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Howard's End

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Howard's End

For the film based on the novel, see Howards End (film).
Howards End
1954 Vintage books edition
Author E. M. Forster
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Novel
Publisher Edward Arnold (London)
Publication date 1910
Media type Print Hardback
Pages 343 pp.

Howards End is a novel by E. M. Forster, first published in 1910, about social and familial relations in turn-of-the-century England.

Howards End is considered by some to be Forster's masterpiece.[1] In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Howards End 38th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.

Plot summary

The story centers around three families in England at the beginning of the 20th century: the Wilcoxes, rich capitalists with a fortune made in the Colonies; the half-German Schlegel siblings (Margaret, Tibby, and Helen), who have much in common with the real-life Bloomsbury Group; and the Basts, a struggling couple in the lower-middle class. The Schlegel sisters try to help the poor Basts and try to make the Wilcoxes less prejudiced.

The Schlegels frequently encounter the Wilcoxes. The youngest, Helen, is for a short period intensely attracted to the younger Wilcox brother, Paul; each rejects the other for his or her own reasons. The eldest, Margaret, becomes friends with Paul's mother, Ruth Wilcox. Ruth's most prized personal possession is her family house at Howards End. She wishes that Margaret could live there, as she feels that it might be in good hands with her. Ruth's own husband and children do not value the house and its rich history, because such abstractions, while being very dear to Margaret, are lost to them. As Ruth is terminally ill, and Margaret and her family are about to be evicted from their London home by a developer, Ruth bequeaths the cottage to Margaret in a handwritten note delivered to her husband from the nursing home where she has died, causing great consternation among the Wilcoxes. Mrs Wilcox's widowed husband, Henry, and his children burn the note without telling Margaret about her inheritance. However, over the course of several years, Margaret becomes friends with Henry Wilcox and eventually marries him. The more free-spirited Margaret tries to get Henry to open up more, to little effect. Henry's elder son Charles and his wife try to keep Margaret from taking possession of Howards End.

Gradually, Margaret becomes aware of Henry's dismissive attitude towards the lower classes. On Henry's advice, Helen tells Leonard Bast to quit his respectable job as a clerk at an insurance company, because the company stands outside a protective group of companies and thus is vulnerable to failure. A few weeks later, Henry carelessly reverses his opinion, having entirely forgotten about Bast, but it is too late, and Bast has lost his tenuous hold on financial solvency.

Bast lives with a troubled, "fallen" woman for whom he feels responsible and whom he eventually marries. Helen continues to try to help young Leonard Bast (perhaps in part out of guilt about having intervened in his life to begin with, as Leonard had not wanted it and Henry had explicitly stated beforehand that he advised no one) but it all goes terribly wrong. When Margaret brings the Basts to a garden party, Henry recognizes Bast's wife as his former mistress, and refuses to help them. He later tells Margaret that ten years previously, he had an adulterous affair with Bast's wife in Cyprus, but he had then carelessly abandoned her, an expatriate English girl on foreign soil with no way to return home. Margaret confronts Henry about his ill-treatment of the woman, and he is ashamed of the affair but unrepentant about his harsh treatment of her.

The Schlegel sisters drift apart somewhat, because of Margaret's impending marriage into the Wilcoxes and their treatment of the Basts. In a moment of pity for the poor, doomed Bast, Helen has an affair with him. Finding herself pregnant, she leaves England to travel through Germany to conceal her condition, but eventually returns to England when she receives news of her Aunt Juley's illness. She refuses a face-to-face meeting with Margaret in an effort to hide her pregnancy but is fooled by Margaret – acting on the advice of Henry – into a meeting at Howards End. Henry and Margaret plan an intervention with a doctor, thinking Helen's evasive behaviour is a sign of mental illness. When they come upon Helen at Howards End, they also discover the pregnancy.

Margaret tries in vain to convince Henry that if he can countenance his own affair, he should forgive Helen hers. Mr. Bast arrives having been tormented by the affair, and wishing to speak with Margaret. He is not aware of Helen's presence. Henry's son, Charles, attacks Bast for the dishonor he has brought to Helen, and accidentally kills him. As Charles strikes him with the flat edge of a sword, Leonard grabs onto a bookcase, which falls on top of him, and his weak heart gives out.

Charles is charged with manslaughter and sent to jail for three years. The ensuing scandal and shock cause Henry to re-evaluate his life and he begins to connect with others. He bequeaths Howards End to Margaret, who states that it will go to her nephew – Helen's son by Bast – when she dies. Helen reconciles with her sister and Henry and decides to raise her child at Howards End. Margaret is usually viewed as the heroine of the story because, in staying married to Henry despite the scandal, she acts as a uniting force, bringing all the characters peaceably together at Howards End. Henry is sometimes viewed as a hero because he triumphs over his inability to connect with the situations of others. In the end, the open-minded intellectuality of the Schlegels is reconciled or balanced with the practical economy of the Wilcoxes, each learning lessons from the other.

Film, TV, or theatrical adaptations

A television adaptation of the novel was broadcast in 1970 with Leo Genn, Sarah-Jane Gwillim, and Glenda Jackson.

The 1992 film version starred Emma Thompson, Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter, Anthony Hopkins, and Samuel West. Thompson won an Academy Award for her performance.

Zadie Smith's On Beauty is a modern retelling of and homage to Howards End.


Forster based his description of Howards End on a house at Rooks Nest in TL244267. Since Forster's childhood, Stevenage has expanded beyond the house, now encompassing it.

Wickham Place, the London home of the Schlegel sisters demolished to make way for a block of flats, did not have a direct real-world counter-part. However, Forster's conception of it owed a great deal to 1, All Souls Place, where the sisters of Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson lived.[4]


External links

  • Howards End at Project Gutenberg
  • Study guide with plot summary, analysis and background
  • Free online notes, analysis and study questions
  • A hypertextual, self-referential, complete edition of Howard's End

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