Howards End

Howards End Summary and Analysis of Chapters 12-15


As luck would have it for the Wilcox family, Mrs. Wilcox never informed Margaret that she was to have Howards End. Even after her friend's death, Margaret continues to be involved with the Wilcoxes. In spite of their seriousness and practicality, she recognizes the importance of embracing different kinds of people, for she realizes that because of men like the Wilcoxes, England has flourished. As she thinks about Mrs. Wilcox's life and death, she feels more optimistic about people and life, for Mrs. Wilcox lived a wonderfully balanced existence.

Several weeks later, Helen returns from Germany, putting the three siblings together again. Tibby is looking to study at Oxford, which he finds remarkable not for the people but for the location. In conversation with her siblings, Margaret mentions that Charles Wilcox recently contacted her to inquire as to whether Mrs. Wilcox had mentioned anything about bequeathing something to her upon her death. Margaret replies that this was not the case, but they give her a small trinket anyway. Margaret sees this gesture as considerate and polite, completely unaware of the reason for the gift. It is evident that the Wilcoxes feel some guilt about disobeying the orders of the deceased.

Two years have passed, and the Schlegels are continuing on as usual, although some things have changed. Their world is becoming more and more urbanized, and the day finally comes when the expiration of their lease on Wickham Place is imminent. Margaret must spend a good deal of time house hunting, and she discusses this with Tibby, who is home on vacation from his studies at Oxford. During this conversation she reminds her brother of the importance of working, or at least seeming to work, in order to keep busy. Tibby is evolving into an interesting character, showing true Schlegel traits such as the refusal to conform to the typical expectations of society.

Helen enters in the midst of Margaret and Tibby's discussion with baffling news. She has just received a female caller who was seeking her husband at Wickham Place. The woman, reports Helen, seemed very suspicious and was called Mrs. Lanoline, although Helen is not exactly sure if she properly heard her name. In fact, the woman is Jacky, Leonard Bast's wife, but the Schlegels do not yet know this and are mystified by the situation. It is highly bizarre that an unknown woman would come to them seeking her husband.

The next day, Leonard Bast comes to call on the Schlegels. As it has been several years since the incident involving Helen and his umbrella, the Schlegels do not recall who he is. Leonard reminds them of their meeting and of receiving Margaret's card, although they admit that they go to music concerts so often that they have a hard time remembering each specific instance. Leonard explains that he was influenced by his reading to take a long walk out of the city in order to see the dawn. Because he was gone for so long, Jacky grew suspicious, found Margaret's card and assumed that he would be at Wickham Place.

The Schlegel sisters are far more interested in Leonard's poetic evening than in Jacky's reasons for coming. Helen is especially enraptured. Leonard keeps alluding to literature in describing his reasons for wanting to walk all night, but the girls are more interested in his personal motivation. He describes how when he finally saw the dawn, it was much less than he expected, and Helen agrees with him wholeheartedly on this point. Their conversation is cut short when the Schlegels must go to dinner, but the encounter is so pleasant that Leonard does not want to meet them again. He feels that no subsequent meeting could ever compare to this one, thus he does not want to spoil it. As he walks home, he remembers the ladies fondly. It was delightful for him to be able to talk to them about his experience, for he finds it very difficult to explain such things to Jacky.

Seeing Leonard Bast again impacts the Schlegel sisters as well. They cannot help but to bring him up with their friends. At one gathering, a discussion occurs regarding how a theoretical inheritance might best be distributed. They agree on the need to benefit the less fortunate, and as they consider people like Leonard, they end up referring to him as "Mr. Bast." Some members of the party think that Mr. Bast should be given the opportunity to be cultured through exposure to experiences that he may not otherwise be able to afford. Margaret, however, believes that he should be given the money so that he may choose his own experiences. This way he will be able to figure out his life for himself without having somebody else's ideals imposed upon him.

On the way home from this gathering, the Schlegel sisters encounter Mr. Wilcox, who has become much more financially successful since his wife's death, acquiring property all over England. Leonard Bast continues to be a presence in the ladies' thoughts, and they bring him up in conversation with Mr. Wilcox. He inquires as to how this Mr. Bast is employed, and upon hearing that he works at an insurance company known as Porphyrion, he informs the sisters that the company is about to crash and that he should get out while he is ahead. It will be easier for him to find another job while he is employed rather than to wait until he is unemployed. It is also in this conversation that Mr. Wilcox informs the Schlegels that he has rented out Howards End because it does not suit his family's purposes. Once they bid Mr. Wilcox farewell, Margaret and Helen resolve to invite Leonard over once again in order to inform him of his company's situation.


Even after Mrs. Wilcox's death, Margaret continues to feel the impact of both her and the rest of the Wilcox family. Margaret proves to be quite different from her siblings; something of a midpoint between them and the remaining Wilcoxes. She cherishes Helen and Tibby, who are flighty and idealistic, but also values the sensibility of the Wilcoxes. In a letter to Helen, who is still abroad at the time of Mrs. Wilcox's death, Margaret advises her sister to find pleasure in the "seen" rather than dwelling solely on the "unseen." This can be interpreted to mean that the daily aspects of life must not be completely dismissed, for it is important to enjoy one's current life rather than to constantly be waiting for a more romantic and abstract world. This advice is certainly motivated by Mrs. Wilcox, for Margaret realizes that she was able to find pleasure in the simple aspects of life.

Mrs. Wilcox's intentions for Howards End, although dismissed by her family, are still a looming presence in the novel. While the Wilcoxes demonstrate guilt about having ignored her wishes by sending Margaret a small piece of silver from Mrs. Wilcox's collection, they still seem to think that they have done the right thing. Margaret is trusting and grateful towards the Wilcoxes for the gift, even though they apparently do not trust her. The imminent expiration of the lease on Wickham Place, partnered with Mr. Wilcox's admission that the Wilcoxes do not even have use for Howards End, furthers the irony of the situation. For the Wilcoxes, the house represents more than just a home. For the Schlegels, the imminent loss of their home forces them to realize what it means to them, and that perhaps a house consists of more than just the people inside of it. As the narrator discusses the changes are occurring in London, such as the construction of more and more flats, Howards End increasingly seems like a more pleasant and feasible alternative.

The second appearance of Leonard Bast forces the Schlegels to recognize another group or social stratum of people in the world, and this is something that they dwell on. Jacky's appearance inspires feelings of discomfort, for she is likened to having risen out of the abyss of poverty. When Leonard was first introduced, his largest fear was falling into the abyss of poverty and ignorance. Leonard is still trying to become cultured and wise, and he seems to be coming closer to this goal. As he leaves Wickham Place the second time around, he is pleased with the encounter, a sharp contrast to the bitter thoughts he felt when leaving the first time with his tattered umbrella.

The way that the Schlegels discuss Leonard at dinner parties would certainly embarrass him, for he would much prefer to be an equal in their eyes rather than a charity case. Margaret's suggestion that the less fortunate should receive money instead of the opportunity to become cultured is interesting in light of Leonard's character. She believes that a man should be able to assume his own ideals. One must wonder, however, if Leonard's ideal of attaining culture is really his own or is just something that he thinks will save him from the looming abyss. There is something forced and unnatural about his constant references to literature and art, almost as though he is trying to prove his worth in the refined world of the Schlegels. Like Mrs. Wilcox, he is becoming a constant presence in the minds of the Schlegels. They are a family that cannot ignore people once they have entered their lives.

Margaret mentions that the more people she comes to know, the more she feels she will end up caring about a place. A central theme of Howards End is that people and life are always moving, much like the constant ebb and flow of a tide. It is the unpredictable nature of life that makes it safest to rely on a place or home that is sturdy and firm. Especially in an atmosphere of English nationalism, ties to the land are quite important, the most blatant symbol of which is the enormous wych-elm at Howards End. A popular critical interpretation of Howards End is that the house is a symbol for the world, or perhaps England, and the Schlegels are the Wilcoxes are representative of the opposing forces who are laying claim to it. There is validity to this interpretation on several levels, given both the political situation from 1910 on, and the changing ideals that accompany industrialization, urbanization, and capitalism.