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2018/19 Group Reads - Archives > Howards End - Week 4 - Ch 31 - end

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message 1: by Robin P, Moderator (last edited Apr 19, 2019 09:48AM) (new)

Robin P | 2224 comments Mod
What do you think of the conclusion of the book? Was it predictable, shocking, unlikely?

1. We see the evolution of Henry & Margaret's marriage. In Ch 31, they seem content, since Henry thinks, "Her cleverness gave him no trouble . . as soon as he grew really serious she gave in." He blames any oddness of female "nerves". A big reason for Margaret accepting the proposal was to have a permanent home, which she tries on at Oniton and Howards End. So she is disappointed at Henry's lack of concern in that area. Why are houses so important in this book, which is even named after one?

2. Margaret's visit to Howards End in Ch 32 is mystical or surreal. Both Madge and Miss Avery seem to be on a different plane from Margaret. Miss Avery occurs as the extension of the previous Mrs. Wilcox, passing on the spiritual inheritance of the house that was mentioned earlier, but now with the Schlegel's possessions. In Ch 40, Margaret says:
I feel that you and I and Henry are only fragments of that woman's mind. She knows everything. She is everything. She is the house."
What do you think of these supernatural elements in a mostly realistic novel?

3. Were you surprised by Helen's secret? I had an inkling when Dolly remarked how many months Helen had been gone, but I couldn't figure out who the other party was. (I even suspected Henry.) We know that Helen is impulsive and inconsiderate of others, and here we see the result.

4. Toward the end of the book, Forster sometimes jumps ahead to show us a result before explaining how the characters got there. We are told at the beginning of Ch 40 that Leonard would figure in a newspaper report, but that is all. We come back and follow him in Ch 41, to an abrupt ending that is described the way he experienced it. Then we see a couple of versions of how Charles and Margaret saw the event. It reminded of a film like Rashomon, where everyone has a different story of what happened. I was actually surprised that Charles was given any sentence. With his money and background, and Leonard's total lack of it, I assumed he would get off. What do you think of the whole scene and the inquest and judgment?

4. Did you feel, like me, a bit of whiplash at the Margaret/Henry relationship at the end. She is definitely leaving him because he refused Howards End to Helen and didn't even see the societal double standard. She says he refuses to "connect". Then she finds he needs her because of Charles' arrest. At this point, it seems ironic that Howards End becomes the place of peace after all the turmoil there. Does the "happy" ending seem to fit, where everyone is getting along and Margaret gets the house after all?

5. Do you think Forster is heavy-handed in his messages about society, morality, and relationships? And what about his "only connect" message? Helen tried that with Leonard and it was a disaster in more ways than one. Also, does he seem to be siding with the old-time agrarian values of England, such as the farm workers, over the merchant-class Wilcoxes and the "modern", arty Shlegels?


message 2: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2224 comments Mod
One more thing - in the earlier section, we saw Margaret jump out of a car. Here she jumps onto a car. If she hadn't done that, Wilcox would have gone alone to confront Helen, and that wouldn't have gone well for anyone. Margaret the thinker makes some decisive physical moves in support of her values and beliefs.


message 3: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 701 comments Just finished it, and need some time to think. It was jarring to me that Forster derided sentiment at the end when he seemed so sentimental throughout about old agrarian England. Some of the ideas do seem muddled, but I did like the book much more than I was irritated or frustrated by it.


message 4: by Piyangie (new)

Piyangie | 167 comments I finished the book too. At present I'm collecting my thoughts for the review. They are a bit muddled. :) I personally feel that Forster's books are equally difficult to fully comprehend like that of Virginia Woolf's; and thus equally difficult to review.

Nevertheless, I liked the book, the themes, the symbolism and the exceptional writing. And on a deeper reflection, I did like the characters too.


message 5: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4492 comments Mod
Just finished. I was surprised that Leonard, who seemed like a minor character, became such a major character. I expected Tibby to have a larger role than he did.

So much personal growth in this book. Margaret once again becomes strong and a leader. Tibby becomes older and yet he ends up assuming it’s his right to have money and be above others socially. Helen goes from flighty to practical. Only Dolly seems unchanged by life.

I liked the fact that Henry was forced by circumstances to begin to understand things other than business and societal norms. It makes him more human to me.

This book wasn’t what I expected, but one that I enjoyed.


message 6: by Piyangie (new)

Piyangie | 167 comments Deborah wrote: "Just finished. I was surprised that Leonard, who seemed like a minor character, became such a major character. I expected Tibby to have a larger role than he did.

So much personal growth in this b..."


It is quite a surprise how much weight Leonard's character brought in to the story. Initially I had a difficult time in understanding the importance of his role. It is true that he was brought to highlight the class difference. But as I said in the previous thread, his role was also to test and strengthen the characters of Margaret, Helen and Henry.


message 7: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 701 comments Yes, and offer a different perspective on the world--the Schlegels were so isolated in their cultural milieu. I found Leonard a little more useful than convincing, though, as a human being. I kind of hated Helen for her little "slumming" episode--though she certainly paid a price for it. And Leonard surprised me with his reaction. It was notable that he really "connected," to use Margaret's term (between his actions and those of his wife), while Wilcox in a similar situation deliberately avoided connecting Helen's situation to his own behavior.

I do wish Margaret could have gotten the house without Wilcox, though a broken Wilcox was better than the original. She certainly rose above things, especially the hatefulness of the stepchildren. That struck a chord with me because I have similar stepchild hatefulness in my life and certainly do not rise above!

I was a little troubled from time to time by seeing the machinery of the story under the action; Forster's methods seemed more visible than usual and the characters sometimes seemed a little jerked around for the surprise factor. That said, I did find it a satisfying story, and I would never have been satisfied had Margaret not ended up where she did. I lust after a house that wraps itself in that kind of magic!


message 8: by Robin P, Moderator (last edited Apr 21, 2019 06:15PM) (new)

Robin P | 2224 comments Mod
Some of the critics at the time also complained that Forster's plot mechanism was too obvious and that the was too preachy about his morals. I think his worship of the country life comes from someone who never really lived and worked on a farm. The end seems to be a charming idyllic life in the perfect house where they were all destined to end up.

Margaret's rise in power and Henry's fall reminds me of Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester. She comes back to him when she is needed. It seems Henry's suffering also allows Helen to accept him and vice versa. That supports my personal view that people who judge others harshly are people who haven't suffered enough. Even when they slip up, as Henry did with Jacky, they downplay it. We are told that he conflated it in his mind with relationships he had while a bachelor. So was it real concern for Charles that brought Henry low, or was it more a concern for the family name and reputation?

Do you think the scandal of the baby can be played down by everyone saying the father is dead, implying Helen is a widow? I was quite annoyed that Helen kept calling the child Baby, as if he has no other name. You could say he's actually not a child, but a plot device.

In spite of these quibbles, I found this book very interesting and I thought it gave more scope for discussion than some of our other recent reads.


message 9: by Lori, Moderator (new)

Lori Goshert (lori_laleh) | 1400 comments Mod
I stayed up late finishing the book. Helen's pregnancy was a huge surprise to me, as well as the fact that she'd been intimate with Mr. Bast.

Margaret finally stood up for what was right, and I'm glad she did. Given that Mr. Wilcox was made to show her some respect, the ending satisfied me. Helen (sleeping with a married man?), Mr. Bast (sleeping with Helen and then barging into a strange house without warning), and Charles all acted irresponsibly, ending with Mr. Bast dead and Charles in jail. The sword was mentioned a couple of times, so I figured it would be used (was it Chekhov who said not to mention a gun unless it would go off?).

Forster also showed that Mr. Bast was a better man than Mr. Wilcox. Unlike Henry, Leonard felt badly about what he had done (maybe too badly, as he probably would have died soon even without Charles) and wanted to make things right, though he didn't know what he could do.

I don't envy Margaret and Helen their position with Henry's children. They must hate them even more with Charles being in jail.

Helen said she would have a child in June, so I at first thought the father was someone she had met in Germany, since Evie's wedding had been in August and Helen had left right after. I had some strange notion that Forster was showing Margaret and Helen as two halves of the same person, since this would have happened around the same time Margaret consummated her marriage (again, I didn't suspect Mr. Bast at first because Helen said "June"), and Helen was to have a child and Margaret wasn't (I'm glad Margaret didn't have any children, by the way). And they both seemed whole again when they met in Howards End and started talking.


message 10: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 701 comments Good point about the talking, Lori! A lot of this book seems to be about connecting versus talking past one another.

I finally got down a few thoughts--review here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 11: by Linda (new)

Linda | 230 comments I just finished and I did not expect all the surprises in this last section! Helen’s pregnancy, Leonard’s death, Charles’ imprisonment, and the most of all the ending where Margaret, Helen and Henry are living all together “happily ever after” at Howards End. Robin put it perfectly when she asked about getting whiplash over Margaret and Henry’s relationship status at the end, what a 180 that was.

I’m not sure how I quite feel about the ending yet, at least in regard to Henry also living at Howards End with the sisters. I guess I was expecting the sisters to wind up there alone at the end of the book. But maybe that would have been too pat of an ending. With the ending as it is, it does make Henry more “human”, and that can only be a good thing.

I was also surprised that the revelation over Mrs Wilcox leaving Margaret Howards End didn’t come out earlier, and without more of a fuss. I thought it comical how Dolly just let it slip out like that, not realizing anything at all.

Lori, I’ll have to remember that quote about mentioning a gun in a book from now on. :) I did wonder at the mention of the sword, and especially describing that it had been hung without its scabbard. But when the chaotic scene occurred, I puzzled at the mention of “a stick, very bright”, until the scene was spelled out more clearly later on.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and was constantly surprised by all the surprises that it handed out. I’m also glad that I read it with this group because I appreciated everyone’s comments regarding the various themes that were touched upon, which gave me more to think about while reading.


message 12: by Bill (new)

Bill Kupersmith | 175 comments It was disquieting to read this Edwardian classic again after a lapse of over fifty years. Incidents I had remembered so vividly turned out to have happened differently (I was so sure Mr Wilcox had told Leonard Bast to leave the Porphyrian directly, not Helen's passing his remark along) and that the final scene was Charles killing Bast. I felt it is still an excellent anatomy of social class on the eve of the First World War. I also felt the characters were less like real people than cultural projections. The Schlegels perfectly exemplify Mathew Arnold's Hellenes, the Wilcox's the Philistines, and Leonard Bast desperately trying to transform himself into a Hellene but dragged down into the Populace by Jacky - a wonderfully vulgar creation. It also reinforced my belief that Forster burned out early as a novelist because he was morally and spiritually a very shallow person, though very well intentioned and high-minded.


message 13: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 128 comments Bill wrote: "It was disquieting to read this Edwardian classic again after a lapse of over fifty years. Incidents I had remembered so vividly turned out to have happened differently (I was so sure Mr Wilcox had..."

I’m very curious to know why you view Forster as a morally and spiritually shallow person. Are there any examples you can point out in this book that represent that? I hadn’t really considered the novel from that perspective!


message 14: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 128 comments I found an answer to the importance of houses in Chapter 31 where Forster describes London’s nomadic lifestyle putting stress on personal relationships (as we’ve seen escalate since this book was written.) Houses help keep us grounded and link us to our family and our past.

I was definitely taken by surprise with Helen’s pregnancy and Charles’ conviction. I thought as well that his status in society would keep him safe.

At first I was surprised by the rapid turn around in family relations at the end. But the more I thought about it, the more I decided that it was the only possible ending. The whole book Forster was stressing the importance of opposites finding a common ground. The only hopeful ending was a reconciliation where each pole balanced the other with Margaret as the guide.
So instead of choosing one class over another, I think he was trying to show an option where we can move into the future without losing our past. However, when the characters tried to do this on purpose, it was a disaster, like helping the Basts. It only seemed to work because that wasn’t really Magaret’s intent. So I’m not sure what the take away is supposed to be. That “somehow” everything will work out? Like crazy Miss Avery furnishing a house which sets an entire crisis into motion? But also sets up the resolution?

I ultimately enjoyed the book but only gave it 4 stars because, like Abigail, I found the “moral” of the story a bit muddled.


message 15: by Linda (new)

Linda | 230 comments I just realized that when I downloaded the audiobook from the library, there was an error for Part 8 (out of 10), so that one part did not download and therefore I didn't listen to it! I'm not sure which chapters I missed, but I do remember thinking at one point that I felt like I missed something. Now I know why! :(


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