Study Guide

Howards End Love

By E.M. Forster

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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.

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