If you think it's hard to be a strong, independent woman today, imagine giving it a shot in 1910. The female protagonists of Howards End are constantly faced with social pressures, censure, and frustrations that would drive any of us absolutely batty. They're living on the cusp of a world that looks more familiar to us, in which women are allowed to think and live for themselves, but occasionally they're slightly too far ahead of their time, which can make for a very frustrating experience. The novel challenges our perceptions of what traditional male-female relationships are, and how they might limit both genders in the long run.
Questions About Women and Femininity
- Femininity is defined in many different ways by many different characters in this novel. What are some of these definitions?
- How do the women in Howards End define themselves, versus how men define them?
- Henry often comments that Margaret is not exactly what he thinks a woman should be, while she notes over and over again how he is a "real" man. How do definitions of gender function in this odd couple?
Chew on This
Forster consciously establishes Schlegel sisters as models of womanhood in the future – which makes their existence in the present of the novel extremely difficult.
By defining women as essentially emotional beings, Forster limits their ability to affect the economic world or social system of the novel.