Howards End – Chapters 18-22

Summary

Vacationing with Aunt Juley in Swanage,
Margaret receives a letter from Mr. Wilcox,
saying that he is moving to a different house and
would be willing to rent the Schlegels his old one.
He asks Margaret to come and inspect it. Margaret
has a sudden premonition that he means to propose to
her, but she dismisses the notion as silly. She
makes the trip back to London, and takes a tour of
the house with Mr. Wilcox–who, quite suddenly,
does propose. Margaret is overcome with a
surprising joy. She promises to write to him
the next day with an answer, and returns to Swanage to
talk things over with Helen.

Helen is appalled, thinking that, beneath their
veneer of competence and confidence, the Wilcox men
are made of “panic and emptiness.” But Margaret
defends Mr. Wilcox, and finally accepts his proposal.
She is determined not to lose her independence, and
thinks that love must solidify rather than transform
their friendship. Mr. Wilcox travels to Swanage at
once with the engagement ring, and he and Margaret
take a walk together by the sea. Margaret realizes
that Mr. Wilcox is afraid of emotion. His motto is
“Concentrate,” while hers is “Only connect.” He
kisses her suddenly, and she thinks that if she could
only teach him to connect his passionate subconscious
to his restrained, moralistic exterior self, she
could help him, but he is too obdurate to be helped.
When Helen tells him that she has received a letter
from Leonard, saying that on Mr. Wilcoxs
advice he has left the Porphyrion for a much
lower-paying job at a bank, Mr. Wilcox replies that the
Porphyrion is not a bad company. Helen is outraged:
Not long before, Mr. Wilcox had said that the
Porphyrion was doomed to fail. Mr. Wilcox refuses to
take responsibility for the matter, arguing that the
struggles of the poor are merely part of the “battle
of life.”

When Charles receives the note from his father
announcing the engagement, he blames Dolly: If
she had not introduced Evie to her fiance, Mr.
Wilcox would not have been lonely, and would not have
been inclined to propose to Margaret. Charles
suspects Margaret of wanting to get her hands on
Howards End, and says that he will only tolerate her
as long as she behaves herself.

Commentary

After two failed attempts to unite the Schlegels and
the Wilcoxes–and the aspects of the British upper
class that they symbolize–Forster makes a third,
climactic attempt in Chapter 18. In the first four
chapters of the novel, we saw Helens failed
romance with Paul; later, we saw Margarets
more successful, but still tentative, friendship with
Ruth Wilcox. Now, in Chapter 18, Forster
introduces the most charged attempt yet at a
connection between the cultural idealism of the
Schlegels and the pragmatic idealism of the Wilcoxes:
a marriage between Margaret and Mr. Wilcox (who
is referred to as “Henry” for the rest of the novel).

Given the different treatments they have received in
the novel so far–Margaret is a sympathetic,
appealing protagonist, and Henry a vaguely
hypocritical, somewhat pompous minor character–it
may be difficult to fathom what might attract
Margaret to a man like Henry. But throughout the
book, Margaret has shown a fundamental sympathy to
the Wilcoxes and to the “solid,” hard-working
Englishmen who make Margarets leisurely life
possible. As she says to Helen, she is tired of
enjoying her money and criticizing the men who secure
it for her. Beginning with her Christmas shopping
trip with Mrs. Wilcox, and exacerbated by her
dealings with Leonard Bast, Margaret has
developed a profound appreciation for money and all
that it represents. She is not a materialist, but
she understands that her brand of idealism could exist
without the leisure and security afforded by
money. While Helen, who is more impulsive and flighty
than Margaret, believes that poverty is somehow more
“real” than wealth, Margaret understands that poverty
only makes men suspicious and mean; men and women need
financial security in order to develop their moral,
intellectual, and spiritual selves. In this, Forster
hints at a connection between the “seen” (the material
world of money and work) and the “unseen” (the moral,
intellectual, and spiritual). Margarets attraction
to Henry, and her unexpected happiness at his
proposal, is in large part founded on her deep
appreciation for “the outer world of telegrams and
anger”–the seen, the material, the qualities
symbolized by Henry and his family.

Still, Margaret and Henry remain extremely different
people who represent extremely different ideas.
Their differences are underscored by the credos each
of them espouse in this section. Henry says that his
motto is “Concentrate.” He believes in seeing the
world “steadily,” or, as Margaret sees it, in focusing
on the particular circumstances around him and
disregarding whatever he considers to be
irrelevant. Margarets motto, which is the epigraph
quoted at the opening of the novel itself, is “Only
connect.” She believes in seeing the world “whole,” in
making connections between herself and others, between the
seen and the unseen, between the physical and the
spiritual. The difference between “Concentrating”
and “Only connecting” is the difference between
Margaret and Henry; it is the difference between the
Schlegels and the Wilcoxes, and the primary conflict
in Howards End.