Study Guide

Howards End Men and Masculinity

By E.M. Forster

Men and Masculinity

"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.