Margaret was silent. If her aunt could not see why she must go down, she was not going to tell her. She was not going to say "I love my dear sister; I must be near her at this crisis of her life." The affections are more reticent than the passions, and their expression more subtle. If she herself should ever fall in love with a man, she, like Helen, would proclaim it from the house-tops, but as she only loved a sister she used the voiceless language of sympathy. (2.7)
Early on, we see different kinds of love present in Forster's world; he's careful to show us the fine nuances between family love, romantic love, and love for other things, like one's country or home.
But the poetry of that kiss, the wonder of it, the magic that there was in life for hours after it--who can describe that? It is so easy for an Englishman to sneer at these chance collisions of human beings. To the insular cynic and the insular moralist they offer an equal opportunity. It is so easy to talk of "passing emotion," and how to forget how vivid the emotion was ere it passed. Our impulse to sneer, to forget, is at root a good one. We recognize that emotion is not enough, and that men and women are personalities capable of sustained relations, not mere opportunities for an electrical discharge. Yet we rate the impulse too highly. We do not admit that by collisions of this trivial sort the doors of heaven may be shaken open. To Helen, at all events, her life was to bring nothing more intense than the embrace of this boy who played no part in it. He had drawn her out of the house, where there was danger of surprise and light; he had led her by a path he knew, until they stood under the column of the vast wych-elm. A man in the darkness, he had whispered "I love you" when she was desiring love. In time his slender personality faded, the scene that he had evoked endured. In all the variable years that followed she never saw the like of it again. (4.5)
This long quote has a lot contained within it; first of all, Forster reminds us of what we all know – that we, humans (and more specifically, his English audience) are often wary of emotional moments. Though this is perhaps a wise way of looking at passion, it doesn't always work, and in our fervor for logic, we can forget how "love" can truly change lives forever. He then shows us how Helen's brush with passion changes her and her idea of romance forever.
Love, say the ascetics, reveals our shameful kinship with the beasts. Be it so: one can bear that; jealousy is the real shame. It is jealousy, not love, that connects us with the farmyard intolerably, and calls up visions of two angry cocks and a complacent hen. (16.47)
Love and jealousy – can the two really be spoken of separately? The narrator tries to distinguish between them here, saying that jealousy is a kind of animal instinct, while love is…well, something else, something more transcendent, apparently – but what?
An immense joy came over her. It was indescribable. It had nothing to do with humanity, and most resembled the all-pervading happiness of fine weather. Fine weather is due to the sun, but Margaret could think of no central radiance here. She stood in his drawing-room happy, and longing to give happiness. On leaving him she realized that the central radiance had been love. (18.24)
Love, here, seems like a force of nature, just as powerful and necessary as the sun – it's so natural, in fact, that Margaret doesn't even recognize it for what it is right away.
Margaret had often wondered at the disturbance that takes place in the world's waters, when Love, who seems so tiny a pebble, slips in. Whom does Love concern beyond the beloved and the lover? Yet his impact deluges a hundred shores. No doubt the disturbance is really the spirit of the generations, welcoming the new generation, and chafing against the ultimate Fate, who holds all the seas in the palm of her hand. But Love cannot understand this. He cannot comprehend another's infinity; he is conscious only of his own--flying sunbeam, falling rose, pebble that asks for one quiet plunge below the fretting interplay of space and time. He knows that he will survive at the end of things, and be gathered by Fate as a jewel from the slime, and be handed with admiration round the assembly of the gods. "Men did produce this," they will say, and, saying, they will give men immortality. But meanwhile--what agitations meanwhile! The foundations of Property and Propriety are laid bare, twin rocks; Family Pride flounders to the surface, puffing and blowing, and refusing to be comforted; Theology, vaguely ascetic, gets up a nasty ground swell. Then the lawyers are aroused--cold brood--and creep out of their holes. They do what they can; they tidy up Property and Propriety, reassure Theology and Family Pride. Half-guineas are poured on the troubled waters, the lawyers creep back, and, if all has gone well, Love joins one man and woman together in Matrimony. (20.1)
This is really just a big dramatic explanation of how much trouble love causes. It seems like it should be simple, and just between two people – but when marriage comes into it, it's actually a lot more complicated and difficult than it should be.
After dinner he asked Margaret if she wouldn't care for a turn on the Parade. She accepted, and could not repress a little tremor; it would be her first real love scene. But as she put on her hat she burst out laughing. Love was so unlike the article served up in books: the joy, though genuine, was different; the mystery an unexpected mystery. For one thing, Mr. Wilcox still seemed a stranger. (20.4)
Love, to Margaret, is a lot less extravagant than novels make it seem – rather, it's still exciting and strange, but not in the way she expects.
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die. (22.3)
Margaret's beliefs are simple – we must all, as human beings, reach out to each other – and love each other. This, to her, is the only thing that can bring humanity together, and reconcile the warring sides of our desires (the physical and the intellectual).
How wide the gulf between Henry as he was and Henry as Helen thought he ought to be! And she herself--hovering as usual between the two, now accepting men as they are, now yearning with her sister for Truth. Love and Truth--their warfare seems eternal. Perhaps the whole visible world rests on it, and if they were one, life itself, like the spirits when Prospero was reconciled to his brother, might vanish into air, into thin air. (26.50)
This reflection begs us to wonder – how irreconcilable are Love and Truth? Is it really as impossible as it seems to both love someone and see them objectively?
She told herself that Mrs. Wilcox's wrong was her own. But she was not a bargain theorist. As she undressed, her anger, her regard for the dead, her desire for a scene, all grew weak. Henry must have it as he liked, for she loved him, and some day she would use her love to make him a better man. (28.14)
Margaret's love is enough to make her forgive Henry for his past wrongs, even through her mind tells her not to. Love, we see, is stronger than the intellect, even for the Schlegels.
Perhaps it was Helen's way of falling in love--a curious way to Margaret, whose agony and whose contempt of Henry were yet imprinted with his image. Helen forgot people. They were husks that had enclosed her emotion. She could pity, or sacrifice herself, or have instincts, but had she ever loved in the noblest way, where man and woman, having lost themselves in sex, desire to lose sex itself in comradeship? (40.2)
Helen's way of treating other humans is purely theoretical – they can influence her own life, but they don't seem to be as real as she is, somehow. Everything seems to revolve around her, which limits her from truly attaining the depth of feeling that others, including Margaret, feel.
"Here they are at last!" exclaimed Henry, disengaging himself with a smile. Helen rushed into the gloom, holding Tom by one hand and carrying her baby on the other. There were shouts of infectious joy.
"The field's cut!" Helen cried excitedly--"the big meadow! We've seen to the very end, and it'll be such a crop of hay as never!" (44.49-50)
Finally, a reconciliation – something productive has emerged from the tragedy at Howards End, and we discover a new sense of optimism in this reconstructed family of Helen, Margaret, Henry, and the baby. There's the prospect of a fertile, healthy new world, made possible by love and forgiveness, and we can only hope that it will come true.
"Esprit de classe"--if one may coin the phrase--was strong in Mrs. Munt. She sat quivering while a member of the lower orders deposited a metal funnel, a saucepan, and a garden squirt beside the roll of oilcloth. (3.27)
Despite the fact that Aunt Juley is fuming with rage, her class awareness is so strong that she won't let the lower class shopman see her in a state of emotional upheaval.
If only he could talk like this, he would have caught the world. Oh to acquire culture! Oh, to pronounce foreign names correctly! Oh, to be well informed, discoursing at ease on every subject that a lady started! But it would take one years. With an hour at lunch and a few shattered hours in the evening, how was it possible to catch up with leisured women, who had been reading steadily from childhood? (5.30)
Leonard is overwhelmed by the cultural wealth of the Schlegels – he is limited by his own social background, and feels as though he could never possibly catch up.
The boy, Leonard Bast, stood at the extreme verge of gentility. He was not in the abyss, but he could see it, and at times people whom he knew had dropped in, and counted no more. He knew that he was poor, and would admit it: he would have died sooner than confess any inferiority to the rich. This may be splendid of him. But he was inferior to most rich people, there is not the least doubt of it. He was not as courteous as the average rich man, nor as intelligent, nor as healthy, nor as lovable. His mind and his body had been alike underfed, because he was poor, and because he was modern they were always craving better food. Had he lived some centuries ago, in the brightly coloured civilizations of the past, he would have had a definite status, his rank and his income would have corresponded. But in his day the angel of Democracy had arisen, enshadowing the classes with leathern wings, and proclaiming, "All men are equal--all men, that is to say, who possess umbrellas," and so he was obliged to assert gentility, lest he slipped into the abyss where nothing counts, and the statements of Democracy are inaudible. (6.2)
Poor Leonard. Forster condemns him to a lifetime of inferiority in this single paragraph, based on his problematic existence between classes – he's not at the extreme lower end of the spectrum, and is just genteel enough to have the desire to possess what the rich have…culture.
In the streets of the city she noted for the first time the architecture of hurry, and heard the language of hurry on the mouths of its inhabitants--clipped words, formless sentences, potted expressions of approval or disgust. Month by month things were stepping livelier, but to what goal? The population still rose, but what was the quality of the men born? (13.3)
The "she" here is Margaret, and her observations about the kind of people she encounters in the streets of rapidly changing London are provocative. She wonders (and we wonder with her) what sort of people modern urban life is producing – they barely sound like humans at all, the way they're described here. What is this doing to the overall shape of British society?
He did not want Romance to collide with the Porphyrion, still less with Jacky, and people with fuller, happier lives are slow to understand this. To the Schlegels…he was an interesting creature, of whom they wanted to see more. But they to him were denizens of Romance, who must keep to the corner he had assigned them, pictures that must not walk out of their frames. (14.3)
The Schlegels mean a lot more to Leonard than he does to them – to him, they're symbols of a kind of life he's only glimpsed, but can never really experience. The social gulf between them is impossible to bridge from his perspective, looking up from the abyss of poverty, but to them, it doesn't seem that vast.
A short-frocked edition of Charles also regards them placidly; a perambulator edition is squeaking; a third edition is expected shortly. Nature is turning out Wilcoxes in this peaceful abode, so that they may inherit the earth. (21.3)
This comical, yet rather horrifying vision of the junior Wilcoxes demonstrates just what we've been learning all the way through the novel – society is paving the way for more Wilcoxes, and they're the upcoming, hardy business class that's going to survive in the twentieth century.
But Leonard was near the abyss, and at such moments men see clearly. "You don't know what you're talking about," he said. "I shall never get work now. If rich people fail at one profession, they can try another. Not I. I had my groove, and I've got out of it. I could do one particular branch of insurance in one particular office well enough to command a salary, but that's all. Poetry's nothing, Miss Schlegel. One's thoughts about this and that are nothing. Your money, too, is nothing, if you'll understand me. I mean if a man over twenty once loses his own particular job, it's all over with him. I have seen it happen to others. Their friends gave them money for a little, but in the end they fall over the edge. It's no good. It's the whole world pulling. There always will be rich and poor." (26.36)
Leonard knows well what his fate is – he was born poor, and he always will be poor. He basically unknowingly reiterates a comment Mr. Wilcox made a while back (see "Wealth"), that society will always be divided into rich and poor; it's interesting to think that both of these men, despite their differences, have reached the same conclusion.
"No, let us go back to Helen's request," she said. "It is unreasonable, but the request of an unhappy girl. Tomorrow she will go to Germany, and trouble society no longer. Tonight she asks to sleep in your empty house--a house which you do not care about, and which you have not occupied for over a year. May she? Will you give my sister leave? Will you forgive her--as you hope to be forgiven, and as you have actually been forgiven? Forgive her for one night only. That will be enough." (38.24)
Helen's position in society – and society's unfair double standard towards women and men – both become apparent here. Helen is forced to leave England because she'll never be able to have a normal or socially acceptable life there again (but she can in Germany?), and even Henry, her brother-in-law, can't accept her and her situation. However, as Margaret points out, he himself was once in the same position as Leonard as the illicit lover of an unmarried woman, but he never took responsibility for it, and society, like Margaret, has forgiven him for it.
Tom held out his arms.
"That child is a wonderful nursemaid," remarked Margaret.
"He is fond of baby. That's why he does it!" was Helen's answer. They're going to be lifelong friends."
"Starting at the ages of six and one?"
"Of course. It will be a great thing for Tom."
"It may be a greater thing for baby." (44.4-6)
This friendship between Tom and Helen's child is a significant one – for one thing, as Helen comments, Tom (a mere country lad) could benefit from the friendship of a cultured, wealthy boy. Margaret, however, recognizes that being friends with Tom, who's a real person, not just an over-civilized rich kid, could actually benefit her nephew – who himself is interestingly a combination of Helen and Leonard, a kind of microcosm of a more integrated English society and a hope for the country's future.
A block of flats, constructed with extreme cheapness, towered on either hand. Farther down the road two more blocks were being built, and beyond these an old house was being demolished to accommodate another pair. It was the kind of scene that may be observed all over London, whatever the locality--bricks and mortar rising and falling with the restlessness of the water in a fountain, as the city receives more and more men upon her soil. Camelia Road would soon stand out like a fortress, and command, for a little, an extensive view. Only for a little. Plans were out for the erection of flats in Magnolia Road also. And again a few years, and all the flats in either road might be pulled down, and new buildings, of a vastness at present unimaginable, might arise where they had fallen. (6.6)
The changeability of the urban landscape is one of the most prominent themes of Howards End – Forster is clearly concerned about the shifting physical world of London at his moment in time. The idea that the world as we know is always undergoing transformation is both fascinating and horrifying to both the narrator and the characters.
London had done the mischief, said others. She had been a kind lady; her grandmother had been kind, too--a plainer person, but very kind. Ah, the old sort was dying out! (11.1)
This passage, which refers to what the villagers of Hilton think upon Mrs. Wilcox's death, indicates that a certain order is passing away – the "old sort" referred to here is a kind of Englishness, a sort of good, solid, old fashioned national character that's endangered by modern urban life.
Looking back on the past six months, Margaret realized the chaotic nature of our daily life, and its difference from the orderly sequence that has been fabricated by historians. Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere. With infinite effort we nerve ourselves for a crisis that never comes. The most successful career must show a waste of strength that might have removed mountains, and the most unsuccessful is not that of the man who is taken unprepared, but of him who has prepared and is never taken. On a tragedy of that kind our national morality is duly silent. It assumes that preparation against danger is in itself a good, and that men, like nations, are the better for staggering through life fully armed. The tragedy of preparedness has scarcely been handled, save by the Greeks. Life is indeed dangerous, but not in the way morality would have us believe. It is indeed unmanageable, but the essence of it is not a battle. It is unmanageable because it is a romance, and its essence is romantic beauty. (12.12)
This observation of Margaret's (then taken over and expanded on by the narrator) points to an interesting theme in this book – the idea that we can't really plan for life, for it never unfolds the way it should. Things change, but never exactly how we think they will, and no matter how prepared we are, we're never ready for them.
Concerts and plays swept past them, money had been spent and renewed, reputations won and lost, and the city herself, emblematic of their lives, rose and fell in a continual flux, while her shallows washed more widely against the hills of Surrey and over the fields of Hertfordshire. This famous building had arisen, that was doomed. Today Whitehall had been transformed: it would be the turn of Regent Street tomorrow. And month by month the roads smelt more strongly of petrol, and were more difficult to cross, and human beings heard each other speak with greater difficulty, breathed less of the air, and saw less of the sky. Nature withdrew: the leaves were falling by midsummer; the sun shone through dirt with an admired obscurity. (13.1)
If we're to believe the narrator, urbanization is a terrible thing; the city, though inevitable in its spread and transformation, is a negative force here that divorces humanity from Nature and everything natural with its constant, inhuman evolution.
The feudal ownership of land did bring dignity, whereas the modern ownership of movables is reducing us again to a nomadic horde. We are reverting to the civilization of luggage, and historians of the future will note how the middle classes accreted possessions without taking root in the earth, and may find in this the secret of their imaginative poverty. (17.2)
Here we find another comment on the ills of modern life, this time on the contemporary tendency to move around, rather than settling into a place forever. The narrator attempts to link the dullness of middle-class life with its lack of real connection to the places and things that furnish these lives.
"I hate this continual flux of London. It is an epitome of us at our worst--eternal formlessness; all the qualities, good, bad, and indifferent, streaming away--streaming, streaming for ever. That's why I dread it so. I mistrust rivers, even in scenery. Now, the sea--" (20.13)
Margaret is stressed out by the changing face of the city; she doesn't understand why mankind always has to demand change of itself. The metaphor of the sea, left unfinished, creates a different model – one in which the tide goes away but always returns.
Day and night the river flows down into England, day after day the sun retreats into the Welsh mountains, and the tower chimes, "See the Conquering Hero." But the Wilcoxes have no part in the place, nor in any place. It is not their names that recur in the parish register. It is not their ghosts that sigh among the alders at evening. They have swept into the valley and swept out of it, leaving a little dust and a little money behind. (29.25)
Wilcoxes are not made for permanence. They represent the kind of progress and change that Margaret's afraid of – they don't just settle in the same place, nor do they invest in homes the same way Mrs. Wilcox believed in Howards End, or that Margaret longs to have a house of her own forever.
Houses have their own ways of dying, falling as variously as the generations of men, some with a tragic roar, some quietly, but to an after-life in the city of ghosts, while from others--and thus was the death of Wickham Place--the spirit slips before the body perishes. It had decayed in the spring, disintegrating the girls more than they knew, and causing either to accost unfamiliar regions. By September it was a corpse, void of emotion, and scarcely hallowed by the memories of thirty years of happiness. (31.1)
The passing of Wickham Place is as tragic but inevitable as a human death – this description of the Schlegels moving from their childhood home is full of unease and more than a bit creepy. It contributes to the feeling of impermanence that pervades the whole text.
Margaret was silent. Marriage had not saved her from the sense of flux. London was but a foretaste of this nomadic civilization which is altering human nature so profoundly, and throws upon personal relations a stress greater than they have ever borne before. Under cosmopolitanism, if it comes, we shall receive no help from the earth. Trees and meadows and mountains will only be a spectacle, and the binding force that they once exercised on character must be entrusted to Love alone. May Love be equal to the task! (31.13)
Margaret thought that getting married would help her escape from the sense of things slipping away that has worried her all along, but now that she and Henry aren't settling down at Oniton, she still feels the inevitable change. Love, says Forster, is the only thing that can possibly save us all from the crumbling away of the world as we know it!
She lowered her eyes a moment to the black abyss of the past. They had crossed it, always excepting Leonard and Charles. They were building up a new life, obscure, yet gilded with tranquility. Leonard was dead; Charles had two years more in prison. One usen't always to see clearly before that time. It was different now. (44.10)
Margaret has finally come to accept the passing of time and the inevitable changes in her life – things are, of course, different after Leonard's death, and the new family that's emerged (Margaret, Henry, Helen, and the baby) is doing it's best to create a new life at Howards End, connected to the ancestral past (Mrs. Wilcox), but broken off from the events lost in the "black abyss" of the past year and a half.
"All the same, London's creeping."
She pointed over the meadow--over eight or nine meadows, but at the end of them was a red rust.
"You see that in Surrey and even Hampshire now," she continued. "I can see it from the Purbeck Downs. And London is only part of something else, I'm afraid. Life's going to be melted down, all over the world."
Margaret knew that her sister spoke truly. Howards End, Oniton, the Purbeck Downs, the Oderberge, were all survivals, and the melting-pot was being prepared for them. Logically, they had no right to be alive. One's hope was in the weakness of logic. Were they possibly the earth beating time?
"Because a thing is going strong now, it need not go strong for ever," she said. "This craze for motion has only set in during the last hundred years. It may be followed by a civilization that won't be a movement, because it will rest on the earth. All the signs are against it now, but I can't help hoping, and very early in the morning in the garden I feel that our house is the future as well as the past." (44.19-23)
Helen points out the fact that life as they know it at Howards End – which is somehow real, substantial, natural – is inevitably coming to its end with the spread of the industrial city. However, Margaret still holds out hope that the demon "civilization" can't possibly go on undefeated forever; she feels that somehow something that they have at Howards End (authentic Englishness? Nature? Or her idea of love?) will go on forever, despite the changing world.
So they played the game of Capping Families, a round of which is always played when love would unite two members of our race. But they played it with unusual vigour, stating in so many words that Schlegels were better than Wilcoxes, Wilcoxes better than Schlegels. They flung decency aside. The man was young, the woman deeply stirred; in both a vein of coarseness was latent. (3.32)
Family is a strong component of identity in this text; we see people classified by what their families represent. Ironically, we see that Wilcoxes and Schlegels are not so very different here, for both Charles and Aunt Juley give in to the same "vein of coarseness."
[Mrs. Wilcox] seemed to belong not to the young people and their motor, but to the house, and to the tree that overshadowed it. One knew that she worshipped the past, and that the instinctive wisdom the past can alone bestow had descended upon her--that wisdom to which we give the clumsy name of aristocracy. High born she might not be. But assuredly she cared about her ancestors, and let them help her. When she saw Charles angry, Paul frightened, and Mrs. Munt in tears, she heard her ancestors say, "Separate those human beings who will hurt each other most. The rest can wait." So she did not ask questions. (3.39)
Mrs. Wilcox has a kind of strange spiritual wholeness that none of the other characters possess; something about her connectedness with the land and with her English country roots gives her a kind of privileged instinctive knowledge.
Putting her head on one side, Margaret then remarked, "To me one of two things is very clear; either God does not know his own mind about England and Germany, or else these do not know the mind of God." A hateful little girl, but at thirteen she had grasped a dilemma that most people travel through life without perceiving. Her brain darted up and down; it grew pliant and strong. Her conclusion was, that any human being lies nearer to the unseen than any organization, and from this she never varied. (4.11)
Even as a child, Margaret has a kind of Mrs. Wilcox-like tendency to view people as individuals, rather than members of "organizations" like countries, and to imagine that we all have a unique understanding of spirituality that exists beyond the scope of what politics and history want us to think.
Mrs. Wilcox had no idea; she paid little attention to grounds. She was not intellectual, nor even alert, and it was odd that, all the same, she should give the idea of greatness. Margaret, zigzagging with her friends over Thought and Art, was conscious of a personality that transcended their own and dwarfed their activities. There was no bitterness in Mrs. Wilcox; there was not even criticism; she was lovable, and no ungracious or uncharitable word had passed her lips. Yet she and daily life were out of focus: one or the other must show blurred. And at lunch she seemed more out of focus than usual, and nearer the line that divides life from a life that may be of greater importance. (9.5)
This description, one of the odder ones in this novel, demonstrates Mrs. Wilcox's strange separation from the world – it's almost as if the narrator can't figure out how to describe her, except to tell us that she's so mysteriously, mystically amazing that there are no words for it. She's just not of this world, even when she's in it.
To them Howards End was a house: they could not know that to her it had been a spirit, for which she sought a spiritual heir. And--pushing one step farther in these mists--may they not have decided even better than they supposed? Is it credible that the possessions of the spirit can be bequeathed at all? Has the soul offspring? A wych-elm tree, a vine, a wisp of hay with dew on it--can passion for such things be transmitted where there is no bond of blood? No; the Wilcoxes are not to be blamed. The problem is too terrific, and they could not even perceive a problem. (11.38)
Mrs. Wilcox's identification with Margaret is made clear in her final bequest of Howards End; the question of spiritual identity (of a person, of a house) is what's up for debate here. The metaphysical question, however, is lost on the pragmatic Wilcoxes.
"Henceforward I'm going my own way. I mean to be thorough, because thoroughness is easy. I mean to dislike your husband, and to tell him so. I mean to make no concessions to Tibby. If Tibby wants to live with me, he must lump me. I mean to love you more than ever. Yes, I do. You and I have built up something real, because it is purely spiritual. There's no veil of mystery over us. Unreality and mystery begin as soon as one touches the body. The popular view is, as usual, exactly the wrong one. Our bothers are over tangible things--money, husbands, house-hunting. But Heaven will work of itself." (23.1)
Helen declares her independence here, and it's a turning point in the novel – from here on out, she intends to do exactly what she pleases, and refuses to explain herself to anyone else.
"Oh! Well, I took you for Ruth Wilcox."
Margaret stammered: "I--Mrs. Wilcox--I?"
"In fancy, of course--in fancy. You had her way of walking. Good-day." And the old woman passed out into the rain. (23.36-37)
Mrs. Avery's confusion of Margaret with Mrs. Wilcox reminds us that the two women (the two Mrs. Wilcoxes, really) are growing closer and closer – Margaret is becoming more and more like her predecessor. Feel free to be a little creeped out. We are.
When a young man is untroubled by passions and sincerely indifferent to public opinion, his outlook is necessarily limited. Tibby neither wished to strengthen the position of the rich nor to improve that of the poor, and so was well content to watch the elms nodding behind the mildly embattled parapets of Magdalen. There are worse lives. Though selfish, he was never cruel; though affected in manner, he never posed. Like Margaret, he disdained the heroic equipment, and it was only after many visits that men discovered Schlegel to possess a character and a brain. (30.1)
Tibby takes Schlegel individuality to an extreme; he's more isolated than his two sisters in his true disregard for the rest of society. Unlike Margaret, he doesn't care about fitting in, and unlike Helen, he doesn't even care about rebelling in a dramatic way.
Why has not England a great mythology? Our folklore has never advanced beyond daintiness, and the greater melodies about our country-side have all issued through the pipes of Greece. Deep and true as the native imagination can be, it seems to have failed here. It has stopped with the witches and the fairies. It cannot vivify one fraction of a summer field, or give names to half a dozen stars. England still waits for the supreme moment of her literature--for the great poet who shall voice her, or, better still, for the thousand little poets whose voices shall pass into our common talk. (33.2)
One of the biggest unspoken (or partially spoken) questions in this book is that of England's identity – we have to wonder what England and its people have in store for them, and who will tell their stories.
Margaret's anger and terror increased every moment. How dare these men label her sister! What horrors lay ahead! What impertinences that shelter under the name of science! The pack was turning on Helen, to deny her human rights, and it seemed to Margaret that all Schlegels were threatened with her. "Were they normal?" What a question to ask! And it is always those who know nothing about human nature, who are bored by psychology and shocked by physiology, who ask it. However piteous her sister's state, she knew that she must be on her side. They would be mad together if the world chose to consider them so. (35.18)
The Schlegel identity is clearly outside the bounds of what the conventional (Wilcox) world thinks is "normal" – this is the moment of crisis for Margaret, where she's forced to choose between the life she's picked for herself with Henry, and her old identity as Helen's sister.
"I feel that you and I and Henry are only fragments of that woman's mind. She knows everything. She is everything. She is the house, and the tree that leans over it. 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. I cannot believe that knowledge such as hers will perish with knowledge such as mine. She knew about realities. She knew when people were in love, though she was not in the room. I don't doubt that she knew when Henry deceived her." (40.9)
Mrs. Wilcox (the first one) comes up again at the novel's end, as everything falls into place at Howards End – Margaret ponders the mystery of her identity, which seemed to merge somehow with everything else that was real in the world.
He felt that he was being done good to, and that if he kept on with Ruskin, and the Queen's Hall Concerts, and some pictures by Watts, he would one day push his head out of the grey waters and see the universe. He believed in sudden conversion, a belief which may be right, but which is peculiarly attractive to a half-baked mind. (6.20)
Leonard is unhappy with his lot in life, but is curiously, rather desperately optimistic in a way – he thinks that he can somehow change himself wholly through his attempts to absorb culture.
Certainly London fascinates. One visualizes it as a tract of quivering grey, intelligent without purpose, and excitable without love; as a spirit that has altered before it can be chronicled; as a heart that certainly beats, but with no pulsation of humanity. It lies beyond everything: Nature, with all her cruelty, comes nearer to us than do these crowds of men. A friend explains himself: the earth is explicable--from her we came, and we must return to her. But who can explain Westminster Bridge Road or Liverpool Street in the morning--the city inhaling--or the same thoroughfares in the evening--the city exhaling her exhausted air? We reach in desperation beyond the fog, beyond the very stars, the voids of the universe are ransacked to justify the monster, and stamped with a human face. London is religion's opportunity--not the decorous religion of theologians, but anthropomorphic, crude. Yes, the continuous flow would be tolerable if a man of our own sort--not anyone pompous or tearful--were caring for us up in the sky. (13.2)
Here, the narrator depicts a kind of abstract dissatisfaction – this is different from Leonard's personal struggle, but is definitely related to it. He's talking about the dissatisfaction of modern urban life, in which humanity is subjected to a force alien to it – that of the city itself (in this case, London). There's something about the inhumanity of the city that forces mankind to seek solace elsewhere, like in the idea of God.
One guessed him as the third generation, grandson to the shepherd or ploughboy whom civilization had sucked into the town; as one of the thousands who have lost the life of the body and failed to reach the life of the spirit. Hints of robustness survived in him, more than a hint of primitive good looks, and Margaret, noting the spine that might have been straight, and the chest that might have broadened, wondered whether it paid to give up the glory of the animal for a tail coat and a couple of ideas. Culture had worked in her own case, but during the last few weeks she had doubted whether it humanized the majority, so wide and so widening is the gulf that stretches between the natural and the philosophic man, so many the good chaps who are wrecked in trying to cross it. She knew this type very well--the vague aspirations, the mental dishonesty, the familiarity with the outsides of books. She knew the very tones in which he would address her. (14.3)
Margaret recognizes what Leonard himself might not – that he would be much, much better off living the life of the country, like his ancestors. However, driven by the desire for "culture," he's been warped and transformed into a kind of predictable mockery of the middle class.
"I never thought that walking would make such a difference. Why, when you're walking you want, as it were, a breakfast and luncheon and tea during the night as well, and I'd nothing but a packet of Woodbines. Lord, I did feel bad! Looking back, it wasn't what you may call enjoyment. It was more a case of sticking to it. I did stick. I--I was determined. Oh, hang it all! what's the good--I mean, the good of living in a room for ever? There one goes on day after day, same old game, same up and down to town, until you forget there is any other game. You ought to see once in a way what's going on outside, if it's only nothing particular after all." (14.16)
Leonard expresses here the frustration of being penned up in city life – his adventure in the woods showed him that there's more to life than the monotonous grind of work every day, even though civilization tells us that's what we should all be doing.
"But he must be one of those men who have reconciled science with religion," said Helen slowly. "I don't like those men. They are scientific themselves, and talk of the survival of the fittest, and cut down the salaries of their clerks, and stunt the independence of all who may menace their comfort, but yet they believe that somehow good--and it is always that sloppy 'somehow'--will be the outcome, and that in some mystical way the Mr. Basts of the future will benefit because the Mr. Basts of today are in pain." (22.18)
Helen is opposed to Henry and everything he represents; she sees his way of thinking of things as inhumane and falsely scientific. His point of view, as she sees it, fails to recognize how much harm it does to those discontented lower classes that they theorize about (like Leonard).
"Walking is well enough when a man's in work," he answered. "Oh, I did talk a lot of nonsense once, but there's nothing like a bailiff in the house to drive it out of you. When I saw him fingering my Ruskins and Stevensons, I seemed to see life straight real, and it isn't a pretty sight. My books are back again, thanks to you, but they'll never be the same to me again, and I shan't ever again think night in the woods is wonderful." (27.17)
Poor Leonard. After all of his troubles, he's ready to renounce his ambitions to culture and poetry and real life – he realizes that none of these things are possible without money. His new, harsher perspective on life is grim, to both Helen and us.
Leonard looked at her wondering, and had the sense of great things sweeping out of the shrouded night. But he could not receive them, because his heart was still full of little things. As the lost umbrella had spoilt the concert at Queen's Hall, so the lost situation was obscuring the diviner harmonies now. Death, Life and Materialism were fine words, but would Mr. Wilcox take him on as a clerk? Talk as one would, Mr. Wilcox was king of this world, the superman, with his own morality, whose head remained in the clouds. (27.20)
It doesn't matter how vast and sweeping Helen's fine moral ideas are – Leonard can't help but be worried about the small (but not insignificant) facts of his situation. He can't simply afford to indulge in poetic ideas…he just can't afford it.
Helen loved the absolute. Leonard had been ruined absolutely, and had appeared to her as a man apart, isolated from the world. A real man, who cared for adventure and beauty, who desired to live decently and pay his way, who could have travelled more gloriously through life than the Juggernaut car that was crushing him. (41.3)
Leonard's unhappiness seems to Helen to be all-absorbing – and romantic, in a warped way. It's his complete misery and the apparent injustice of his life, crushed by society's rules, that appeals to her, just for a moment.
"Somehow, when that kind of man looks frightened it is too awful. It is all right for us to be frightened, or for men of another sort--Father, for instance; but for men like that! When I saw all the others so placid, and Paul mad with terror in case I said the wrong thing, I felt for a moment that the whole Wilcox family was a fraud, just a wall of newspapers and motor-cars and golf-clubs, and that if it fell I should find nothing behind it but panic and emptiness." (4.6)
Here, Helen proposes one of the problems of the novel – what makes a man a real man? The Wilcoxes, she suggests, are different from the sort of men they know, like their father or poor Tibby. There's something about the Wilcoxes that set them up as paragons of masculinity, and when that façade is cracked (by Paul's fear), it all breaks down.
Tibby was sensitive to beauty, the experience was new, and he gave a description of his visit that was almost glowing. The august and mellow University, soaked with the richness of the western counties that it has served for a thousand years, appealed at once to the boy's taste: it was the kind of thing he could understand, and he understood it all the better because it was empty. Oxford is--Oxford: not a mere receptacle for youth, like Cambridge. Perhaps it wants its inmates to love it rather than to love one another: such at all events was to be its effect on Tibby. His sisters sent him there that he might make friends, for they knew that his education had been cranky, and had severed him from other boys and men. He made no friends. His Oxford remained Oxford empty, and he took into life with him, not the memory of a radiance, but the memory of a colour scheme. (12.9)
This image of Tibby and his very special Tibby-ness is quite at odds with the other men – namely, the Wilcox men – that we encounter in the novel. Tibby provides a kind of foil to the image of strong, pragmatic, active manliness we see elsewhere; he's disconnected from everyday life to the umpteenth degree, and it renders him unmanly and oddly asexual.
I believe that in the last century men have developed the desire for work, and they must not starve it. It's a new desire. It goes with a great deal that's bad, but in itself it's good, and I hope that for women, too, 'not to work' will soon become as shocking as 'not to be married' was a hundred years ago. (13.7)
The speaker here is Margaret, and she's addressing the recalcitrant Tibby, who just doesn't want to have a job. Her comment makes clear her stance on men and their proper pursuits (work), but also on what she hopes women will become sometime soon – hardworking members of society.
It was hard-going in the roads of Mr. Wilcox's soul. From boyhood he had neglected them. "I am not a fellow who bothers about my own inside." Outwardly he was cheerful, reliable, and brave; but within, all had reverted to chaos, ruled, so far as it was ruled at all, by an incomplete asceticism. Whether as boy, husband, or widower, he had always the sneaking belief that bodily passion is bad, a belief that is desirable only when held passionately. Religion had confirmed him. The words that were read aloud on Sunday to him and to other respectable men were the words that had once kindled the souls of St. Catharine and St. Francis into a white-hot hatred of the carnal. He could-not be as the saints and love the Infinite with a seraphic ardour, but he could be a little ashamed of loving a wife. "Amabat, amare timebat." And it was here that Margaret hoped to help him. (22.2)
Mr. Wilcox is the epitome of English stiff-upper-lippedness. He's not only closed off from his own inner life – he has fears that it's somehow wrong to have feelings and desires. Religion has done nothing but confirm this suspicion, and it's Margaret's job now to undo all of these accumulated beliefs.
"I am a man, and have lived a man's past." (26.63)
Whoa there, Henry. "A man's past"? Huh. This quote implies not only that all men have dark secrets (the result of, you know, sowing their wild oats, etc.), but furthermore, that it's expected of them in a way.
She tried to translate his temptation into her own language, and her brain reeled. Men must be different, even to want to yield to such a temptation. (28.5)
Margaret, thinking of Henry's transgression with Jacky, is horrified once again by how different men are – she's disgusted by his baser impulses.
"We fellows all come to grief once in our time. Will you believe that? There are moments when the strongest man--'Let him who standeth, take heed lest he fall.' That's true, isn't it? If you knew all, you would excuse me. I was far from good influences--far even from England. I was very, very lonely, and longed for a woman's voice. That's enough. I have told you too much already for you to forgive me now." (29.11)
Mr. Wilcox emphasizes the idea that all men, not just him, are inevitably led to temptation; there's something about male nature that's fundamentally different from women, as he tells it. Basically, he's saying that what Margaret can't possibly forgive him for is his maleness.
"I suppose so; but Ruth should have married a--no disrespect to you to say this, for I take it you were intended to get Wilcox any way, whether she got him first or no."
"Whom should she have married?"
"A soldier!" exclaimed the old woman. "Some real soldier."
Margaret was silent. It was a criticism of Henry's character far more trenchant than any of her own. She felt dissatisfied. (33.28-29)
Hmm. Miss Avery implies here that Mr. Wilcox is not a "real soldier" – or perhaps a real man. So…what is he, in her eyes? We have to wonder. We know that, in Margaret's opinion, Wilcoxes are necessary for the running of the world, but it's unclear if they are the real English people that the novel seems to be searching for.
"Not any more of this!" she cried. "You shall see the connection if it kills you, Henry! You have had a mistress--I forgave you. My sister has a lover--you drive her from the house. Do you see the connection? Stupid, hypocritical, cruel--oh, contemptible! --a man who insults his wife when she's alive and cants with her memory when she's dead. A man who ruins a woman for his pleasure, and casts her off to ruin other men. And gives bad financial advice, and then says he is not responsible. These, man, are you. You can't recognize them, because you cannot connect. I've had enough of your unweeded kindness. I've spoilt you long enough. All your life you have been spoiled. Mrs. Wilcox spoiled you. No one has ever told what you are--muddled, criminally muddled. Men like you use repentance as a blind, so don't repent. Only say to yourself, 'What Helen has done, I've done.'" (38.25)
Men are just the worst. Margaret, in a moment of transcendent fury, unleashes the truth upon Mr. Wilcox; he doesn't realize that his actions are far worse than Helen's. Because of the unfair difference in expectations of men and women, he has been allowed to prosper in society, while Helen is cast out of it.
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?
A younger woman might have resented his masterly ways, but Margaret had too firm a grip of life to make a fuss. She was, in her own way, as masterly. If he was a fortress she was a mountain peak, whom all might tread, but whom the snows made nightly virginal. Disdaining the heroic outfit, excitable in her methods, garrulous, episodical, shrill, she misled her lover much as she had misled her aunt. He mistook her fertility for weakness. (20.17)
Margaret is a woman grown into her own powers, even if Henry doesn't recognize it. She doesn't need to announce her "mastery" over herself and her future husband, the way a younger girl might; instead, she is confident in her own ways.
She knew of life's seamy side as a theory; she could not grasp it as a fact. (26.64)
Despite the fact that Margaret's a mature, self-sufficient lady, Forster still implies that she can't "grasp" the darker parts of life (like Henry's seedy past) – perhaps simply because she's a woman. In general, women in this novel (Margaret, Helen, Jacky) have difficulty really understanding the world of men and its grim facts of life.
But she crossed out "I do understand"; it struck a false note. Henry could not bear to be understood. She also crossed out, "It is everything or nothing." Henry would resent so strong a grasp of the situation. She must not comment; comment is unfeminine. (28.3)
Margaret is increasingly occupied by what is feminine or masculine – the problem of the relation between genders is a recurrent one here. Why should comment or analysis be seen as unfeminine? Henry seems to have a very clear idea of what women should or shouldn't do, and Margaret is well aware of this.
He was annoyed with Miss Schlegel here. He would have preferred her to be prostrated by the blow, or even to rage. Against the tide of his sin flowed the feeling that she was not altogether womanly. Her eyes gazed too straight; they had read books that are suitable for men only. And though he had dreaded a scene, and though she had determined against one, there was a scene, all the same. It was somehow imperative. (29.5)
Henry expects Margaret to be upset, like any normal woman, by the news of his infidelity. However, Margaret is not a normal woman, which irritates him. For him, she's too much like a man to be properly feminine – too educated, too perceptive – and we can tell that she doesn't fit in with the image of womanhood that conservative men like Henry believe in.
Man is for war, woman for the recreation of the warrior, but he does not dislike it if she makes a show of fight. She cannot win in a real battle, having no muscles, only nerves. Nerves make her jump out of a moving motor-car, or refuse to be married fashionably. The warrior may well allow her to triumph on such occasions; they move not the imperishable plinth of things that touch his peace. (31.6)
Men and women, women and men…there's nothing but trouble between the sexes here. Henry, and men of his ilk, have a kind of warped idea of women. As the narrator comments here, men ("warriors") just humor women, who are nervous but entertaining creatures. We have to wonder how serious this commentary is.
Why did we settle that their house would be all gables and wiggles, and their garden all gamboge-coloured paths? I believe simply because we associate them with expensive hotels--Mrs. Wilcox trailing in beautiful dresses down long corridors, Mr. Wilcox bullying porters, etc. We females are that unjust. (1.3)
Helen, writing to Margaret from Howards End, expresses from the beginning the association of Wilcoxes with money – with a kind of ostentatious wealth. Helen sidesteps the Schlegels' own odd standpoint, saying that "we females" are unjust; what she really should say is that wealthy liberals of their kind jump to conclusions.
"You and I and the Wilcoxes stand upon money as upon islands. It is so firm beneath our feet that we forget its very existence. It's only when we see someone near us tottering that we realize all that an independent income means. Last night, when we were talking up here round the fire, I began to think that the very soul of the world is economic, and that the lowest abyss is not the absence of love, but the absence of coin." (7.16)
Margaret, speaking frankly to Aunt Juley, acknowledges what her sister and their liberal friends never will – that, despite the idealistic talk of the equality of classes, they all rely upon money for their happiness.
"Oh, how one does maunder on, and to think, to think of the people who are really poor. How do they live? Not to move about the world would kill me." (13.7)
Margaret is again made painfully aware of her own wealth while pondering the move from Wickham Place – the Schlegels, for all of their big talk, still live a life of incredible privilege.
"When your Socialism comes it may be different, and we may think in terms of commodities instead of cash. Till it comes give people cash, for it is the warp of civilization, whatever the woof may be. The imagination ought to play upon money and realize it vividly, for it's the--the second most important thing in the world. It is so slurred over and hushed up, there is so little clear thinking--oh, political economy, of course, but so few of us think clearly about our own private incomes, and admit that independent thoughts are in nine cases out of ten the result of independent means. Money: give Mr. Bast money, and don't bother about his ideals. He'll pick up those for himself." (15.3)
Yet again, Margaret comes out and stands up against what she perceives to be the naively idealistic notions of her sister and their friends, saying that if you really want to help a man pull himself up in the world (for example, Leonard), the only thing to do is give him cold, hard cash – it's enough to purchase things like ideas eventually.
"Helen wouldn't agree with me here," [Margaret] continued. "Helen daren't slang the rich, being rich herself, but she would like to. There's an odd notion, that I haven't yet got hold of, running about at the back of her brain, that poverty is somehow 'real.' She dislikes all organization, and probably confuses wealth with the technique of wealth. Sovereigns in a stocking wouldn't bother her; cheques do. Helen is too relentless. One can't deal in her high-handed manner with the world." (20.8)
Again, we see the difference between worldly Margaret and high-minded Helen – the younger sister fails to recognize the practical uses of wealth, even though she can only truly be herself because she's wealthy. It's a quietly elitist attitude.
"There always have been rich and poor. I'm no fatalist. Heaven forbid! But our civilization is moulded by great impersonal forces" (his voice grew complacent; it always did when he eliminated the personal), "and there always will be rich and poor. You can't deny it" (and now it was a respectful voice)--"and you can't deny that, in spite of all, the tendency of civilization has on the whole been upward." (22.15)
Henry's opinion is, once again, in opposition to the Schlegel perspective. He argues against Helen that disparity in wealth is inevitable – and, furthermore, that the world requires it to make progress.
"I'll stand injustice no longer. I'll show up the wretchedness that lies under this luxury, this talk of impersonal forces, this cant about God doing what we're too slack to do ourselves." (26.27)
Helen, with the Basts in tow, has just crashed Evie's wedding in rather an insane fashion. She's on an anti-Wilcox crusade to show the wealthy people of the world how irresponsible they are. However, her mode of doing so doesn't seem entirely effective – she just comes off as stark raving mad.
"I wish I was wrong, but--the clergyman--he has money of his own, or else he's paid; the poet or the musician--just the same; the tramp--he's no different. The tramp goes to the workhouse in the end, and is paid for with other people's money. Miss Schlegel, the real thing's money and all the rest is a dream." (27.16)
Leonard, unlike Helen, has come to understand that life is impossible without money – even dreams themselves are impossible without cold, hard cash.
Helen had begun bungling with her money by this time, and had even sold out her shares in the Nottingham and Derby Railway. For some weeks she did nothing. Then she reinvested, and, owing to the good advice of her stockbrokers, became rather richer than she had been before. (30.23)
After her money is rejected by Leonard, Helen freaks out and doesn't know what to do with it. Without meaning to, she ends up even richer than before, emphasizing the idea that in this world, the rich just get richer while the poor (Leonard and Jacky) get poorer.
…of all means to regeneration Remorse is surely the most wasteful. It cuts away healthy tissues with the poisoned. It is a knife that probes far deeper than the evil. Leonard was driven straight through its torments and emerged pure, but enfeebled--a better man, who would never lose control of himself again, but also a smaller, who had less to control. Nor did purity mean peace. The use of the knife can become a habit as hard to shake off as passion itself, and Leonard continued to start with a cry out of dreams. (41.2)
Leonard's guilt over the incident with Helen changes him forever (in a notable contrast to Mr. Wilcox, who never seems to feel real remorse about his dodgy past). We see that Leonard is ultimately "a better man," but at what cost? And what can it possibly gain for him?
The expedition to Shropshire crippled the Basts permanently. Helen in her flight forgot to settle the hotel bill, and took their return tickets away with her; they had to pawn Jacky's bangles to get home, and the smash came a few days afterwards. It is true that Helen offered him five thousand pounds, but such a sum meant nothing to him. He could not see that the girl was desperately righting herself, and trying to save something out of the disaster, if it was only five thousand pounds. But he had to live somehow. He turned to his family, and degraded himself to a professional beggar. There was nothing else for him to do. (40.5)
This is just another case of Helen hypocritically taking her own wealth for granted; ironically, she's the one who deals the Basts the final killing blow by "crippling" them with the cost of the Shropshire misadventure.
The energy of the Wilcoxes had fascinated her, had created new images of beauty in her responsive mind. To be all day with them in the open air, to sleep at night under their roof, had seemed the supreme joy of life, and had led to that abandonment of personality that is a possible prelude to love. She had liked giving in to Mr. Wilcox, or Evie, or Charles; she had liked being told that her notions of life were sheltered or academic; that Equality was nonsense, Votes for Women nonsense, Socialism nonsense, Art and Literature, except when conducive to strengthening the character, nonsense. One by one the Schlegel fetiches had been overthrown, and, though professing to defend them, she had rejoiced. (4.3)
Here we see the conflict between Wilcox principles and Schlegel principles begin. Helen is at first seduced by how very different the Wilcoxes are – she's so intrigued that all of her favorite issues initially fall by the wayside (as Margaret's will later).
"I've often thought about it, Helen. It's one of the most interesting things in the world. 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 my difficulty. This outer life, though obviously horrid, often seems the real one--there's grit in it. It does breed character." (4.7)
Margaret articulates the difference between the interior Schlegel world and the world that everyone else exists in (the "outer life"). The problem of the novel is basically the need to negotiate between the interior and exterior, which proves to be extremely difficult to work out.
"Inexperience," repeated Margaret, in serious yet buoyant tones. "Of course, I have everything to learn--absolutely everything--just as much as Helen. Life's very difficult and full of surprises. At all events, I've got as far as that. To be humble and kind, to go straight ahead, to love people rather than pity them, to remember the submerged--well, one can't do all these things at once, worse luck, because they're so contradictory. It's then that proportion comes in--to live by proportion. Don't begin with proportion. Only prigs do that. Let proportion come in as a last resource, when the better things have failed, and a deadlock--Gracious me, I've started preaching!" (8.30)
Here, Margaret tries to explain her life philosophy to Mrs. Wilcox – she tries, it seems, to just be as kind and honest as possible, and to take things as they come. When she refers to proportion, she's basically rebelling against the Wilcoxian idea that one can figure everything out rationally and mathematically.
The Wilcoxes continued to play a considerable part in her thoughts. She had seen so much of them in the final week. They were not "her sort," they were often suspicious and stupid, and deficient where she excelled; but collision with them stimulated her, and she felt an interest that verged into liking, even for Charles. She desired to protect them, and often felt that they could protect her, excelling where she was deficient. Once past the rocks of emotion, they knew so well what to do, whom to send for; their hands were on all the ropes, they had grit as well as grittiness, and she valued grit enormously. They led a life that she could not attain to--the outer life of "telegrams and anger," which had detonated when Helen and Paul had touched in June, and had detonated again the other week. To Margaret this life was to remain a real force. She could not despise it, as Helen and Tibby affected to do. It fostered such virtues as neatness, decision, and obedience, virtues of the second rank, no doubt, but they have formed our civilization. They form character, too; Margaret could not doubt it: they keep the soul from becoming sloppy. How dare Schlegels despise Wilcoxes, when it takes all sorts to make a world? (12.3)
This, to Margaret, is what the Wilcoxes stand for – the "grit" and practicality of the real world. While the Schlegels live in their equally necessary sphere of ideals and intellectual principles, the Wilcoxes represent the flip side of that kind of life.
"What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives? They have never entered into mine, but into yours, we thought--Haven't we all to struggle against life's daily greyness, against pettiness, against mechanical cheerfulness, against suspicion? I struggle by remembering my friends; others I have known by remembering some place--some beloved place or tree--we thought you one of these." (16.32)
Margaret, frustrated by Leonard's own frustration, tries to express her desire to infuse ideals into actual life, rather than keeping the two worlds separate. She had hoped that Leonard also wanted to rise above the humdrum drone of the everyday.
"My motto is Concentrate. I've no intention of frittering away my strength on that sort of thing." "It isn't frittering away the strength," she protested. "It's enlarging the space in which you may be strong." He answered: "You're a clever little woman, but my motto's Concentrate." (22.5)
This is the essential difference between Henry and Margaret – he believes in focusing intently on his own goals and just seeing what he wants to see in the world (or rather, what's beneficial to him), while she thinks that looking outwards and making connections and observations about others is the best way to go through life.
"That there are two kinds of people--our kind, who live straight from the middle of their heads, and the other kind who can't, because their heads have no middle? They can't say 'I.' They AREN'T in fact, and so they're supermen. Pierpont Morgan has never said 'I' in his life." (27.3)
Helen, lecturing at Leonard, rails against the Wilcoxes and everything they represent – that is to say, a mode of life that's focused on the exterior (on money, on business, on politics) rather than the interior life, or the "I," as she calls it. The Pierpont Morgan she references here was a famous American financier of the nineteenth century.
"If we lived for ever what you say would be true. But we have to die, we have to leave life presently. Injustice and greed would be the real thing if we lived for ever. As it is, we must hold to other things, because Death is coming. I love Death--not morbidly, but because He explains. He shows me the emptiness of Money. Death and Money are the eternal foes. Not Death and Life. Never mind what lies behind Death, Mr. Bast, but be sure that the poet and the musician and the tramp will be happier in it than the man who has never learnt to say, 'I am I.'" (27.19)
Helen's refusal to believe in the power of money (despite the fact that she herself relies upon it for everything) shows just how naïve and idealistic she still is – she has the luxury to believe in the poetic vision that the artist and humane man will be happier in the long run because they truly live for themselves.
"So never give in," continued the girl, and restated again and again the vague yet convincing plea that the Invisible lodges against the Visible. Her excitement grew as she tried to cut the rope that fastened Leonard to the earth. Woven of bitter experience, it resisted her. (27.23)
Helen's attempt to break Leonard free from the shackles of his worldly concerns is bound to fail – after all, he's been shown nothing but rough treatment from the world, while she's been coddled all her life. How can she, with all her innocent, well-meaning idealism, possibly undo everything he's experienced?
As is Man to the Universe, so was the mind of Mr. Wilcox to the minds of some men--a concentrated light upon a tiny spot, a little Ten Minutes moving self-contained through its appointed years. No Pagan he, who lives for the Now, and may be wiser than all philosophers. He lived for the five minutes that have past, and the five to come; he had the business mind. (29.21)
Unlike Helen, who tries to see everything in terms of the big, cosmic picture, Henry sees everything from the small frame of his own concerns, both personal and financial. Time, for him, is rather limited in scope to his immediate past and immediate future. This is indicative not only of the way he deals with everyday life, but with capital-L Life in general.
Tibby was silent. Without intending it, he had betrayed his sister's confidence; he was not enough interested in human life to see where things will lead to. He had a strong regard for honesty, and his word, once given, had always been kept up to now. He was deeply vexed, not only for the harm he had done Helen, but for the flaw he had discovered in his own equipment. (39.4)
Tibby's own moral code is a matter of intellect – he has a certain belief in the concept of honesty, but he doesn't really have feelings or sympathy to match. For this reason, he's only partially upset that he's betrayed Helen's confidence, but mostly alarmed that his own system is not as watertight as he thinks.
Morality can tell us that murder is worse than stealing, and group most sins in an order all must approve, but it cannot group Helen. The surer its pronouncements on this point, the surer may we be that morality is not speaking. Christ was evasive when they questioned Him. It is those that cannot connect who hasten to cast the first stone. (40.3)
Helen doesn't seem to fall into any conventional definition of morality – and the narrator throws the very identity of morality itself. What makes morality, and who defines it? Who can dare to speak for all of humanity, or even society? The narrator concludes that it is not those who are part of a community, but those who fail to connect with one that make accusations.
Mrs. Munt had her own method of interpreting her nieces. She decided that Margaret was a little hysterical, and was trying to gain time by a torrent of talk. Feeling very diplomatic, she lamented the fate of Speyer, and declared that never, never should she be so misguided as to visit it, and added of her own accord that the principles of restoration were ill understood in Germany. "The Germans," she said, "are too thorough, and this is all very well sometimes, but at other times it does not do."
"Exactly," said Margaret; "Germans are too thorough." And her eyes began to shine.
"Of course I regard you Schlegels as English," said Mrs. Munt hastily--"English to the backbone." (2.4)
Aunt Juley, who is herself "English to the backbone," immediately establishes the juxtaposition of England and Germany, which represents itself in her half-English, half-German nieces.
A word on their origin. They were not "English to the backbone," as their aunt had piously asserted. But, on the other band, they were not "Germans of the dreadful sort." Their father had belonged to a type that was more prominent in Germany fifty years ago than now. He was not the aggressive German, so dear to the English journalist, nor the domestic German, so dear to the English wit. If one classed him at all it would be as the countryman of Hegel and Kant, as the idealist, inclined to be dreamy, whose Imperialism was the Imperialism of the air. (4.9)
It turns out that the Schlegels are neither here nor there when it comes to nationality (though for a while in the middle of the novel they are divided, with Margaret coming out all English, and Helen on Germany's side). We also see that even if we try to class them as German, it's not exactly the kind of politicized German we imagine; rather they, like their idealistic father, are English by birth and Romantic by philosophy.
"Someone's got to go," he said simply. "England will never keep her trade overseas unless she is prepared to make sacrifices. Unless we get firm in West Africa, Ger--untold complications may follow." (15.13)
Mr. Wilcox is obviously thinking of the conflict between England and Germany that's almost to a boiling point – but, sensitive to the Schlegels' dual nationalities, refrains from coming out and saying it.
"One is certain of nothing but the truth of one's own emotions."
The remark fell damply on the conversation. But Helen slipped her arm round her cousin, somehow liking her the better for making it. It was not an original remark, nor had Frieda appropriated it passionately, for she had a patriotic rather than a philosophic mind. Yet it betrayed that interest in the universal which the average Teuton possesses and the average Englishman does not. It was, however illogically, the good, the beautiful, the true, as opposed to the respectable, the pretty, the adequate. It was a landscape of Böcklin's beside a landscape of Leader's, strident and ill-considered, but quivering into supernatural life. It sharpened idealism, stirred the soul. (19.8-9)
Again, we see the difference between Germans and the English, as the narrator would have us believe – Germans are somehow more interested in the passions in a way that the English are not. This might explain why Helen, the more spiritually German of the two Schlegel sisters, is more idealistic and led by her emotions.
"If Wilcoxes hadn't worked and died in England for thousands of years, you and I couldn't sit here without having our throats cut. There would be no trains, no ships to carry us literary people about in, no fields even. Just savagery. No--perhaps not even that. Without their spirit life might never have moved out of protoplasm. More and more do I refuse to draw my income and sneer at those who guarantee it." (19.30)
Margaret's vision of Englishness is tied up in her understanding of the Wilcoxes – to her, they are the kind of hard-working people that England is founded on, and she refuses to think poorly of them, since they enable people like Helen and herself to live the lives they're accustomed to. Helen, on the other hand, doesn't think that this should excuse them for their flaws.
The sense of flux which had haunted her all the year disappeared for a time. She forgot the luggage and the motor-cars, and the hurrying men who know so much and connect so little. She recaptured the sense of space, which is the basis of all earthly beauty, and, starting from Howards End, she attempted to realize England. She failed--visions do not come when we try, though they may come through trying. But an unexpected love of the island awoke in her, connecting on this side with the joys of the flesh, on that with the inconceivable. Helen and her father had known this love, poor Leonard Bast was groping after it, but it had been hidden from Margaret till this afternoon. (24.6)
It's only at Howards End that Margaret discovers a true, deep love for England – as she thinks, a "realization" of it that others have already felt. There's something about being in that place that puts her in touch more directly with her country, in a way that she's never felt before.
Here men had been up since dawn. Their hours were ruled, not by a London office, but by the movements of the crops and the sun. That they were men of the finest type only the sentimentalist can declare. But they kept to the life of daylight. They are England's hope. Clumsily they carry forward the torch of the sun, until such time as the nation sees fit to take it up. Half clodhopper, half board-school prig, they can still throw back to a nobler stock, and breed yeomen. (41.29)
The narrator's rather curious notion of Englishness emerges most clearly here, where he defines "England's hope" as the people of the countryside, who are still connected to the land and its spirit in a way that London businessmen never will be.