret and Mrs. Wilcox. Once the awkwardness of living across the street from each other is broken by Margaret's ill-considered letter, they learn that they share the same concern about Paul and Helen. The two women seem to return to the friendship and affinity they had felt for one another before the whole debacle at Howards End.

The women also discover a shared affinity for the folklore of Mrs. Wilcox's childhood home, Howards End. The importance of the house is becoming more pronounced as the novel goes on. In this case, readers learn more of the lore of Howards End and its deep connection to Mrs. Wilcox herself. She was born there and knows all the stories of the place, including the lore of the wych-elm. The superstition about the pigs' teeth embedded in its trunk enchants Margaret, who declares her love for all such romantic notions, a connection between the two women which the novel will explore more in coming chapters.

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