Howards End

by E. M. Forster

Hardcover, 1954

Call number




Vintage Books (1954)


Classic Literature. Fiction. HTML: Howards End is a masterful discussion of changing social class-consciousness. Three families from different levels of society become intertwined: the rich capitalists, the intellectual bourgeoisie and the struggling poor. Forster does not suggest that relationships between the classes are easy, but he does think them vitally important. The social philosophy inherent in the novel is significant and beautifully written..

Media reviews

Daily Mail
"The season's great novel"
3 more
"A fine novel"
Chicago Tribune
"My impression is that the writer is a woman of a quality of mind comparable to that of the Findlater sisters or to May Sinclair."
Western Mail
"A story of remarkably queer people"

User reviews

LibraryThing member tapestry100
Howards End is one of my favorite books, and every couple of years I pull it down off the shelf to reacquaint myself with it. It's one of those books that has become an old friend over the years.

The story revolves around the Schlegels, Wilcoxes and Basts, three families whose lives interconnect
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over the course of several years and not necessarily always for the better, and at the center of the story is always the country home, Howards End. The book is an amazing study of class distinctions; passion versus intellect; constraint versus action; wealth versus poverty.

The Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen, are passionate for life; they want to experience as much as they can from it. The Wilcoxes come from a more conservative stock, more it tune with their wealth and possessions than anything else. After a hastily announced (as just as hastily broken) engagement between the youngest Wilcox son, Paul, and Helen, the families find themselves at odds, until an unlikely friendship forms between Mrs. Wilcox and Margaret Schlegel. Upon Mrs. Wilcox's death, she leaves Howards End to Margaret, but the Wilcoxes as a whole do not feel that Mrs. Wilcox was in her right frame of mind and never let Margaret know of Mrs. Wilcox's bequest. In amidst these settings we are also introduced to Leonard Bast, who lives on the brink of poverty and feels that through education and enlightenment he might better his life and that of his fiancée, Jacky.

There are so many subtle nuances to this story, I have a hard time getting it all down on paper. Forster has created an amazing story that is poignant in its telling and staggering in it depth. No matter how many times I read Howards End, I am always amazed at the intricacies of the story and feel that I take something new away with each reading.
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LibraryThing member SadieBabie
This was a really deep book, full of insight and theories on the world, society and people as individuals. Its quite a wordy book, but it was surprisingly captivating and wasn't a chore to read or hard to get into. I found once I channelled into the voice of the writing it all flowed very well, and
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it all made sense. A lot of the concepts and ideas Forster had about property and class are still kind of relevant. I particularly liked the fact, especially given when it was written and the fact that Forster was man, that women aren't patronised to the scale I have come to expect from similar books (though it isn't totally free of don't-worry-your-pretty-little-head-isms). I loved that the book is based around a range of different female characters with different roles in society, with different ideas and approaches to life, women that are not ridiculed or pushed to the side. At the time it was written, women still hadn't been given the vote and weren't really seen as having much of a place in social debate or whatever, but Forster gives some of his female characters agreeable ideals and strong convictions. I was also really pleased with the way he approaches a part of the story which, for the time, was a very scandalous issue, without laying blame or demonising anyone by taking the mainstream point of view of the time. It was a wonderful book and I'll definitely be looking to read more of his work.
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LibraryThing member SashaM
I can't decide if I like this book. I like the style of writing the language and descriptions I found poetic but the characters themselves I thought horrible for the most part. The Wilcox's are all stuffy, spoilt and snobby. Meg spouts feminist ideals but as a wife is a total doormat. Helen is a
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hysterical idiot. Tibby is a sort of caricature of a young man without any thought beyond himself.
All of the prose makes the book readable but at the same time it is sometimes so wordy I find myself switching off and then having to reread and missing plot points.

It is a book about a changing nation and changing society. The end of the height of the empire when to be English is to be the best and brightest but before the First World War which changed England's relationship with Europe and society as a whole. Each character seems to be looking for stability when everything is changing around them. Charles wants the security of money Henry wants a return to the comfort of marriage. Meg wants a home to feel secure in. Helen wants to find truth and justice and doesn't comprehend that no one else cares for either. I do wonder if Forster was totally sexist and really thought women were as they are portrayed, or if he was just writing the commonly held views of the time.
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LibraryThing member snash
[Howard's End] seems a study of the various classes and mind sets of England, the rich and poor, the artistic and the businessman. It's not clear in the end whether they've come to any better understanding of each other.
LibraryThing member KatherineGregg
Howard's End seemed like it could have been written by Jane Austin. Social classes and mores clash in this story set in turn of the century England. Margaret and Helen Schlegel value culture and the arts; the Wilcox family are more interested in business and commerce; and the Basts are a lower
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class couple whom the Schlegel sisters want to help out. When Ruth passes away, the only Wilcox to truly appreciate Howard's End, she leaves her family estate to Margaret. Greedy and wanting to rent the estate for profit, the Wilcox family tell Margaret nothing about her inheritance. In time Margaret falls for Ruth's former husband and eventually moves into Howard's End, a fitting end since Margaret is simpatico with the history and beauty of the old family estate.
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LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
This is an elegant book--one of those that gets better each time you come back to it and look further into the characters and settings. I'd see it as halfway between Kazuo Ishiguro and Charles Dickens, with thoughtful characters and clever conversation. I was too young for it when I first had it
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assigned to me in a class (twenty, maybe?), but coming back to it in my late twenties was a pleasure once I found my way back in. I'd recommend it for a quiet day by the fire--it's not a traditional page-turner by any means, but it's worth a look.
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LibraryThing member ShadowBarbara
Story of two sisters, Margaret & Helen, with themes about money, class, learning, England
LibraryThing member morryb
The novel seems to be will written. The author does use Capitol letters and periods and commas, so it essentially seems to be will written. The main focus of story is always on relationships and so makes it somewhat of a chick novel. None of the men in this novel seem to have any character and
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their flaws are always glaring and makes it hard to like them. Paul Wilcox is mentioned only briefly but is a Mama's boy and is easily manipulated by the opinion of others. His brother Charles Wilcox is a bully and somewhat of a dim bulb. Tippy Schligal appears to be immature and self absorbed and can never be counted on in a time of crisis. Leonard Bast whom the girls chose to help is weak and spineless and does not the the ability to make a good decision. Finally Henry Wilcox from the very first appears to be self absorbed and confused and is never apparent why Margaret marries him in the first place. He is a man who cannot forgive others for the very things he has done. While the women have faults, these faults are always shown in a more endearing light. Forster may not have taken sides in the struggle between different classes, but he certainly did in the struggle between genders. The property, Howard's End belonged to the late Mrs Wilcox. In a surprise move, after her surprise death, in her will, Howard's End is left to one of the Schlegels. None of the Wilcoxes really wanted Howards End, they just didn't want the Schlegels to have Howard's End. While it is not a complete waste of time, there are better books out there to read.
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LibraryThing member Kryseis
The Wilcoxes are rich and traditional - women are to have influence instead of rights, the lower classes are beneath their concern, etc. The Schlegels, Helen and Margaret, are different; also wealthy, they feel a strong whiff of noblesse oblige and a kind of socialism. So, here's so summary:

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meets the Wilcoxes and falls in love with their ways and the titular house. Manages to resist marrying into the family, knowing it would not do. Two years later, after Mrs. Wilcox has passed away, Margaret is drawn to the Wilcoxes and marries Mr. Wilcox. It all begins very well; Margaret plays Rosamond Vincy.

Unfortunately, while Mrs. Wilcox is another one of Forster's Mrs. Moore characters - one of those women with an overwhelmingly exceptional presence yet nothing special about them in particular - Mr. Wilcox is set in his little ways. Wanting to appear knowledgeable, he assuredly gives unsound financial advice, bungles his house purchases, and blames it all on someone else, in a most high-handed way. Margaret wants to use her love to reform him.

I enjoyed this book, despite finding most of the characters despicable (Charles, Mr. Wilcox, Tibby, etc.)
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LibraryThing member StoutHearted
E.M. Forster’s novel about class, money, and ideals can be summed up thusly: "It’s about people connecting with each other." The unmarried and well-off bohemian Schlegel sisters get the story rolling when younger sister Helen is invited to one of the Wilcox family’s homes, Howards End. Her
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time there sets things in motion, the consequences of which is felt years into the future. The Wilcoxes are proud, capitalistic, and unconcerned with anything but money, with the exception of Mrs. Wilcox. She, the inherited owner of Howards End, is more dreamy, in tune to nature, nostalgia, and emotions, and sees a kindred spirit in the eldest Schlegel sister Margaret. When her dying wish is to bequeath Howards End to Margaret, the family balks and refuses to disclose the request. Meanwhile, the Schlegel's run-in with struggling insurance clerk Leonard Bast becomes an unwitting pawn under the attentions of the sisters and the condescending advice of the Wilcoxes.

When people discuss this novel, they often refer to Margaret as the heroine and Henry Wilcox as the hero. I agree that Margaret is the heroine: she is the stabilizing factor for all the other characters. In the end, everyone comes to her for advice or support. She, ultimately, fulfils the novel’s imperative to connect while the others stumble or create muddles. But Henry doesn’t strike me as a hero, for the same reason that Helen is not a heroine. Both become overcome by trying to remain rigid in their philosophies and ideals to the detriment of themselves and others. Helen becomes hysterical and unhinged in her quest to help Leonard. The novel suggests this stems from her brief romance, and subsequent disappointment, with Paul Wilcox. While both Schlegel sisters are dreamy and have lofty expectations of Love and Death, Margaret becomes more realistic and accepting of people and things the way they are, while Helen rails against them. While she tries to do good and seek justice, she actually creates chaos. Henry, with his rigid ideals of how everything and everyone should be, rules the Wilcox family with condensations and a touch of the bully. His proposal to Margaret opens him up to new ideals, but it isn’t until he fully surrenders himself to her that he is able to truly connect with anyone on an emotional level.

Like Forster’s other novel, A Room with a View, things start with a muddle, get more and more agitated, then finally explode before settling into a calm.
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LibraryThing member DrFuriosa
A quintessential novel of manners. So sad it did not enter my life til now. There's a part where E.M. Forster throws down sexist hypocrisy and it is AWESOME.
LibraryThing member Ken-Me-Old-Mate
Howards End by E.M. Forster I don't know what you would make of this if you weren't English.
In some ways it would be like watching an English film with subtitles that were written by someone who doesn't have English as a first language. Almost everything is hidden. Hidden behind class, social
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protocol and innuendo. It is in code. But it's a code that you have to know from birth.
It is a very slow book that you know will end badly but have a good finish.
I haven't seen the film so had no preconceptions. After I read the book I watched the trailer for the film on YouTube. My version was a bit seedier than the movie.
About half way through I didn't know if I liked it or not so I checked out the reviews on Amazon. I saw that I was not alone but persevered anyway.
I imagine that Mr Forster had no idea that his novel would still be read in a much faster age even though he predicted that age in this novel. And so it reads slowly, surely, reliably to the action packed ending. If you are planning to read this I'd recommend treating it as if you were listening to your nana telling a story.
Towards the end I started to see the parallels with England today and on one level how so very little has changed in Pomgolia. Today I read how a multinational company in England with a terrible history of industrial relations wants unions to be liable for unlimited amounts of cash to cover losses of profit in the event of strikes. Here is rich Henry, still with us, still unable to see his own hypocrisy. The said multinational recently moved it's head office from England to Switzerland to avoid paying round 150,000,000 pounds in tax. Poor Henry, poor England.
What surprises me about the English is how the inequality of class is so enshrined in their culture. Like someone that has had cancer for so long that they confuse their sickness with normality.
It was pointed out that of the two mayoral candidates Ken Livingston and Boris Johnson, that the England that Ken Livingston grew up in, one of free education, trade unions and quality health care had all but disappeared whereas Boris Johnson 's England of privilege and wealth had only got better. Given that no one chooses which family they are born into this is not a statement about those two individuals. Rather a statement about the power of wealth and privilege. As Pink Floyd say, "But if you ask for a raise it's no surprise that they're giving none away."
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LibraryThing member Wombat
Lady Wombat says:

Reread for a book club meeting. Forster could get so many things right about human relationships. But his class prejudices really stood out for me during this reading. He makes us care for Leonard, but at the same time he makes us feel liking someone like Leonard is somehow
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unpleasant, lowering. God forbid you ever were a Leonard, reading this book -- it makes you feel embarrassed by your own edge of genteel roots. At least Leonard warrants enough attention from Forster to deserve killing off (by the deluge of books, no less -- the visual of watching this in the film struck me for the first time how Leonard is literally killed by the weight of the culture he can never fully gain); poor Jacky warrants no mention at all at book's end.
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LibraryThing member AlCracka
There are a million books about the inner lives of English people. Here is one of them.
LibraryThing member lisapeet
One of the densest books I've ever read. And I mean that in a good way -- it's like one of those Byzantine ivory carvings (no movie tie-in pun intended) that open up and have all those tiny devotional episodes going on inside. Layers and layers of commentary all wrapped up in this almost fragile --
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but actually really forceful -- writing. What a total trip.
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LibraryThing member CasualFriday
Far from a ponderous, castor-oil classic, this is a wonderfully readable book, with many concerns that resonate today: feminism, class prejudice, the encroachment of suburbia on rural life. The narrator's voice was sometimes pompous and intrusive, although the content of his buttings-in was always
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LibraryThing member MrJgyFly
Having been enthralled by A Room With a View, I expected a similar experience with Howards End, especially since it is hailed by many as Forster's masterpiece. By the time I reached the climax, I discovered that the piece did have quite the impact on me. Forster's critique of the social tenets of
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turn-of-the-century life in early 1900s Britain is certainly progressive. It is positively eye-opening, if one is willing to imagine the stir it would certainly have make upon readers in Forster's age. While not even coming close to being as good from start to finish as A Room With a View was to me, Howards End seems to be the most important of the two novels.

Because of the lack of immediate page-turning storyline, patience is certainly the most important virtue a reader requires when approaching this novel. However, Forster's writing style is extremely easy to follow, which helps to delve into the story. This is helpful because the story seems to drag for a majority of the novel, leaving the reader wondering where in the world Forster is planning on taking them.

One of Forster's core beliefs concerning the novel was that plot was of minimal importance. Plot is simply to serve as a means-to-an-end--it is a device simply utilized to suggest a broad social critique. When the novel is concluded, it becomes clear this is the case with Howards End. Characters such as Leonard, an insurance clerk of the lower echelon of Britain's socioeconomic ladder are presented as incredibly complex, but developed briefly and not touched upon for large chunks of the novel. Leonard lacks intelligence concerning fine art, but not or lack of trying. After encountering Forster's two protagonists who are of a high-art, liberal (and borderline feminist) persuasion, Leonard desires to increase his knowledge of art and fiction, and begins to resent his simplistic wife, who represents everything he loathes within himself.

Leonard's complexity comes to us in the span of two short chapters and is not touched upon for most of the novel. I had a sense of him being key to the conclusion of the story (and was correct!), though I had no idea how. Because of his disappearance from the plot, much of the novel, especially the middle bits, seem to needlessly drag. I almost began to hate reading the novel, but the last one hundred pages turned brought me back around and caused me to love the story, and the points Forster made.

The core of the story deals with political struggles. The liberal Schlegal sisters alternate between being disgusted by the aristocratic and conservative Wilcox family and admiring them. The Schlegals are introduced to the Wilcoxes before the story even begins. They start to constantly intersect the Wilcox's affairs both intimately and casually. The first chapter describes to us how the youngest sister (Helen) hastily becomes engaged to one of the youngest of the family. The engagement quickly turns to be a sham. Besides, with their alternating world-views, would it have worked out anyway? After this, the Wilcox family becomes a constant physical, emotional, and even spiritual presence in the sisters' lives, fueling the banter of ideas between the two clans. The Schlegal sisters (mainly the older one, Margaret) come under their influence and begin to question their own ideals, such as the belief that women should someday be allowed employment the same as men.

The banter between the two families serves as much of the entertainment of the novel, but because of the length of the book, it becomes exhausting. Luckily, Forster saves his reader from utter boredom with the final third of the novel. This concluding section tackles taboo (for the early 1900s) subjects such as pregnancy out-of-wedlock, and how societal reactions negatively impact the pregnant woman in question. Many pieces written circa the same period (the book was published in 1910) would be undoubtedly condemn this type of woman as a harlot who is not fit for Christian society. Forster remains hopeful on the subject, treating it with compassion and acceptance. He urges his society to do the same, which for the time was quite a bold statement.

Like all Forster novels, Howards End is tame when compared to what is being written today. However, if this novel is read for the time piece that it is, it should be an all-together inspiring experience. It is comforting to know that people such as Forster existed in a time of intolerance. His works were anything but groundbreaking.
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LibraryThing member oldblack
If you identify with early 20th century upper class British, then you might like this book. Others will find it dated and irrelevant. I did. It might have been good in its time, but I read it 100 years after its time.
LibraryThing member TheDivineOomba
This is the story of the Schlegal sisters, the Wilcoxes, and Leonard Bast. Each group of people live in a different social class - The Schlegal sisters running with artists, musicians, and great thinkers. The Wilcoxes are of old blood, very traditional. Leonard Bast is very poor, but longs to move
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up in class.

Its an interesting book. Its well written, but I don't think its that great. As I read the book, I had a hard time following who was talking, how time was handled, and spent a lot of time backtracking.

The story was interesting, but only because I enjoyed learning about how the Schlegal sisters friends and companions. As a modern woman, I was absolutely appalled at how Margaret Schlegal accepted a marriage proposal from Mr. Wilcox. As for Leonard, his story is important, but it isn't a large part of the book. He's pretty much only there as a project for the two Sisters and as a comparison to Mr. Wilcox.
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LibraryThing member Luli81
Good lesson for everybody. Loved the end.
Forster as his best.
LibraryThing member carka
Once I got into this book, I became enamored with the characters even if the style of writing and relating was much more distant than I was used to. The way the characters loved was left out of the writing, and when it was discussed it was formal and proper. But the surprise near the end reeled me
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as much as it did the characters. (And as always, the book is better than the movie.)
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LibraryThing member JimmyChanga
Wow. This was powerful. I would like to read it again, knowing more of what to expect, not that the plot is particularly... central. But, the book starts off so light and slow, almost like a comedy of manners, and a hilarious one at that. But then the middle section, which was hard for me, because
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I felt a shift. It seemed more like things were being set up to happen but I didn't know what. The middle section didn't exactly connect with me at all times and I found myself kinda forcing myself through. Then the last eighty pages or so made it all worthwhile, as it was filled with insight and focus. The characters we know by now very thoroughly, and the book turns almost into a tragedy before coming back up for air.There are passages, often, where he gives so much wisdom in a paragraph, in the form of generalities, that I usually do not like in other books (it comes off as preachy or vague) but here I do not mind at all, perhaps because it is so well written and the insights are so apt to what's happening. Often his language is also evasive to the point where I have a notion of what he's saying, but can't really say exactly what it is.I also admire that he switches points of view in a way that provides reveals and hides on pertinent bits of information, where the reader will know something that is happening and see what a certain character is thinking/responding; and yet not tell you what another character is thinking about it until later, which is like being suspended in mid-air on a ferris wheel that has suddenly malfunctioned and stopped, and you feel the air around you suddenly cooling, the little lights below contracting.I would like to revisit this book later, and throw myself at it again and again. Here are some quotes:"The truth is that there is a great outer life that you and I have never touched--a life in which telegrams and anger count. Personal relations, that we think supreme, are not supreme there. There love means marriage settlements, death, death duties. So far I'm clear... but here's my difficulty. This outer life, though obviously horrid, often seems the real one--there's the grit in it. It does breed character. Do personal relations lead to sloppiness in the end?"p. 22"It is the vice of a vulgar mind to be thrilled by bigness, to think that a thousand square miles are a thousand times more wonderful than one square mile, and that a million square miles are almost the same as heaven. That is not imagination. No, it kills it."p. 24"Sooner or later the girls would enter on the process known as throwing themselves away, and if they had delayed hitherto, it was only that they might throw themselves more vehemently in the future" p. 12"People have their own deaths as well as their own lives, and even if there is nothing beyond death, we shall differ in our nothingness"p248"It's madness when I say it, but not when you say it"p.224"Death destroys a man, but the idea of death saves him"p. 256"He has worked hard all his life, and noticed nothing. Those are the people who collapse when they do notice a thing." p.313
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LibraryThing member laudemgloriae
Excellent characterization... even if the characters will drive you nuts. It has very little to do with a dispute over a house, but rather, if one will 'only connect'... it is about the dispute with providence.
LibraryThing member Cecrow
Two sisters encounter another English family while on holidays in Germany and develop ties that carry on through the novel. Howards End is the name of the family's estate north of London based on the author's beloved childhood home, and it plays a symbolic role in the story that creeps up on you.
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There's a thematic parallel here with "Passage", the communication challenge in this case being between and across social strata within a single culture. Both novels propose bridges built from compassion, from assuming there are commonalities to be found versus doggedly insisting upon an "us" and "them" dichotomy. To achieve it we must lay ourselves emotionally open, sensitive to our own hearts first before we can presume to understand the hearts of others.

I found the opening very engaging, didn't care for some plot turns in the middle but was deeply held by its ending. Events are interspersed with impressive psychological insight in the quieter passages. I wasn't always on point with following the symbolism and nuances of the activities, just as I wasn't entirely free of wanting something eventful to happen during the interludes, but then I was rewarded for reflection or patience respectively. This fault lies with me rather than the novel, and I think a second read would go much more smoothly. E.M. Forster is a classic "writer's writer" who knows how to turn a metaphor to his advantage or recall an earlier passage at precisely the correct time.
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LibraryThing member sturlington
If A Room With a View is comedy and romance, then Howards End is its tragic counterpart. This novel examines the social and cultural changes occurring in England during the early 1900s, such as the rise of the bourgeois class, the plight of workers, the call for women’s rights, the urbanization
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of England and the transition to the automobile.

There are three principal groups of characters, each representing a different social strata. The Schlegels — principally the older sisters, Margaret and Helen — are members of the leisure class, having old money and intellectual rather than professional pursuits. The Wilcoxes represent the rising middle class. And the Basts are working class, living on the edge of extreme poverty, at the mercy of those above them. These three families, thrown together by the cultural shifts happening around them, entangle their lives, with tragic consequences.

However, all of these characters share a flaw, which directly contributes to the tragedy. They all isolate themselves, a pervasive modern problem that Forster presciently portrays here. No character has a real community or sense of belonging. The Schlegels, particularly Margaret, separate themselves via their eccentricities, their insular family life and their intellectual pursuits, which help them avoid emotional entanglements. But the sisters, at least, long for connection. Margaret wants to belong to a community; Helen craves romance. Yet they keep failing to find the connection they seek. The Wilcoxes hold themselves aloof with their antiquated social principles, their hasty judgments of others and their unspoken sense of inferiority to the moneyed upper classes. Leonard Bast is separated not only by his class, but by his refusal to settle for his lot in life, which he is told he must accept. He tries to hold himself to an ideal he has only read about in novels, which leads him into a marriage that he know will be bad and that estranges him from his family.

That is why the novel begins and ends with a house: Howards End. It isn’t a grand estate, but it represents a sense of continuity and belonging, of something that will endure. The Schlegel girls instinctively feel at home at Howards End, and the Wilcoxes are loathe to give it up, even though they don’t really value it. When Margaret forms a rare true connection with the first Mrs. Wilcox, she wants to leave Margaret Howards End, because she understands its importance and feels that Margaret will likewise value it, protect it and pass it on. In a world of change and upheaval, Howards End is a constant, and lives that are lived there, however quiet, are meaningful lives.

Howards End is not as much of a pleasure to read as A Room With a View. There are certainly passages where Forster wanders off into obtuseness or inserts too much authorial opinion. But it’s a valuable book to read, to understand this time in history, and perhaps even shed some light on our modern discontents.
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