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2019 Group Reads - Archives > Howards End - Week 2 - Ch 11-19

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message 1: by Robin P, Moderator (last edited Apr 08, 2019 02:19PM) (new)

Robin P | 2032 comments Mod
I've just realized that the name of the house has no apostrophe. I was assuming it was Howard's End. I'll go back and change the topic name!

1. This section starts with a surprise. We don't find out right away whose funeral we are attending. It turns out Mrs. Wilcox was so unsubstantial as to basically fade away with very little fuss. Then it seems as if the story is going to take a dramatic turn about the inheritance of Howards End, but that comes to nothing. The author intrudes to explain to us how this bequest could happen:

"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."

This confusion fits with something Margaret sees in Chapter 12 - "Looking back on the past 6 months, Margaret realized the chaotic nature of our daily life, and its difference from the orderly sequence that has been fabricated by historians." I wonder if Forster was also thinking of the orderly sequence fabricated by novelists. What do you think so far of the way Forster has structure this novel and moved around his characters?

2. Jacky and Leonard reappear in this section. We see the contrast between Jacky, who always remains what she is (vulgar, lower-class) and Leonard, who attempts to fit in with the Schlegels by talking about books and ideas. He also has a romantic side that leads him to walk out in the country at night. This reminds me of the Transcendentalists, who found the divine in direct experience of nature. Is any real connection between Leonard and the Schlegels possible?

3. What do you think of the discussion on how the upper classes should help the lower classes? Is it better to give cash or to provide opportunities that are intended to mold the lower-class person into something more like the middle class? We have the same questions today with some candidates recommending scrapping many social programs and just giving an allowance to those who need it - or to everyone.

4. What is the role of money in this novel? Margaret and Helen stand on their islands but they have to move and still live within their income. They try to warn Leonard about his company, after they are warned by Wilcox, and he is offended. Forster says, "Women, however tactful elsewhere, are heavy-handed here. They cannot see why we should shroud our incomes and our prospects in a veil." Maybe men associated their worth with their income more than women did at this era? Or maybe this is just Forster's view.

5. Once more Wilcox tries to disabuse the sisters of their utopian notions. He believes in "live and let live". It's not his responsibility to help others. In one sense he respects Leonard in claiming Leonard has his own life and interests, but that also conveniently lets Wilcox off the hook. Margaret, while wanting to help Leonard, also sees something else in him - "He's a real man". This is exactly the opposite of the complaint against Tibby. Why do you think Leonard is even in this book?

This section ends with a proposal totally opposed to the romantic liaison of Helen and Paul. There is no blushing and grand gestures. It seems like a great match for Margaret, who is an "old maid" with no home. Conveniently, the Wilcoxes have multiple homes. On the other hand, Margaret would make an excellent wife for a practical man. There is an age gap, but Margaret is in her 30's by this time, and it wasn't uncommon for a widower to marry a younger 2nd wife. Maybe they will even have more children?


message 2: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 562 comments Yes, and it made me so sad! My favorite character. The plot twist about the letter less of a surprise—something TV shows have trained us to expect.


message 3: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1776 comments Mod
I continue to find the conversational style of the Schlegel's quite confounding-at once seeming so scatty and yet so pointed, it is quite entertaining.

There were passages right at the beginning and right at the end of this section that I found were particularly good descriptors of people:

Was Mrs Wilcox one of those unsatisfactory people...who dangle intimacy and then withdraw it? They evoke our interests and affections...Then they withdraw. When physical passion is involved, there is a definite name for such behaviour-flirting-and if carried far enough, it is punishable by law. But no law-not public opinion, even-punishes those who coquette with friendship, though the dull ache that they inflict, the sense of misdirected effort and exhaustion, may be as intolerable. Was she one of these?

and in ch.19

"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.

It was a very subtle courtship of Mr. Wilcox's, but not so subtle that Margaret hadn't realized that it was happening, and had time to consider it and come to the realization that she did have feelings for him.

In terms of money, I suspect that everyone was in some ways aware of how much money everyone has, and who can marry whom and be able to maintain their station in life (which I think was the objection to Paul and Helen's "engagement").


message 4: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 124 comments Question 3: How to help others is such a delicate question in any age. There’s a real risk of seeming condescending. Assuming that you can have any idea what is good for another person is a bit dangerous. Many people have a much better grasp of what they truly need than a well meaning stranger. On the other hand, sometimes they don’t and can be truly helped by a gentle nudge in the right direction.

I think many books deal with this issue and give varying answers. And I believe question 5 ties directly to this one. At the moment it looks to me like Leonard is in this book to explore whether and how the lower classes can be elevated.


message 5: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4452 comments Mod
It’s interesting to note that the wealthy appear focused on prestige and what others think while the lower classes tend to focus on expanding their minds/understanding. Howard’s End was more than a house to Mrs. Wilcox. Yet to her family it’s just too small. Even though that is the case, they don’t want Margaret to have it. Margaret seems to appreciate the home sight unseen.

The book seems to question roles and responsibilities in society. Should you help others? If so how and by how much? Do you marry for love or do you marry for financial security?


message 6: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 562 comments Just finished chapter 19, and I'm curious to see how the threads come together. Margaret seems very influenced by the need to belong somewhere and to have a recognizable role to play. I can see the appeal of that for an active and restless mind: it provides a zone of privacy. You can enact the role asked of you using a small corner of yourself and the more important part of you remains untouched. But Forster seems to be warning her that the small corner may not end up being so small! And with a big personality like Mr. Wilcox, I can well and truly believe that to be true.

I have concerns about his ethics. He took away a home from Margaret at the start of this section and seems to have forgotten that he did so. Now he dangles a home before the same woman when she is about to be homeless and then reveals it comes at a price--accepting him! He is being every bit as arrogant about messing with her life as she and Helen are about messing with Leonard's.

That discussion about whether to help others and how to do so seems to be a central dilemma in the book. How to be conscientious in an unequal society is certainly an important question, and every bit as relevant today, even though we don't have the same markers of class and economic distinction as in the England of Forster's day.

I'm not sure it's prestige driving the wealthier characters. The Schlegels could be seen as intellectual snobs, believing their education and cultural preoccupations make them superior beings, more spiritually alive than others. The Wilcoxes seem to feel that their very position makes them inherently superior, without much in the way of attainments to justify it--though that's not exactly right either, since they value the sorts of activity that sustain the Empire. And as you mentioned, Robin, Mr. Wilcox does respect poorer working men like Leonard, though perhaps only so long as they "keep their place."


message 7: by Lori, Moderator (new)

Lori Goshert (lori_laleh) | 1280 comments Mod
Sometimes it's a bit hard to tell what Forster is saying.
When Mrs. Wilcox was shown to have a lot of "bed days," I had a sneaking suspicion that she would die soon and that Mr. Wilcox may eventually take an interest in Margaret (well, I knew from the book description that there would be a marriage, and I didn't think it would be Helen and Paul).
Helen's reaction to the news reminds me of Dorothea's sister in Middlemarch. I hope Mr. Wilcox will be a better husband than Mr. Casaubon. Though he has some level of respect for Margaret, he doesn't respect women in general. If he were alive today we'd call him a "mansplainer." Obviously there are areas of life in this case in which he knows more than Margaret, so I'm not saying he's always mansplaining here. But I found the incident with the cheese very telling, and a bit of a bad omen - when he offered her a choice, she chose one, he suggested the other, and she changed her choice.
I'm also not quite sure yet where the Basts fit in. If they're just props for the richer people to discuss or if they will have a significant role themselves in the story.


message 8: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) I like Margaret very much. She is used to independence and responsibility, and she considers things more deeply than those around her. I did not think the incidence with the cheese necessarily meant that she simply acquiesced to Mr. Wilcox demands, but that she was open-minded and open-hearted, giving Mr. Wilcox the respect and affection she would to anyone she trusted.

The whole story seems to be a confrontation with the validity of stations in life - social classes based on birth and economic means. Attitudes towards money and class and women don't seem to have changed much since Austen's day... but they are about to, WWI is going to shake this world to the ground. I think Forster is leading his time with this questioning of class and money vs. individuality and a meaningful life.


message 9: by Lori, Moderator (new)

Lori Goshert (lori_laleh) | 1280 comments Mod
I was thinking of the cheese thing more as a problem with Mr. Wilcox (and maybe a bit with Margaret, but mostly him). He offered her the choice and then contradicted her. I took it as a bad sign.


message 10: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) Lori wrote: "I was thinking of the cheese thing more as a problem with Mr. Wilcox (and maybe a bit with Margaret, but mostly him). He offered her the choice and then contradicted her. I took it as a bad sign."

Yes, definitely a control thing.


message 11: by Piyangie (new)

Piyangie | 135 comments I wasn't much surprised by Mrs. Wilcox's demise. Previous chapters indicated that she was suffering from some sort of illness.

It was interesting that she left Howards End to Margaret. To her family it is an impulsive decision of a sick woman. But in truth, as Robin has aptly quoted, Mrs. Wilcox was spiritually connected with it and was seeking a "spiritual heir".


message 12: by Piyangie (new)

Piyangie | 135 comments Margaret really grew on me in these chapters. I was really happy of the sensible, responsible and balanced woman she is becoming. Mr. Wilcox sees this too and the result is he choosing her for his wife. Mr. Wilcox is a practical man of wealth and Margaret is an intellectual woman of character. So it looks a good union. But at the same time one cannot overlook the assumed superior attitude of Mr. Wilcox given the position in life. How much his superior attitude and Margaret's independent mind can be accommodated is something to anticipate.


message 13: by Linda (new)

Linda | 228 comments Chapter 11 was a shock! Poor Mrs Wilcox. :( I especially felt for her when the narrator made a distinction between how Mrs Wilcox viewed the house, and how the rest of the family did - that she was on the hunt for a spiritual heir. Even though there was more than one awkward silence between Mrs. Wilcox and Margaret, Mrs. Wilcox obviously saw some qualities in Margaret that she admired. I wonder if she wished she could speak on all sorts of subjects like Margaret did when she was at the dinner party.


message 14: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 562 comments I was sad about Mrs. Wilcox too! But she retains a kind of presence in the book nonetheless.


message 15: by Linda (new)

Linda | 228 comments OK, good to know, Abigail. I was so saddened by the turn of events that I had to post my shock immediately.


message 16: by Piyangie (new)

Piyangie | 135 comments Mrs. Wilcox represented the dying old England, so it was natural for Forster to make her character die at an early stage of the book. But her presence were kept through rest of the book in a spiritual form. Her presence was felt especially at Howards End which was symbolic for England. I think the message Forster conveys through Mrs Wilcox's character is the influence the "old" England still held over the new liberal and modern England.


message 17: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) Piyangie wrote: "Mrs. Wilcox represented the dying old England, so it was natural for Forster to make her character die at an early stage of the book. But her presence were kept through rest of the book in a spirit..."

I thought of Mrs. Wilcox as more representative of Nature, and the naturalness of life as opposed to the industrial modernization of the city and suburbs and the hustle bustle of modern business. I also think Nature seems to be more feminine, whereas business and the city is more masculine.


message 18: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2032 comments Mod
Yes, she was always carrying around hay, while the rest of the family was allergic to it.


message 19: by Linda (new)

Linda | 228 comments Another surprise for me as I finished this section was the marriage proposal by Mr Wilcox to Margaret, and her enthusiasm towards it surprised me even more. As Piyangie pointed out, on one hand the couple seem like a good fit because of their ages and independence, but on the other hand I am worried for a clash between Margaret's outspoken and independent thinking and Mr Wilcox's need for asserting his superiority. When they were discussing the business of where they would live and the fact that Mr Wilcox would need to supply income to the rest of the family, he was taken aback that Margaret would come right out and ask how much money he had. When he skirted the issue and Margaret backed down, she did it with a laughing air, but I see this conversation as a red flag.

Lori - I think that your observation that Helen's reaction to Mr Wilcox's marriage proposal was similar to Celia's reaction to Causabon's proposal in Middlemarch was spot on.

Hmmm...I wonder how I completely missed the fact that Mrs Wilcox was carrying around hay....


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