The Readers Review: Literature from 1714 to 1910 discussion

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2019 Group Reads - Archives > Howards End - Week 3 - Ch 20-30

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message 1: by Robin P, Moderator (last edited Apr 15, 2019 09:56AM) (new)

Robin P | 2065 comments Mod
The action speeds up in this section, with some unexpected encounters. (We also finally learn that Tibby's name is Theobald.)

1. How do you think the marriage of Margaret and Henry Wilcox will work out? From the beginning, they are both practical, yet Margaret has romantic longings. She wants to hear about when Henry first decided to propose and he refuses to discuss it. On the other hand, when she flatly declares her income and asks his, he also refuses that discussion. Forster tells us that Margaret was in her own way, "as masterly" - a peak to Wilcox's fortress, but several times we see her give in. They also have different mottoes of life, hers being "only connect" and his being "concentration." She feels attached to people she has cared for in the past, while Wilcox is quick to drop anyone who becomes a problem. Several times we hear about the difference between how Wilcox is and how Margaret wishes him to be. What kind of future will they have?

2. It is clear by now that the main point of view of the novel (besides the narrator who still sometimes appears) is Margaret's. Occasionally we have heard from Leonard, Helen, and others but hers is the central consciousness. Do you think Forster does a good job of rendering her viewpoint? In many ways, Margaret isn't a typical woman of her time.

3. The question of how to help the poor returns, literally with a vengeance! Wilcox insists that in "the battle of life", there will always be poor people and it is not his responsibility to address it. He is possibly willing to be generous to one person to please his wife, but when the Basts' secret is revealed, both Wilcox and Margaret turn against them. Does this make her a hypocrite as Helen insists? Is Helen's "swooping" in on the Basts a positive development for them? And what do you think about Jacky's sudden revelation and the new light it sheds on Wilcox's first marriage? ( I could imagine the ethereal Mrs. Wilcox removing herself from her husband's advances once the children were born - which isn't an excuse.)

4. What do you think of the accident with the cat and everyone's reactions? Margaret is totally forceful in jumping out of the car, yet when she tells Wilcox about it, she turns into a little girl, saying "I have been so naughty" and "Your poor Meg went such a flop." Personally, I was surprised and disgusted by this. She has decided to protect Henry from the world and even from her own true feelings.

5. What about the role of houses in this novel? Margaret was very attached to her home and wrenched by leaving it. She transfers her allegiance to Howards End and then to Oniton, but it's clear that she isn't going to have a permanent home at either one. Wilcox has no such sentiment and decides for them both that a wedding at a hotel would be most efficient and, more important, better run than anything Margaret's family could host.


message 2: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 598 comments After reading through chapter 23: I have deep misgivings about Henry. He wants everything his own way and just steamrolls over anything Margaret prefers. He doesn’t treat her like a person, more like an appurtenance. He seems a thorough Victorian and she, a Modern. Clearly she is falling under the spell of Howards End, though—will that be enough for her? Will she even be allowed to live there?


message 3: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 598 comments I found the scene at the hotel, where Helen is going on about Death and "I" and Leonard was trying in his exhaustion to be nice to her, was darkly comic. Helen is becoming almost a caricature of cluelessness.

The cat episode was distinctly odd. Yes, it showed the world and the family that Margaret is trying to join, and the gulf that lies between her and them. But then no sooner does she arrive at Oniton than there's another cat mewing at her, almost as if it were the vengeful ghost of the first. Are we to see it as a warning to Margaret that she should go no further with the Wilcoxes?

And I am starting to question Margaret more and more. Clearly she just wants a home, a place to belong, but how much is she willing to compromise, to surrender, to get it? She's making a good-faith effort (she tells herself) to care for Mr. Wilcox, but it feels more like she's using him. And what's with that weird girliness she lays on in times of social stress? It's so unlike what we see of her inner self.

I recall from other Forster novels I have read that there's a strange formlessness to his writing, and some never seem to resolve into making sense. Starting to worry that this will be the case here as well.


message 4: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2065 comments Mod
Abigail, that is great! "Clueless" is an excellent word - Helen is much like the character in that movie, who is based on Jane Austen's Emma. She is sure she knows what is best for everyone else. Margaret isn't much better, except that she puts family/home first when she has to choose between her ideals and real life.


message 5: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4460 comments Mod
Abigail wrote: "I found the scene at the hotel, where Helen is going on about Death and "I" and Leonard was trying in his exhaustion to be nice to her, was darkly comic. Helen is becoming almost a caricature of cl..."

I agree about Margaret. She has to play a role and do subtle manipulation to deal with Henry. I find that very disturbing. She seemed such a strong independent woman in the beginning, yet she’s making these sacrifices.

The cat issue really was hard for me. I actually volunteer at a cat shelter. There seemed to be a disregard for the cat as a living creature. Only Margaret seemed impacted, and she was completely written off as being an emotional woman. That justified them in ignoring her,


message 6: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 598 comments Me too about the cat. I'm one of those who can watch with aplomb violence being done to a human in a movie, but never an animal. And I rather hate Forster for using such an event for storyline purposes.


message 7: by Piyangie (new)

Piyangie | 145 comments I have reservations on Margaret and Henry's marriage. They don't look compatible to me. They have strong opposing characters. However, we see Margaret being tactful and a little submissive at present with the hope of bringing Henry round. But how much of that will come about is a question for the next chapters. As at present, it seems Margaret is the one making all the sacrifice to get their relationship going.

On a much deeper note, Henry is a Victorian conventional man, and Margaret is modern. Their view on life is so different. How much these two view points can reconcile so as to work out a happy, satisfactory union is a question.


message 8: by Piyangie (new)

Piyangie | 145 comments The cat incident was really shocking. Only Margaret had the consideration to feel affected by it. However I couldn't approve of her hiding her feelings about the incident to Henry. It is as if Margaret is scared to show her true feelings to Henry and that she doesn't want to face his disapproval. This is not the Margaret we come to know. This is Margaret being too tactful and diplomatic and "faking" herself.


message 9: by Piyangie (new)

Piyangie | 145 comments I still don't understand the role of Basts in the story except perhaps for testing the characters of Margaret, Helen and Henry.

Of Henry, I'm seriously losing my good opinion of him. He is such a prig!


message 10: by Piyangie (new)

Piyangie | 145 comments I agree with Abigail. Helen is really clueless. She meddles with everyone's life (which reminded me too of Emma of Jane Austen) without truly understanding their need. I can understand her being felt responsible for Leonard's misfortune. But her action of bringing them to Wilcox house is to me much out of spite rather than with an earnest intention to help. Helen doesn't seem to realize that.


message 11: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4460 comments Mod
Piyangie wrote: "I still don't understand the role of Basts in the story except perhaps for testing the characters of Margaret, Helen and Henry.

Of Henry, I'm seriously losing my good opinion of him. He is such a..."


I think the Basts are include to show the difference between wealth and poverty - what is important to you depends upon your financial security


message 12: by Frances, Moderator (last edited Apr 19, 2019 12:22PM) (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1800 comments Mod
I thought that the entire travelling to Oniton scene was a commentary on the class system and the roles of men and women within that system. The description of the men "serving" the women and yet doing it in an entirely masterful and natural way, as they had somehow learned while at their public/boarding schools, spoke to that sense of inherent superiority/sense of duty which seems to pervade descriptions of the upper classes. During the incident of the cat, there was an immediate herding of the women out of the way of any unpleasantness, and an obvious belief that their money and their position could smooth any unpleasantness with the peasantry. (This reminded me of the scene, early in Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, in which a child is run over by an aristocrat-it is seen as a nuisance that can be sorted with a few coins.). Margaret's outrage is understandable to us, but she was probably second-guessing her own reaction after the fact when it became clear that everyone else in her set believed that she had acted foolishly and weakly.


message 13: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1800 comments Mod
Robin wrote: "And what do you think about Jacky's sudden revelation and the new light it sheds on Wilcox's first marriage? ( I could imagine the ethereal Mrs. Wilcox removing herself from her husband's advances once the children were born - which isn't an excuse.)"

I understood the affair occurred when Mr Wilcox was stationed away from home during some conflict-again, again not an excuse but perhaps more understandable as human weakness.


message 14: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 598 comments Still thinking about the cat question, not just the cat who was killed but the one who mewed up at Margaret afterward. Here's my sense of what Forster is trying to say: Margaret's reaction to the killing was instinctual, an expression of her natural self. When she subsequently abandons (or at least doubts) her natural reaction, the second cat (in its role as an emanation of the natural world) mews at her to remind her of her true self.

I usually find Forster a bit impenetrable, in the sense that it's hard to see the "why" behind a lot of the choices he makes. His stories seem to unfold without obvious art or technique, making them sometimes feel a little purposeless. The cat incident feels like one moment where his shaping hand is a little more visible to me.


message 15: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2065 comments Mod
Frances wrote: "Robin wrote: "And what do you think about Jacky's sudden revelation and the new light it sheds on Wilcox's first marriage? ( I could imagine the ethereal Mrs. Wilcox removing herself from her husba..."

I believe it was for his business that Henry traveled to Cyprus, where he met Jacky. We aren't told but it could be that he had other women throughout his marriage and thought nothing of it.


message 16: by Bonnie (last edited Apr 20, 2019 05:38AM) (new)

Bonnie | 217 comments Great work noticing that second cat, @Abigail.

The Wilcoxes' "set" did not care about the animal, the villagers' opinion, or the little girl's feelings about her pet. For the second time in the book, Charles is driving the car and refuses to stop when requested or told to by a woman, despite the supposed chivalry. Later they attribute Margaret's compassion & righteousness as "losing her nerve" or "devilry!"

Frustrating that Margaret is being so manipulative, instead of honest or logical, but we can see why she feels forced to do it.

What a scene between Margaret, Helen and the Basts!

Margaret asks for a job for Leonard, but don't even know what job to be asking for! I like how she sees that the Schlegels are spiritual, but not practical.


message 17: by Lori, Moderator (new)

Lori Goshert (lori_laleh) | 1295 comments Mod
Well Henry earned some choice expletives from me long before we found out about Jacky. So condescending, misogynistic, and despicable. I don't know what Margaret sees in him. But then, as you've all noted, she's not been acting like "herself" (in the beginning it was Helen who was in danger of losing her ideals).

The cat incidents were interesting, and I was also frustrated with Margaret for not explaining herself. Now they think she was just acting silly instead of trying to stand up for what was right.

We know what Henry was doing in Cyprus, but what would Jacky have been doing there?

Looking forward to see what happens next.


message 18: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 124 comments 1. As many of you, I’m worried that Henry and Margaret’s marriage will not run smoothly. Most troubling to me was Margaret’s belief in Love as an ideal.
“Love is the best, and the more she let herself love him, the more chance was there that he would set his soul in order.”
Like many of the ideals the Schlegels believe in, this one sounds good but isn’t always proven true by experience. Henry doesn’t seem open for any soul searching and would never consider a change necessary.

5. It seemed so sad to me that at the end of chapter 29 Margaret is in love with Oniton, unknowing that she will never see it again. The Wilcoxes do not seem capable of settling down and “putting down roots.” Whereas Margaret believes a home is the one thing that can help her remain herself while still becoming Mrs. Wilcox.


message 19: by Linda (new)

Linda | 228 comments I was also sickened by the cat, excuse me “only a cat”, scene. :( And was appalled that despite Margaret stating over and over to stop the car, that Charles refused to do so. Ugh. But then to have Margaret bow down to a behavior of what Henry might expect from a woman was even more disheartening. Yes, Margaret has changed since we first met her, and it is not for the better, in my opinion.


message 20: by Linda (new)

Linda | 228 comments Oh, and like Lori, I also wondered why Jacky was in Cypress.


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