Howards End

Howards End Summary and Analysis of Chapters 20-24


With Helen having made her peace with Margaret's potential engagement as much possible, Margaret accepts Mr. Wilcox's proposal. Mr. Wilcox arrives at Swanage to give Margaret an engagement ring. In the evening, the couple decided to take a walk together. Margaret is interested in discussing how their feelings for each other evolved, but Mr. Wilcox prefers to talk business. He informs Margaret that almost all of his earthly possessions must end up in the hands of his children, and she wholeheartedly supports this choice. Once again, Margaret proves quite frank in discussing finances, and discloses her income without hesitation. Throughout the walk, a group of boys mocks the couple, and Mr. Wilcox expresses his annoyance that such disrespectful people are given the right to vote.

The conversation leads to the issue of where they should live once married. Mr. Wilcox has numerous properties, and thinks of residences in terms of business and logic. Thus, the matter of where to live is an issue of practicality for him, whereas for Margaret it would ideally be about the best emotional fit. Still, she is determined to be as agreeable and open as possible. At the end of their discussion, Mr. Wilcox insists on walking her home. She is used to taking care of herself, and therefore initially objects, but realizes she cannot decline his offer. As he leaves her at the door, he very suddenly rushes in and kisses her before leaving. Margaret is taken aback by his hurriedness, and recalls Helen's description of the aftermath of her kiss with Paul Wilcox.

Meanwhile, the Wilcox children are proving to be very judgmental about the union. Charles is especially suspicious of the Schlegels. He blames Dolly for having made it possible for his sister to become attracted to Percy Cahill. He insists that if that had not happened, Evie would have continued to be a companion for Mr. Wilcox and his engagement to Margaret would never have happened. Charles resolves to keep a close eye on the Schlegels so that they cannot jeopardize his future. He assumes that Margaret has spent her life trying to get Howards End for herself and that this is just another attempt.

The day after their kiss, Mr. Wilcox and Margaret again spend time together. Margaret has told herself that she must try to help him connect his prose with his passion, for she thinks it will make all the difference for him. His stubbornness guarantees that such a feat will prove challenging, for he is more interested in concentrating on the present than in examining the big picture of life. While Margaret recognizes Mr. Wilcox's faults, it is her goal to try to get him to meet her somewhere in the middle.

It comes up in conversation that Helen has heard from Leonard Bast. He took Mr. Wilcox's advice, delivered through the Schlegel sisters, and accepted a position at another company, although his new job pays him considerably less. Now, however, Mr. Wilcox claims that Porphyrion is not such a bad company after all, for they managed to scrape by and avoid bankruptcy. Ironically, there was no reason for Leonard to clear out. The Schlegels, namely Helen, are horrified that Leonard left his job and suffered a salary cut for no reason and feel incredibly guilty. Helen is furious at Mr. Wilcox, yet he maintains that it is useless to dwell on the poor. Helen is horrified by his outlook.

Margaret cuts short her visit at Swanage, for Mr. Wilcox has decided to take her to Howards End. The tenant has gone abroad, and he is eager to show her the house and see Charles and his family. Margaret is initially hesitant about going, as her time at Swanage is an annual tradition. Before departing, she has an honest discussion with Helen, as it is important to her that they part on good terms. Margaret accepts her sister's dislike of her intended, but asks that she be nice to him. Helen agrees and tells her sister not to worry. They will always love each other despite their different life choices.

Margaret goes to meet Mr. Wilcox and Charles at the office so that they can go up to Hilton. Mr. Wilcox takes Margaret to Howards End. He realizes once they arrive at the house that he has forgotten the key. He leaves Margaret alone on the property while he goes to retrieve it. Margaret soon finds that the house is actually open, and she ventures inside. She finds it enchanting despite its somewhat rough condition, and envisions people and life in the rooms and surrounding environment. Margaret thinks to herself that bigger does not mean better, especially when it comes to a house.

As Margaret is looking around, Miss Avery, a caretaker of the house, appears. She is on her way out, and tells Margaret that she almost mistook her for Mrs. Wilcox. The encounter startles Margaret, both because she did not know that anybody else was in the house and because of the comparison drawn between her and Mrs. Wilcox. While discussing the encounter later, Dolly rambles on incessantly about the history of Mrs. Wilcox's side of the family. Margaret learns that in their childhoods, Miss Avery and Mrs. Wilcox were friends. The entire experience of being at Howards End is comforting to Margaret, even though Mr. Wilcox constantly complains about the difficulty of maintaining it. When he and Margaret are looking at the wych-elm Mrs. Wilcox had said contained pigs' teeth, they find that they are actually there, even though Mr. Wilcox had earlier dismissed the notion as legend.


In some ways, the differences between Margaret and Mr. Wilcox become more pronounced upon their engagement. Margaret thinks of their relationship in terms of love whereas Mr. Wilcox thinks of it in terms of business. Their outlooks on the world are markedly different, and they handle their respective families differently. Margaret seeks her family's approval through honest conversations and consultations so that she will continue to have loving relationships with them. On the other hand, Mr. Wilcox thinks he will win his children's approval by ensuring that they will still receive a substantial inheritance from him. While Helen is worried about her sister's happiness, Charles is only worried that his father is being financially manipulated.

Margaret continues to be overwhelmed by the city of London, as it is constantly in flux. She increasingly longs for something secure beneath her feet, recalling once again the conversation that she had with Aunt Juley likening money to islands. It is starting to seem as though it takes more than money to be protected against the tide. She knows that marrying Mr. Wilcox will give her a certain degree of comfort, but she longs for him to connect his passion and prose, and expresses this desire in a passage that is the most pronounced example of the novel's epigraph. Here, Forster examines connecting the different aspects of one person rather than connecting two people or two families.

Helen and Mr. Wilcox are becoming increasingly polarized. Mr. Wilcox does not see the importance of Leonard Bast's situation, nor his responsibility in it. It does not matter to him whether the young man is making more or less money, because he sees life in terms of business, in which everything is a gamble. Helen is devastated by the situation, feeling her fair share of guilt. She expects Mr. Wilcox to admit his error and to somehow make amends. Yet, he maintains that there have been distinctions between the rich and the poor forever, and that this is nothing out of the ordinary.

Margaret is not pleased by the situation with Leonard Bast, but is on a quest for truth, resolving that the only way to find it is to explore unfamiliar things. Helen has decided that she will not settle until she finds someone who will accept her approach to life, but Margaret relishes the opportunity to discover another realm. She perceives things in terms of bettering her understanding of life, and this includes her relationship with Mr. Wilcox. However, there is a fine line between accepting differences and compromising oneself, and this is what concerns Helen.

Finally, Margaret sees Howards End. The house has been lurking in the novel for many chapters now. Finally visiting the home profoundly affects Margaret. It stirs her spirit of English rather than German nationalism, and lessens her anxiety about the fast pace of city life. Undoubtedly, she can sense Mrs. Wilcox's spirit there, and being mistaken for her makes the experience all the more powerful.