Howards End – Chapters 14-17

Summary

The next day, Leonard comes to visit the
Schlegels to apologize for his wifes intrusion.
Trying to speak loftily, he first refuses to explain
why Jacky thought he was at Wickham Place.
Eventually, he drops his awkward affectations and
starts talking about how, in an attempt to get back
to nature, he walked all night and much of the next
day. Intrigued, the Schlegels think that he has
made a heroic attempt to break through the dullness
of his daily life and to connect with something
spiritually real. That night, Margaret and
Helen go to a dinner party discussion group, at
which they debate the question of allocating money
to the poor; they talk so much about Leonard that
everyone at the party begins using his name as a
kind of shorthand for the poor in general.
Afterward, they meet Mr. Wilcox, who has doubled
his fortune since Mrs. Wilcoxs death. He tells
them that he and Evie have rented Howards End to
an invalid and moved to a much larger home. When
they tell him about Leonard, he warns them that the
Porphyrion Fire Insurance Company, where Leonard is
a clerk, is an unsound operation that will crash
before Christmas. The Schlegels agree to advise
Leonard to find a new job.

They invite Leonard to tea, but the encounter is a
disaster; associating the Schlegels with an abstract
idea of wealth and romance, he blanches at
discussing business with them, and they have no
interest in listening to his ramblings about his
reading when there is such an important
consideration at stake. After Mr. Wilcox and Evie
arrive unexpectedly, Leonard loses his temper and
accuses Margaret and Helen of trying to pry into his
knowledge of the insurance company to make money for
themselves. He storms away, and the Schlegel
sisters are left to play with the Wilcoxes puppies.

As lapsing of the lease on the Schlegels Wickham Place
residence draws near, Margaret begins frantically
searching for a new house. She hopes to find one
before the siblings depart for their annual visit to
Aunt Juley, but has no success. She dines with
Mr. Wilcox, Evie, and Evies fiance, Percy Cahill,
and realizes that she and Mr. Wilcox are beginning to
be real friends. She and Tibby take him to a
faddish restaurant where all the people discuss
spiritual auras and astral planes, a display which he
tolerates with good humor. Eventually, it is time to
visit Aunt Juley at Swanage, and the Schlegels have
still not found a new house.

Commentary

The lives of the three main groups of
characters–the Schlegels, the Wilcoxes, and
Leonard–begin to intertwine in this section, with Leonards
second visit to Wickham Place and Mr. Wilcoxs
advice for the clerk to leave his job at the
Porphyrion Insurance Company. Additionally, Mr.
Wilcox and Margaret are beginning to form a
surprising friendship. In the disastrous
encounter at Wickham Place, when all three groups
share a space for the first time and Leonard loses
his temper, the belittling effect Forster ascribes
to poverty is in full view.

Leonard has no reason to suspect the Schlegels, and
certainly no reason to think that his very limited
knowledge of the insurance business could bring them
financial profit. But hard experience has taught
him to be suspicious of other people, and when his
carefully crafted idea of romance is disappointed by
the actual environment at the tea, his petty
suspicion is fueled by complex inner feelings. When
he begins screaming at Margaret, he is really angry
that his visit has not lived up to his romantic
hopes of discussing books, beauty, and poetry, but
unable to express those feelings, he accuses them of
using him for profit instead.

As the impending loss of Wickham Place begins to
loom over the Schlegels lives, the symbolic
importance of houses in this novel becomes a main
thematic concern. Roughly interpreted, houses tend
to express the ideals and positions of their
occupants, so that Wickham Place is a haven of art
and culture, while the Wilcoxes flat (and flats in
general, as the widespread construction of high-rise
apartment buildings was a new development in London
at the time the novel was written) represents the
same middle-class detachment and materialism that
the Wilcoxes themselves often represent. Howards
End, on the other hand, is a more complicated
symbol; it is the title of the novel, and is
generally understood as a symbol for all of England.
Forsters guiding idea for Howards End was a
question (as critic Lionel Trilling has expressed):
“Who shall inherit England?” At a time of enormous
social and economic change, Forster
explored the forces affecting each social
class in an effort to determine which set of values
and circumstances would prevail in England as a
whole. Remember also that one of the main concerns
of the novel, introduced with Mrs. Wilcoxs
dying wish to leave her home to Margaret, and
continued throughout in references made by Mr. Wilcox to
his will, is “Who shall inherit Howards End?”