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2018/19 Group Reads - Archives > Howards End - Week 1 - Chapter 1-10

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message 1: by Robin P, Moderator (last edited Apr 01, 2019 01:42PM) (new)

Robin P | 2201 comments Mod
Here are some questions for the first section of the book.

1. At the very beginning, the narrator inserts himself - "One may as well begin with Helen's letters to her sister." We see him again from time to time, for instance, at the station: "Young Wilcox was pouring in petrol, starting his engine, and performing other actions with which this story has no concern." Do you think these asides have a purpose? The narrator also tells us the history of the Schlegel family.

2. What are your opinions on the characters we meet? Helen seems a typical sheltered girl, taking the first hint of attraction as true love. Margaret is the sensible one, and Aunt Juley is even more practical. Mrs. Wilcox seems ethereal and confused. Mr. Wilcox barely appears, but is condescending toward Helen and her established beliefs. Charles is imperious toward the station and merchant personnel he deals with. Paul doesn't really get described, except that he is very young and couldn't resist his chance to kiss a girl.

3. There is a discussion about what is "real life". Is it "the outer life" of the world or "personal relations" and emotions?

4. Issues of class and money come up regularly. In Ch. 5 - "To trust people is a luxury in which only the wealthy can indulge." And Leonard thinks "If only he could talk like this, he would have caught the world. Oh, to acquire culture! Oh, to pronounce foreign names correctly!"
The narrator clarifies at the beginning of Ch. 6 - "We are not concerned with the very poor. They are unthinkable . . this story deals with . . . those who are obliged to pretend they are gentlefolk" As for Leonard, "he was obliged to assert gentility, lest he slipped into the abyss where nothing counts and the statements of Democracy are inaudible." Forster says that in earlier times, everyone's place was clear, but in the time of Democracy, the myth that everyone is equal forces some to pretend to success.

In Ch. 7, Margaret says, "There's never any great risk as long as you have money." She offers the metaphor of standing on islands of income that keep them above the water, regardless of their thoughts and actions. On the other side, Leonard is trying to emulate Ruskin's writing, but Ruskin is in a Venetian gondola, while Leonard is in a dark basement flat. We also see the different reactions to the symphony of several characters. What do you think Forster is trying to tell us about class and art?


message 2: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4487 comments Mod
We see multiple sides of class, wealth/poverty, and life. Mrs. Wilcox represents the ideal woman of the day. Not interested in bettering herself intellectually, instead focused on home and family. She’s a bit of a fish out of water not only in London, but also with the younger more modern women.

As you say Margaret is the practical one. We don’t know if the practicality is her nature or has been developed since she’s been tasked with bringing up her siblings and running the household.

Helen is a naive romantic girl. In love one minute, out of love the next. I don’t feel we have enough information on her yet to really know her.

The brother seems like a hypochondriac to me, but we need to learn more of him to be sure.


message 3: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2201 comments Mod
Yes, I wondered about Tibby. Can one of our British members tell us if that is a standard nickname, for Timothy or something else? Or is it just a pet name unrelated to his actual name? He seems to have no characteristics except getting sick. The sisters complain that he isn't masculine enough, which made me wonder if Forster saw him as a closeted gay young man like himself.


message 4: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4487 comments Mod
Robin wrote: "Yes, I wondered about Tibby. Can one of our British members tell us if that is a standard nickname, for Timothy or something else? Or is it just a pet name unrelated to his actual name? He seems to..."

Yes I wondered about his sexuality too


message 5: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 124 comments I’ve included a quote below which I found on Wikipedia when I searched for the book Leonard was reading, since I knew nothing about the author or topic. It talks about class- gentleman vs labourer. Which I found surprising since it is a book about Venetian architecture. But it explains why Tibby is ill so frequently (he never has to work)- but I wouldn’t rule out that this is a hint about his sexuality either.


We want one man to be always thinking, and another to be always working, and we call one a gentleman, and the other an operative; whereas the workman ought often to be thinking, and the thinker often to be working, and both should be gentlemen, in the best sense. As it is, we make both ungentle, the one envying, the other despising, his brother; and the mass of society is made up of morbid thinkers and miserable workers. Now it is only by labour that thought can be made healthy, and only by thought that labour can be made happy, and the two cannot be separated with impunity.

— John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice vol. II: Cook and Wedderburn 10.201.



message 6: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 670 comments Great quote! I love Ruskin. And I agree that Tibby would be a lot better off if he had to work. Taking to his bed and demanding that his sister stay home to nurse him because he has hay fever? Please.

I can't find my paper copy of this book so I bought a cheap Kindle edition, and now I'm wondering if it is badly flawed. The writing style seems oddly rushed in spots with words skipped that are necessary for grammatical correctness. Can't quite figure out if it's the edition's fault or a purposeful choice by Forster.

The sisters remind me of a particular kind of modern urbanite who accepts liberal ideas without actually thinking about them. Helen's ideals are so easily surrendered to the casual words of the Wilcoxes! Really, you're going to be mean to servants because some stuck-up kid tells you that's what they expect? Has me curious about where Forster is taking this story; the title alone suggests that we're not done with the Howards End set.


message 7: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4487 comments Mod
I had an interesting conversation last evening with a friend. He had gone to dinner at a colleague’s home. There was a beautiful throw placed over an old steamer trunk. The items had actually come from Howard’s End. The real Howard’s End was own by an ex nun who married a priest. The colleague was their son.


message 8: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 124 comments Wow! What a connection!


message 9: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2201 comments Mod
About the sisters' views being superficial - it reminds me of people I knew in college who swung from right-wing to left-wing and back depending on who they were friends/partners with. It's the same age of late teenagers who thus far have accepted everything their family believed. I have the feeling that Margaret is more thoughtful and firm in her beliefs. She is also considerably older.


message 10: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4487 comments Mod
Robin wrote: "About the sisters' views being superficial - it reminds me of people I knew in college who swung from right-wing to left-wing and back depending on who they were friends/partners with. It's the sam..."

Do you think this is a young adult trying to figure out who they are? Or just people who are easily swayed?


message 11: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2201 comments Mod
I think it's a young adult who has never encountered diverse opinions. She also wants to be swayed because she sort of fell in love with the house and family even before she fell in love with Paul. So she wants to be on their "side".


message 12: by Frances, Moderator (last edited Apr 07, 2019 12:16PM) (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1868 comments Mod
I've just completed this first section, and enjoying meeting the families.

Tibby is still only 16, so too young to work. I believe he is still in school, although it sounds as if he attends somewhat sporadically. Helen around 22 or 23, Margaret 29 if memory serves, and it is quite something that Margaret apparently assumed control of the household at around the age of 13 when her mother passed away.

While I agree that Helen is very sheltered with respect to romantic relationships, the young women seemed to have lived a particularly free style of life for young women of the time, with no apparent chaperone from the time that Margaret was 18 or 19 (Is that right? I'm having trouble finding the history again). They seemed quite comfortable going out on their own and inviting a young man such as Leonard back to their home for tea.

Margaret's idea of money as a rock in a sea-that those with money may not realize the advantage they have of standing on solid ground while the less secure are floundering around trying to stay afloat-is a particularly good metaphor, I thought. It makes me wonder what Forster's own financial situation was as a young man.


message 13: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 670 comments One of the things I enjoy about British writing of this period is its indirectness, the way relationships are described through the gaps in communication. I'm thinking of the interactions between Margaret and Mrs. Wilcox, where so much seems below the surface. Keeps my mind on the stretch and reads like a mystery.


message 14: by Lori, Moderator (new)

Lori Goshert (lori_laleh) | 1369 comments Mod
Mrs. Wilcox reminds me a bit of Mrs. Ramsay from To the Lighthouse, but that book would have come later than Howard's End. Both are women who are pretty much just devoted to their families and widely admired, but rather out of touch with the people around them.

I find Margaret interesting. And I wonder how Leonard got tangled up with Jacky.


message 15: by Jenny (last edited Apr 14, 2019 07:06PM) (new)

Jenny | 57 comments Robin wrote: "Here are some questions for the first section of the book.

1. At the very beginning, the narrator inserts himself - "One may as well begin with Helen's letters to her sister." We see him again fro..."

The voice I put to the narrator is a female voice. It might be because it is kind even when critical.


For example: "He (Leonard) went to the piano and jingled out a little Grieg. He played badly and vulgarly, but the performance was not without its effect..."


Or narrating what might be considered in the feminine domain: "Their brother, finding the incident commonplace, had stolen upstairs to see whether there were scones for tea. He warmed the teapot--almost too deftly--rejected the Orange Pekoe that the parlour-maid had provided, poured in five spoonfuls of a superior blend, filled up with really boiling water, and now called to the ladies to be quick or they would lose the aroma."




message 16: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 57 comments So far I like most of the characters. Mrs. Wilcox is interesting, but I think she may be depressed. She spends a lot of time in bed and then, with a burst of energy, does all her shopping in one trip.
And I'm not sure why the first three mentions of Mrs. W. include that fact that she is holding hay.


message 17: by Jenny (last edited Apr 14, 2019 07:19PM) (new)

Jenny | 57 comments It seems that Margaret has retained much of what she learned living with her father. When the siblings and Aunt Judy discuss the possibility that young Leonard might have stolen their spoons to pay rent, Margaret says: "You remember how he (her father) would trust strangers, and if they fooled him he would say, 'It's better to be fooled than to be suspicious'--that the confidence trick is the work of man, but the want-of-confidence-trick is the work of the devil." I think they grew up in a very positive and enlightened environment. Of course the money helps too.


message 18: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 57 comments Another quotable line:
"She (Margaret) could not explain in so many words, but she felt that those who prepare for all the emergencies of life beforehand may equip themselves at the expense of joy."


message 19: by Piyangie (last edited Apr 14, 2019 11:16PM) (new)

Piyangie | 167 comments Robin wrote: "What are your opinions on the characters we meet? ..."

I like the Schlegel sisters. They are spirited and have liberal views (although Helen's don't look stable) on life. Mrs. Wilcox is quite the opposite. She doesn't have an independent mind. Her thoughts are dictated and dominated by her husband and sons. She is only truly connected to Howards End, which represents past dying generation.

As to the men, only Mr. Henry Wilcox is likable. Charles is a snob. Paul is a carefree youth and Tibby (God help him) is a child.


message 20: by Piyangie (new)

Piyangie | 167 comments I see some interesting discussion on Tibby's sexuality. Perhaps Forster's own sexual inclination might have made Tibby's character to be represented as a closeted gay young man. But I also think that as Tibby being raised in an atmosphere with complete female dominance and the lack of a male influence in his life has made him the cry baby he is at present. I'm curious to see Tibby's development through the story.


message 21: by Piyangie (new)

Piyangie | 167 comments Robin wrote: "There is a discussion about what is "real life". Is it "the outer life" of the world or "personal relations" and emotions?..."

Margaret is finally seeing the light of the consequences of their limited association. Being so engrossed in art, literature, music (culture as Forster states), political and social reforms, it seems the Schlegel family has been islolated from the "real" life which Foster says the "outer" life. This seems to me both reagarding to the personal and emotional relationships as well as wider association with the society at large.


message 22: by Piyangie (new)

Piyangie | 167 comments Frances wrote: "Margaret's idea of money as a rock in a sea-that those with money may not realize the advantage they have of standing on solid ground while the less secure are floundering around trying to stay afloat-is a particularly good metaphor, I thought. It makes me wonder what Forster's own financial situation was as a young man. ..."

From what I have learned of Forster, at some point he received with an inheritance from some relation of his which made him financially independent. I think that steadied him and allowed him to devote ample time for his writing. I'm sure all these beautiful metaphors arise from his personal experience.


message 23: by Piyangie (new)

Piyangie | 167 comments Lori wrote: "Mrs. Wilcox reminds me a bit of Mrs. Ramsay from To the Lighthouse, but that book would have come later than Howard's End. Both are women who are pretty much just devoted to their families and widely admired, but rather out of touch with the people around them. ..."

This is a very interesting observation, Lori. My next read will actually be To the Lighthouse . I'm really looking forward to learn of Mrs. Ramsey for I do like Mrs. Wilcox.


message 24: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) Piyangie wrote: "But I also think that as Tibby being raised in an atmosphere with complete female dominance and the lack of a male influence in his life has made him the cry baby he is at present. I'm curious to see Tibby's development through the story...."

And because he is the only male in the household, he is treated with special care, and spoiled, as the sisters wait on him.


message 25: by Linda (new)

Linda | 230 comments Just finished this section and I'm enjoying meeting all the characters. I had not given much thought to the narrator, only that I like his insertions, such as the quote Robin pulled in message one: "Young Wilcox was pouring in petrol, starting his engine, and performing other actions with which this story has no concern." And I supposed that the narrator was male, probably because I am listening to the audiobook read by a male. I will try to take more notice of the narrator and his purpose reading on.

Tibby - yes, what a hypochondriac! I also wondered about his sexuality, only based on the declaration that Margaret made that "ours is a female household...I mean that it was irrevocably feminine...". But I had not given it much more thought and it could also be that he is just the baby of the family and so has not asserted very much adult presence in the household yet.

I wonder at Mrs. Wilcox, her manners to me seemed to be towards the "too bored to be bothered" by intellectual conversation, almost like she is too good for all that. But, it could also simply be that her seclusion in her country house and surrounded by family and household affairs have taken up most of her time and energy. Although Jenny brings up a good point that she might be depressed, given her tiredness and then bursts of energy.

Lori - I also wondered about Leonard and how he got tangled up with Jacky! They don't seem the right fit for each other, and they have a pretty big age gap.


message 26: by Piyangie (last edited Apr 23, 2019 08:42PM) (new)

Piyangie | 167 comments Linda wrote: "Just finished this section and I'm enjoying meeting all the characters. I had not given much thought to the narrator, only that I like his insertions, such as the quote Robin pulled in message one:..."

I didn't give much thought to the narrator either, Linda. But now that you mentioned it, I have to say that I thought that narrator is female. I somehow felt a touch of femininity in the narration.


message 27: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 670 comments Maybe that's because so much of the focus is on Margaret's thoughts?

It was sometimes hard to determine whether the narrator was reporting his/her own ideas or a character's. There was one point when Mr. Wilcox was the subject and there was a sentence to the effect that a man is made for war and a woman for recreation after battle (sorry, I don't have the book at hand so I can't quote exactly). If this is Mr. Wilcox's idea, fine and dandy; but if the author's, I'm offended. I couldn't determine which from the context.


message 28: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 124 comments Abigail wrote: "Maybe that's because so much of the focus is on Margaret's thoughts?

It was sometimes hard to determine whether the narrator was reporting his/her own ideas or a character's. There was one point w..."


Yes, Abigail, there's quite a bit of narration as the book proceeds highlighting the differences between women and men. I know much of Forster's themes revolve around finding a middle ground between two extremes and this book was written early in the 20th century but I've been bothered by some of these sweeping generalizations.


message 29: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2201 comments Mod
Abigail wrote: "Maybe that's because so much of the focus is on Margaret's thoughts?

It was sometimes hard to determine whether the narrator was reporting his/her own ideas or a character's. There was one point w..."


There's a French saying, something like "La femme est le repos du guerrier" - Woman is the warrior's rest


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