Howards End – Chapters 10-13

Summary

Margaret and Mrs. Wilcox go Christmas
shopping together, and Margaret reflects on the
muddiness and clumsiness of the Christmas holiday,
thinking that it does a poor job of reflecting “the
unseen.” In conversation, she reveals to Mrs.
Wilcox that the Schlegels will be forced to move away
from Wickham Place in two or three years. When the
lease expires, the house will be torn down and replaced
with flats. Mrs. Wilcox is appalled, and invites
Margaret to come to Howards End with her right then.
Margaret, to Mrs. Wilcoxs evident annoyance,
declines. After being dropped off at home, Margaret
regrets her decision, and hurries to the train
station. She meets Mrs. Wilcox, who is thrilled that
Margaret has changed her mind. But just then, Mr.
Wilcox and Evie arrive back from a drive in
their car, having crashed the car and taken the
train into London. Mrs. Wilcox returns with them to
their flat, leaving Margaret alone.

Not long after, Mrs. Wilcox dies, and is buried near
Howards End, in a service observed by many of the
poor local villagers. While the other Wilcoxes try
to eat breakfast, Mr. Wilcox sits in his room
remembering his wifes steady, unwavering goodness
during their 30 years of marriage. The others sit
downstairs, the Wilcox children in a repressed state
of mourning, and Charles scatterbrained wife,
Dolly, in a state of awkward boredom. As Charles
stomps about the garage, Dolly rushes out with a
shocking piece of news: Mrs. Wilcox has left Howards
End to Margaret. Charles and his father
confer, and ultimately decide that Mrs. Wilcox
cannot have meant it; they decide not to take any
action based on the flimsy, handwritten note they
were left. Charles is quite critical of Margaret,
saying that she is more German than
English, but Mr. Wilcox, though admitting that he
finds her tiresome, says that he is certain she is
honest.

Margaret, unbeknownst to the Wilcoxes, not only had
nothing to do with Mrs. Wilcoxs note, she did not
even know about it. She has grown very fond of the
Wilcoxes, and actually feels quite protective of
them. When Mr. Wilcox sends her a trinket of Mrs.
Wilcoxs, she thinks that he is very generous.
Helen returns from Stettin, having rejected a
marriage proposal, and Tibby applies for a
scholarship at Oxford.

Two years pass. Tibby enters Oxford, where he
thrives–he does not make friends, but he loves the
atmosphere. Soon, Margaret realizes that the Wickham
Place lease will expire in only nine months, and that
they will have to find a new house. She and Tibby
discuss this when he is home on holiday, and also
discuss what he plans to do with his life. She thinks
he should work, but he says that he does not want a
career. Helen runs in excitedly, saying that a
bizarre woman has just called demanding to see her
husband. This gaudily dressed creature (obviously
Jacky, having found the Schlegels card in
Leonards books) refused to believe that her
husband was not in the house. The family tries to
put the subject aside, but it lingers underneath
their conversation.

Commentary

One of the remarkable stylistic features of Forsters
novel is the way certain key images and phrases are
repeated throughout it, forming a kind of symbolic
shorthand for important thematic ideas. (If one
reads the novel over a long period of time, it is
possible to miss this repetition entirely, but if one
reads it quickly, the repeated phrases quickly begin
to stick out.) These phrases include: “the outer
world of telegrams and anger,” used by the
Schlegels to describe the pragmatic life of the
Wilcoxes; the “goblins marching across the universe”
that Helen perceives in the third and fourth
movements of Beethovens Fifth Symphony in Chapter 5,
used to describe the feeling of desolation and
meaninglessness that haunts the edges of the
intellectual life and challenges the notion that
humanity is capable of greatness; “plain question,
plain answer,” a notion used by the Wilcox men to
imply that the truth is immediate and knowable, but
rejected by Mrs. Wilcox as overly simplistic;
and the relation of “the seen” to “the unseen,” used
by both Schlegel sisters to describe the conflict
between the actual, material world and the world of
ideals and spirit.

The last concept emerges in Chapter 10 as
Margaret thinks about the conflict between the
practice of Christmas, with its materialism and its
decoration, and the spiritual meaning of Christmas.
The idea recurs throughout the novel, until Helen
finally concludes that it is only the idea of death
that makes “the unseen” relevant: If people lived
forever, life would be all money and toil, but
because people know that they must die, they are
interested in meaning. The motif of the goblins
reappears in Chapter 13
when it is used to describe the Schlegels lingering
sense of Jackys abhorrent presence, which, like a
goblin footfall, gives Margaret an idea of the abyss
of poverty and desolation from which she is separated
only by money.