Howards End | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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Howards End | Chapters 9–10 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 9

Margaret's role as a maternal figure and head of household after her parents' deaths exonerates her from Mrs. Wilcox's accusation of inexperience. Her efforts to entertain Mrs. Wilcox at a luncheon with her intellectual friends, however, doesn't succeed. The young people's discussion of art and ideas goes over Mrs. Wilcox's head. She expresses the opinion that such talk should be left to men. One of the female guests concedes that "the arguments against suffrage are extraordinarily strong," and Mrs. Wilcox says she is glad not to have the vote. Margaret believes the issue is more far-reaching than the vote—women should be allowed to progress the same way men have. Margaret worries that Mrs. Wilcox has not enjoyed herself, and Mrs. Wilcox says that she isn't feeling well but assures Margaret that she is used to being out of her depth at home during her children's conversations as well. Margaret's friends think Mrs. Wilcox is boring.

Chapter 10

Margaret waits impatiently to hear from Mrs. Wilcox, worrying that she doesn't really want to be friends. She is relieved when Mrs. Wilcox asks her for help doing her Christmas shopping. She has had another few days in bed and she seems tired. Her family is out of town on a car trip. Margaret is struck by the commercialization of what is supposed to be religious holiday. She mentions in passing to Mrs. Wilcox that the Schlegel family will need to move in two or three years because their lease on Wickham Place will be up. Mrs. Wilcox feels sorry for the Schlegels and says she would rather die than leave Howards End. She invites Margaret to visit her childhood home that afternoon, but Margaret declines and asks if she could go another time. Mrs. Wilcox coldly opts to go home. Margaret soon realizes that she has offended Mrs. Wilcox to whom Howards End is a passion, a "Holy of Holies." She rushes to the train station to try to meet her on her way to Howards End. Just as the two meet, Evie and Mr. Wilcox happen appear. Their driving holiday ended in a car crash, so they are home early. Mrs. Wilcox and Margaret agree to go to Howards End another time. The Wilcoxes exit together, leaving Margaret by herself.

Analysis

In both chapters the author further develops the character of Mrs. Wilcox. Readers see more evidence of the affinity Mrs. Wilcox feels for Margaret. At first, the women seem disconnected. Margaret's luncheon for her in Chapter 9 is not a success because Mrs. Wilcox contrasts awkwardly with the other guests. They represent a more modern frame of mind, discussing current events and politics at a high speed, as Margaret admits, like "gibbering monkeys." For them, modern life is fast, intense, and forward-looking. It is focused on change, reflected in their interest in women getting the right to vote.

Mrs. Wilcox is more attached to the traditions of the past. She has lived a life of service to her husband and children, deferring to them in almost everything. She says she is relieved to leave the responsibility of voting to her husband, and seems to accept that matters of art, culture, and social issues should be left to men to discuss or act upon. Even her children's conversation is beyond her grasp, a fact she simply accepts. She shows her confidence in Margaret by asking her for help with Christmas shopping and offers her intimacy by inviting Margaret to Howards End. However, it is Mrs. Wilcox's family, rather than any friends, to whom she has the greatest allegiance. In Chapter 10, although she wants to travel to Howards End to show Margaret her favorite place, Mrs. Wilcox relinquishes her plans, seemingly without a second thought, as soon as her husband and daughter unexpectedly arrive at the train station.

Also in Chapter 10 readers come to understand more about the importance of Howards End to Mrs. Wilcox. It is a "Holy of Holies" that she has offered to share with Margaret. This is a reference to the most holy place in the Jewish tabernacle and temple, the place in which the Ark of the Covenant sits, where God's presence dwells. The only person allowed in the Holy of Holies was the High Priest, and he only once a year. By comparing Howards End to the Holy of Holies, the author conveys just how sacred and special the home is to Mrs. Wilcox, as well as the significance of her invitation to share the place with Margaret.

In Chapter 10 the author includes news of a significant plot development: the Schlegels will have to leave Wickham Place in a couple of years when their lease expires. They have lived there all their lives. The idea of the Schlegels leaving their childhood home concerns Mrs. Wilcox, but does not seem to bother Margaret. Readers will learn in coming chapters how the Schlegels' change of residence will have repercussions on all the characters, though they may not imagine it at this point.

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