E. M. Forster, Howards End (1910)


Why is the novel titled Howards End (rather than, say, Only Connect, or A Tale of Two Sisters)? What is implied in the importance attached to a sense of place? (repository of value, lieu de memoire)


How would you describe the narrative voice of this novel? Is it “omniscient”? More knowing than the reader? What are some especially fine or interesting passages? (95, 103)


What seems the relationship between the narrative voice and the reader? (speaks of “you and I” in appealing to common values)

Why do you think the author begins the novel with Helen’s letters? Are we supposed to affirm all of her emotions and responses?

What do we learn about the Schlegel sisters in the opening chapters? What were traits of their parents? What is their financial situation?

What role in the novel is served by Aunt Juley?  (voice of convention)

What do we learn about the Wilcoxes? What seem their shared traits and values? Of which of their actions might the reader be expected to disapprove?

What are some characteristics of Mrs. Wilcox? To what extent does she differ from other members of her family? Are there limits to what the reader knows about her inner thoughts?

How is Margaret’s character presented? Is she well-intended? What is revealed by her concerned letter to Mrs. Wilcox suggesting that they not meet? (very closed social world) What does she tell Mrs. Wilcox are her ideals? (chapter 8) What is important about her claim that she wants people but not things? (Chap. 9)

To what degree might this be called a “new woman novel”?

How are the events and characters of Howards End impacted by modernity? What forms of social change seem imminent?

In comparison to Victorian novels you have read, what are some distinct features of this novel? Are there differences in its presentation of social class, empire, religion, gender roles, etc.? (these seem more self-consciously articulated by the characters; imperialism shown as form of egotistical dominance; women’s suffrage a contemporary issue; main protagonist is described as “not a Christian”)

How does Forster present servant-employer relations throughout? What is revealed by the treatment of servants by their employers?

Is it important that the Schlegel sisters are half German by ancestry? What responses to German-English relations are represented in the novel?

What are some instances of the narrator’s use of satire? (in describing Charles’ relationship to servants)

What characterizes the relationship between Margaret and Helen? How does the use of a joint protagonist affect the narrative? (able to learn their thoughts from their communications with each other; used as contrast)

Can you think of other British novels whose plots feature two sisters? (Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Middlemarch)

What do we learn about Leonard Bast? What has brought him to the orchestral hall?

Why do you think the mistaken umbrella was chosen as the means for his introduction to the sisters?

What social differences are revealed by his and their respective responses to his loss of an umbrella? By his initial response to their conversation?

What prompts Margaret to invite him to their home? Is the visit a success, and if not, what does this reveal?

What do we learn about Leonard's home life and aspirations? Why is reading Ruskin not satisfactory to him? (too radically different from his world)

Who do we later learn may have initiated the Schlegel-Wilcox relationship? (Chap. 8, Ruth Wilcox, from a liking for Margaret)

What is the result of the diner party Margaret hosts for Mrs. Wilcox? Of their shared shopping trip? (Chap. 8; Mrs. Wilcox expresses great sadness at hearing that the Schlegels must leave their long-term residence)

What draws Margaret to Mrs. Wilcox, and the reverse? On what topics does Mrs. Wilcox express strong emotion?

Why do you think she invites Margaret to accompany her to Howards End, then disinvites her when Henry and Evie Wilcox appear? Will this non-visit be important to the plot?

Why have other members of the Wilcox family not desired to live at Howards End? What characterizes this country house, and what seems its symbolic importance in the novel?

What do we learn about Mrs. Wilcox at the funeral? (had been a kind woman, raised as a Quaker and expressed a desire for more "inward light") What different viewpoints are we given of the presence of a tree-cutter working overhead during the event? (tree-cutter forced to work despite his reluctance to interfere with the ceremony; Charles is angry)

How does Charles respond to the fact that the chauffeur may have driven his car in his absence? What other instances of his behavior do we see? Is he described as competent in business as his father had been? What are his qualities as a husband? What are his motives for desiring a large inheritance?

How do the various members of her family respond to Mrs. Wilcox's death? In particular, how does Mr. Wilcox remember his wife? What alteration in their emotions occurs after they receive the letter in which she asks that Howards End be given to Margaret Schlegel?

What observations does the narrator make on the fact that they burn the letter? (Chap. 11) How do Evie and the others express their anger? (criticize the fact that Margaret has attended the funeral and sent chrysanthemums!)

What token of Mrs. Wilcox's possessions does Mr. Wilcox send Margaret? What may be his motive, and how does she interpret the gesture? (Chap. 12, sees it as very generous and kind)

On what occasions are Charles and his father contrasted? On what matters do they seem to agree?

In describing Margaret's relationship to the Wilcoxes, what does the narrator claim are her motives? (Chap. 12, desires to reconcile)

Chapters 13 and 14:

13: What changes does the narrator find in London and its surrounding countryside, and how does he react to these? (development, pollution)

What do we learn of Tibby's character? On what do he and his sisters disagree? (Wilcoxes) Are some of his comments or traits unexpected? What are some of the functions he serves in the narrative?

What remarks does Helen make on Leonard Bast's wife Jacky?

14: What motivates Leonard to visit the Schlegel residence again? What does he wish to discuss, and why do the sisters wish to change the subject? (theme of literature awkwardly used)

Can their assumption that it's unnecessary to discuss what they have read be seen as condescending?  What is the effect on Leonard of this visit? (inspiring, uplifting)

Chapters 15 and 16:

15 What debate do Margaret and Helen engage in at their discussion society meeting? To what does Margaret aspire? (to do good to one or a few, 125) What seems Forster's view of middle-class philanthropy? (too controlling and self-absorbed)

What does Margaret tell Helen will be her likely future response to places? (more important than persons, 127) Does this seem consistent with her previous statements? What had prompted this reflection?

When they encounter Mr. Wilcox on the embankment, what does Margaret learn has happened to Howards End since Ruth Wilcox's death? How does she respond to the constant moving of the Wilcox family members? (with polite surprise)

What fateful remarks does Mr. Wilcox make on the fortunes of the Porphyrion Fire Insurance Company?

What does Margaret notice has been forgotten? (15, 133, Helen and Henry forgetting their past lovers and spouses)

16 What unfortunate conjunction occurs as the Schlegels invite Leonard to tea? (the Wilcoxes enter) What is his response? (confused and angry) Are his reactions reasonable?

What advice does Mr. Wilcox give her after meeting Leonard? (should ignore such persons) Are any aspects of his reactions reasonable? (notes that Leonard will have a life of his own)

What reaction does Margaret notice in Mr. Wilcox's eyes? (slight jealousy of another male) What is the narrator's comment? (it is jealousy that links us to the barnyard animals)

What does Mr. Wilcox suggest to his daughter as they drive away? (that they visit more often) What is Evie's response? (she doesn't like Margaret)

Chapters 17 and 18:

17 What does the narrator think of the replacement of old Wickham Place with new flats? Why does Margaret have difficulty in finding a new residence? Will this seeming inability be significant to the plot?

Who invites her to lunch? (the now-engaged Evie, prompted by her father) What reflections make her feel slightly inadequate?

What ambiance is represented by the restaurant? (empire, imperial business and wealth) On what issues does he solicit her opinion? (whether she believes in the supernatural; she doesn't; whether she admits of class differences, 152) What are her views on whether one should adjust one's speech to one's audience? (should talk in the same way to everyone, 152)

What argument does he make about the necessity of wealth, and how does she respond? (inequalities would soon reappear in nature if incomes were leveled) Is her answer what one would expect of a socialist?

18 What are some of the novel's many instances of humor and irony? (157, when the sisters claim to be English, Tibby notes that he is cosmopolitan 161, Mr. Wilcox proposes just as she is thinking of Ruth Wilcox)

What invitation does Mr. Wilcox make to Margaret? (will rent Ducie House to the Schlegels--Helen agrees and Tibby objects) Is it significant that each claims to be lonely?

What is the point of the narrator's remark that Margaret had chosen to see life whole and Mr. Wilcox saw it steadily? (159, an allusion to Matthew Arnold)

What occurs during their visit, and how does she react? (feels joy at his proposal) How does Forster describe Mr. Wilcox's attentions? ("He desired comradeship and affection, but he feared them," 162)

How does Margaret think Mrs. Wilcox would have reacted? (with goodwill)

Chapters 19 and 20:

19 What characterizes the narrator's descriptions of the south of England? (165, 172-73)

Who is sharing the Schegels' vacation? (Aunt Juley and Frau Liesecke) Where does Helen state she wishes to live? (Howards End, 167)

What is the meaning of the contrast of Bocklin with Leader? (both 19th century artists, the former a highly melodramatic Swiss painter, the latter an artist of tranquil English landscapes)

How does Helen react on hearing Margaret's news that Mr. Wilcox has proposed to her? (169) Is this tactful? On learning that Margaret intends to accept his proposal, how does she react? (weeps, implores her not to) How does each sister characterize Margaret's future husband? (171, Margaret admires his energy and activity)

What does the narrator indicate will be the effect of her marriage? (172)

20 What happens when Henry visits her during her vacation? (He wants to talk about a provision for his children and settle where they will live.) Where does she propose they should live and what are his objections? On what do they ultimately decide? (Ducie House, by default)

What action surprises her? (he kisses her) How does he behave afterwards? (hurries away)

Chapters 21 and 22:

21 How does Charles react to the news of his father's intended marriage? (184, blames his wife for introducing his sister Evie to her betrothed, since Evie's marriage has left his father alone!) What are the grounds for his irritation? (will lose some property) How does he describe the Schlegels? ("artistic beastliness," 184)

22 In what context occurs the phrase, "only connect"? How is it associated with Howards End? (Margaret Schlegel wants to transform her husband through love, uniting prose and passion) Does Margaret attain this goal? (to some extent, but narrator says not, 185)

Chapters 23 and 24:

What general agreement about behavior do Helen and Margaret come to? (Helen agrees to be civil in his presence) Does Helen keep her part of the bargain?

What motivates Mr. Wilcox to take Margaret to Howards End? (his tenant is vacating) What news has Helen received? (Leonard is leaving his job.) How does Mr. Wilcox react to her concern? (difficulties are inevitable)

What does Margaret observe on first entering Howards End? (very large and beautiful elm tree, 204)

What are some eventual results of Mr. Wilcox's/the Schegels' bad advice to Leonard? Should the sisters have conveyed it? (the novel lets them off, but they rushed in to interfere in his life)

Chapters 25 and 26:

26 Why does Helen  bring the Basts to Orniton at the time of Evie's wedding and the garden party?

What is Margaret's response to her entrance? Do you find Helen's behavior appropriate? (ignores how difficult it is for her sister to negotiate these conflicts)

What unexpected event occurs when Jacky meets Mr. Wilcox?

Chapters 27 and 28:

 Under what circumstances does Helen conceive a child?

28 How does Margaret respond to the news of Henry's prior adultery? What do you make of the fact that the narrator uses the phrase, "when men like us" (240)? Is this free indirect discourse?

Chapters 29 and 30:

What characterizes Henry and Margaret's conversation after this revelation? What explanation does Henry give of his past affair? Does she note that his attitudes include a double standard? (she couldn't express admiration for the male servant, 143)

What is the occasion of Helen's visit to Tibby's rooms? What does she ask him to do? When he executes her desires, what is the result? (Basts have left and can't be traced)

Chapters 31 and 32:

31 What type of wedding does Margaret choose? Where do the Wilcoxes live, and how does she adjust to a more fashionable life?

What seems their relationship after marriage? Her relationship with his children? (she works hard at being pleasant)

32 What plans are the Wilcoxes making for a new house?

Chapters 33 and 34:

33 What prompts Margaret to visit Howards End and talk with Mrs. Avery? What has the latter been engaged in doing? (unpacks and arranges all the Schlegel possessions in the house) How are we supposed to respond to this old servant's disobedience to instructions? (she conflates Margaret with Ruth Wilcox, prophecies that the Wilcoxes will return there)

34 What behavior on the part of Helen causes concern? How do the others interpret this? (she needs to see a psychiatrist) How does Margaret plan to induce Helen to talk with her? (suggests that she can find her old books and other items at Howards End)

Chapters 35 and 36:

35 What does Margaret discover on entering the house? (Helen is pregnant)

36 What is Margaret's response? (wants to deal with her sister alone, urges men to leave)

Chapters 37 and 38:

37 How does Helen first respond on seeing her? On what grounds do the sisters reconcile?

What request does Helen make? (that they spend her last night before she must leave together at Howards End)

38 What causes Margaret and Henry to argue? (he doesn't want Helen to spend the night at Howards End) Of what does she accuse him? (ostracizing Helen for a lapse he himself had committed)

Chapters 39 and 40:

39 From whom does Charles learn the secret of the father of Helen's child?

40 As they sit together in the house, whose spirit does Margaret think enfolds them? (Mrs. Wilcox, 309)

What invitation does Helen extend to Margaret? (asks her to join her in Germany)

Chapters 41 and 42:

41 How has Leonard responded to his sexual act with Helen? (feels great guilt) What has happened to him and his wife financially? What motivates him to set out for Howards End?

What ironies lead to Leonard's death? What is the murder weapon? Is it symbolic that he falls under a bookcase containing the Schlegel books?

42 What reaction does Mr. Wilcox have to his wife's remaining with her sister? (318-19) What rather startling resolve does Margaret make? (had decided to join Helen in Munich and leave her husband)

How does Charles describe the event of the murder to his father? To what does he look forward? (his father will separate from Margaret)

What does Mr. Wilcox offer to do? (visits the police station)

Chapters 43 and 44:

43 What news has Mr. Wilcox learned at the police station? What causes Margaret to change her mind and reconcile with her husband? (stays when he needs her and expresses affection)

Does it seem plausible that Charles receive a sentence for manslaughter when the bystanders have proclaimed the death an accident?

What effect does this sentence have on Mr. Wilcox? (collapses, wants to return with Margaret to Howards End)

44 How are the conflicts between Margaret and the Wilcoxes resolved? (he tells his children that he will bequeath Howards End to her, and his money to them; Helen's and Leonard's son will eventually inherit the house)

What are some elements of the final scene in which he announces this bequest to his children? (they don't want to live in Howards End and express contentment; since the selfish Charles is in prison he can't be there to complain)

Do we learn the fate of Mrs. Bast?

In the final scenes, what do we learn of Helen's opinion of Henry Wilcox? (has come to like him) What does this add to the novel's thematic thread? (Margaret has been able to restore peace through personal relationships)

What symbolism adheres in the final scene in which Helen anticipates a good harvest?

In what ways does this conclusion confirm and satisfy some of the class and ideological tensions explored in the novel? In what ways does it fail to resolve them?

After Mr. Wilcox's death do you predict an entirely contented life for the sisters? (Helen seems to have moderated her former behavior and views)

How does the novel conclude, and with what sentiments?

How is Forster's novel different from Victorian novels such as those by Dickens or Eliot? (foregrounds ideological debates and emphasizes modernity and change) Can you think of any precedents for a condition-of-England novel in which the powerful businessman marries the genteel woman? (North and South)

Are some of the issues explored in Howards End still relevant today?