Howards End Summary and Analysis

Chapters 8-11

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Summary

On the day that Helen and Frieda are departing for Germany, Mrs. Wilcox calls on the Schlegels, who are not there to receive her. Helen seems unaffected by the situation, but Margaret sends Mrs. Wilcox a note suggesting that it would be better that they not maintain a friendship, as she wants to avoid any potential awkwardness between Helen and Paul. Mrs. Wilcox's response indicates that Margaret's letter offended her, for the only reason that she initiated contact was to inform her that Paul had departed for Nigeria.

Margaret is mortified and immediately pays Mrs. Wilcox a visit in order to make amends. After words of apology, they are able to put the misunderstanding behind them, and Mrs. Wilcox asks Margaret to keep her company for a while, as she is spending the day resting. Margaret is happy to stay, and Mrs. Wilcox tells her of developments in her family. Charles has married a woman named Dolly Fussell and they will be living in Hilton at a house near Howards End. Mr. Wilcox and the youngest Wilcox child, Evie, are driving through the countryside for pleasure. Thus, Mrs. Wilcox is staying in London alone. Margaret's interest is peaked when the conversation moves to Howards End.

Mrs. Wilcox reveals that she was born there and that she finds it far superior to the city life that London offers. She has a true connection to the land and to the history of the area, as she relates to Margaret the legend that pigs' teeth stuck into the wych-elm have given the bark the power to cure toothaches. Margaret is delighted by the tale and is disappointed when the conversation turns back to less interesting matters. Mrs. Wilcox's description of Howards End strikes a chord in Margaret, as the older woman knows so much and is so fond of the place.

Margaret is delighted by her relationship with Mrs. Wilcox, and vice versa. They both have a genuine interest in each other - Mrs. Wilcox respects Margaret's honest eloquence, and Margaret respects Mrs. Wilcox's combination of selflessness and individuality. Margaret decides to have a lunch at Wickham Place, where she will introduce Mrs. Wilcox to some of her younger friends. The event does not go as smoothly as she would have liked, however, for the guest of honor does not fit in very well. While most of the guests are interested in discussing politics and culture, and Mrs. Wilcox has little to say regarding these subjects. She admits that in her family, such discussions are rare. The lunch causes Margaret embarrassment, for she feels that she has displeased her guest. However, Mrs. Wilcox maintains that she had a fine time, and that her only regret is that she could not contribute more to the conversation. Margaret's friends are less forgiving, deciding that Mrs. Wilcox has little to offer their circle.

In the days following the lunch Margaret anxiously waits for Mrs. Wilcox to contact her again. She is relieved when she finally hears from her, and the two women plan to do Christmas shopping together. As they discuss Christmas while navigating the streets of London, Margaret reveals to Mrs. Wilcox that in a matter of two or three years, her family's lease on Wickham Place will expire. They cannot renew the lease, as the house is scheduled to be torn down in order to build flats. Mrs. Wilcox is horrified by this, for she cannot imagine having to lose her childhood home. She invites Margaret to come immediately to Howards End, sensing that she might appreciate it. To Mrs. Wilcox's surprise, Margaret suggests they wait for another day to make the visit. Mrs. Wilcox immediately grows cold and they head back to their respective homes, the liveliness between them having been lessened considerably.

After this frosty end to the shopping trip, Margaret realizes her faux pas. She understands how inappropriate it was for her to turn down Mrs. Wilcox's kind offer, and she immediately goes to the Wilcox house in order to make amends. She is informed by a maid that Mrs. Wilcox has left, thus she makes her way to Kings Cross station, where Mrs. Wilcox is waiting for a train to Hilton. Margaret says that she will join her, and they plan to spend the night there in order to enjoy the morning that Howards End offers. However, before they can depart, Evie and Mr. Wilcox appear, having just returned from their motoring trip. Mrs. Wilcox was not expecting them so early, but they explain that they had some car trouble. She defers to her family without hesitation, telling Margaret that they will have to postpone the trip after all.

The two women never do make it to Howards End together, for Mrs. Wilcox's health declines and she passes away. Having kept her illness quiet, her family is incredibly saddened by their matriarch's untimely death. She is buried near Howards End, and residents of Hilton observe her funeral. After her burial, Mr. Wilcox sits upstairs refusing food or company, much to the dismay of his children and new daughter-in-law, Dolly, who feels out of place and uncomfortable, having just entered the family. Mr. Wilcox's grief turns to anger when he receives a note that Mrs. Wilcox wrote on her deathbed. In the handwritten message, she asks that Howards End be given to Margaret. The Wilcoxes are both confused and outraged, suspecting Margaret of foul play, and after a family discussion of the matter, they decide to ignore her wishes, as it is impossible for them to understand the circumstances of Mrs. Wilcox's decision.

Analysis

The friendship that develops between Margaret and Mrs. Wilcox is crucial to the theme of connection. Their bond is something that others, such as Margaret's friends and the Wilcox family, cannot understand. They manage to forge a true connection despite their different ideals. Margaret's friends in London cannot comprehend what Mrs. Wilcox has to offer, for in their minds, her inability to discuss politics and culture makes her uninteresting. Meanwhile, despite her intellectual curiosity, discussing something as simple as a house delights Margaret. Margaret finds something comforting about Mrs. Wilcox, for in a time when London is changing and growing, she has remained devoted and loyal to the countryside where she was born.

As Margaret's friends are unforgiving about Mrs. Wilcox, so are the Wilcoxes unforgiving about Margaret. They cannot understand why their matriarch would have wanted Margaret to have Howards End. The note from Mrs. Wilcox's deathbed makes them feel betrayed, as they so often fall victim to the world of "telegrams and anger." The Wilcoxes project their feelings on Margaret, assuming she manipulated Mrs. Wilcox while she was ill. Their suspicion is indicative of their characters, for Helen earlier mentioned that the great flaw of the Wilcox family is their emphasis on the outer life.

It has already been established that Mrs. Wilcox is different from the rest of her family. As Cyrus Hoy writes in his analysis of the novel, the practicality and logic of the Wilcoxes do not apply to Mrs. Wilcox, especially when she loses herself in the country environment of Howards End. She is not, however, exactly like Margaret either. Margaret is at home in the fast-paced London life and must guide Mrs. Wilcox through the city as they go Christmas shopping. In exchange, Mrs. Wilcox wants to show Margaret her way of life by taking her out to Howards End. Margaret is not an unchanging person, for she is constantly learning as she grows older. Her friendship with Mrs. Wilcox teaches her that there is more to life than just art and literature, and that simple things can be just as satisfying. Still, there are parts of Mrs. Wilcox that conform to society's standards. As much as she loves Howards End, she is diligent in her duties as wife and mother, and as soon as she sees her family, she is willing to drop everything to tend to them.

Her untimely death leaves Margaret with an unfulfilled lesson. The women once spoke about what made a house a home. Margaret expressed her opinion that a home is created by people and discussion. Earlier in the novel, Wickham Place was described as being feminine due to its character. For Margaret, a home is not about physical structure, for any building can acquire the necessary spirit when the right things or people are in it. Therefore, she seems to think that it is of little consequence that their house will eventually be torn down and that they will need to find another one.

On the other hand, Mrs. Wilcox sees the importance of a house as a physical entity. She is horrified that the Schlegels will lose the place in which they grew up, and she is further upset that Margaret does not seem to care. When she mandates that Howards End be given to Margaret, then, she is not, as her family supposes, simply handing off a piece of property with monetary value. Rather, she is passing on an ideal that she hopes Margaret can understand and appreciate. The Wilcoxes' decision to keep this from Margaret means that she will have to find another way to come to understand Mrs. Wilcox's wisdom.