by E.M. Forster
Howards End Women and Femininity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
The fun of it is that they think me a noodle, and say so--at least Mr. Wilcox does--and when that happens, and one doesn't mind, it's a pretty sure test, isn't it? He says the most horrid things about women's suffrage so nicely, and when I said I believed in equality he just folded his arms and gave me such a setting down as I've never had. Meg, shall we ever learn to talk less? I never felt so ashamed of myself in my life. I couldn't point to a time when men had been equal, nor even to a time when the wish to be equal had made them happier in other ways. I couldn't say a word. I had just picked up the notion that equality is good from some book--probably from poetry, or you. (1.7)
Helen, an independent woman, finds herself set back by the Wilcox certainty of masculine superiority – and, oddly, she finds herself enjoying it.
"I suppose that ours is a female house," said Margaret, "and one must just accept it. No, Aunt Juley, I don't mean that this house is full of women. I am trying to say something much more clever. I mean that it was irrevocably feminine, even in father's time. Now I'm sure you understand! Well, I'll give you another example. It'll shock you, but I don't care. Suppose Queen Victoria gave a dinner-party, and that the guests had been Leighton, Millais, Swinburne, Rossetti, Meredith, Fitzgerald, etc. Do you suppose that the atmosphere of that dinner would have been artistic? Heavens no! The very chairs on which they sat would have seen to that. So with our house--it must be feminine, and all we can do is to see that it isn't effeminate. Just as another house that I can mention, but I won't, sounded irrevocably masculine, and all its inmates can do is to see that it isn't brutal." (5.44)
Margaret can't exactly explain why, but there's something about the Schlegel household that's eternally feminine. They're in direct opposition to the Wilcox household, in which the only female member, Evie, is as masculine as Tibby is feminine.
Year after year, summer and winter, as bride and mother, she had been the same, he had always trusted her. Her tenderness! Her innocence! The wonderful innocence that was hers by the gift of God. Ruth knew no more of worldly wickedness and wisdom than did the flowers in her garden, or the grass in her field. (11.5)
Mr. Wilcox's musings on the passing of his first wife indicate what he expects from women – at this stage in the novel, he seems to see them as children, whose innocence is their main virtue. How different is this naivety from the sheltered idealism of the Schlegel girls?