Howards End – Chapters 23-26

Summary

Margaret and Helen discuss Margarets
engagement to Henry; Helen admits that she
does not like him, but promises to try to be civil to
him. Margaret travels with Henry to Hilton, where
they dine with Charles and Dolly, then take
an excursion to Howards End. When they arrive, they
realize that they have forgotten the key, and
Margaret is left alone on the porch in a driving rain
while Henry goes back to get it. She tries the door
and discovers that it is unlocked; it is the first
time she has ever been to Howards End, and as she
looks through the empty house she thinks that it,
like the giant wych-elm in the yard, is like England.
It is so English that neither Henry nor her artistic
friends would be able to understand it. As she opens
the door to the stairs, she is startled to find an
old woman coming down them: It is Miss Avery, a
local spinster who says that Margaret frightened
her. She thought that Margaret was Mrs. Wilcoxs
ghost.

Evie is annoyed and a little petulant about her
fathers engagement, and moves her own wedding up to
August to distract herself. Margaret travels with
Henry and some Wilcox family friends out to Oniton,
where the Wilcoxes have recently rented an ancient
estate (which Henry is already anxious to liquidate).
A train trip is followed by a car trip; suddenly
Margarets car stops, and the men unload all the
women and force them into the second car. Margaret
demands to know what is happening, and learns that
their car has hit a dog. Margaret demands to be let
out so that she can return to the scene, but
Charles patronizingly refuses to stop–it is
nothing that a woman should see, he says. Furious,
Margaret jumps out of the car, injuring her left hand
in the process. As she approaches the scene, she
learns that the car did not hit a dog; it hit a cat.
Feeling foolish, she apologizes for jumping from the
car, and tells Henry that she has been silly, knowing
that he will chalk up her behavior to feminine
nervousness.

After Evies forgettable wedding, the bride and groom
are driven away to their honeymoon, and Margaret and
Henry return to the Oniton manor. Here, they find a
trio of scraggly looking people waiting at the porch;
Henry thinks they must be townsfolk, and Margaret
promises to see that they leave. When she
approaches, she is shocked to see Helen,
accompanied by Leonard and Jacky Bast. Helen
indignantly claims that Leonard has lost his job at
the bank and is destitute; she says that it is all
their fault, because they advised him to leave the
Porphyrion. Margaret is annoyed with Helen for
having dragged the Basts out to the country, but
agrees to speak to Henry about giving Leonard a job.
She asks him indirectly, and he agrees to speak to
Leonard. When he approaches, however, the drunken
Jacky calls him “Hen” and asks if he loves her.
Margaret is embarrassed, but Henry seems excessively
humiliated and awkward; he angrily tells Margaret
that her plan has worked, and that she is released
from their engagement. Confused, Margaret presses
the matter and discovers that 10 years ago Jacky
was Henrys mistress. Henry believes Margaret
dragged the Basts down to Oniton to expose his
secret. But Margaret is not interested in Henrys
humiliation and suspicion. This is not her tragedy,
she thinks, but Mrs. Wilcoxs.

Commentary

The main narrative event of this section, obviously,
is the revelation that Henry has had an
affair with Jacky. This not only serves
further to tangle the histories and fates of the
three main symbolic groups of the novel (the
idealistic upper-class Schlegels, the materialistic
upper-class Wilcoxes, and the destitute lower-class
Basts), it serves to introduce into the second half
of the novel a major referendum on sexual mores and
gender attitudes in early 20th century England.
Margarets plunge into a heightened consideration
of gender relations began in earnest when she became
engaged to Henry, who holds extremely
conventional views about the role of men and women.
It reaches an early climax in this section when
Margaret leaps out of the moving car in defiance of
Charles orders, determined to decide for herself
what she will do and where she will go, regardless of
the opinion of men.

The emergence of Jacky as a former lover of
Henry–and, by heavy implication, as a former prostitute
(consider also Leonards familys
scandalized response to his marriage to Jacky)–does
not assume its full symbolic significance in this
section, but will before the end of the novel.
By and large, this section is devoted mainly to
foreshadowing key events. Jackys revelation,
Helens highly agitated mental state, and Miss
Averys insistence that Margaret will soon come to
live at Howards End all predict major development to
come in the novel. Helens imbalance predicts her
coming sexual encounter with Leonard, Miss Averys
weird prophecy predicts the fact that Margaret
will soon move into Howards End, and Jackys
revelation foreshadows the eventual exposure of Henrys
hypocrisy and his collapse.

Another crucial moment in this section comes in
Chapter 24, when Margaret, “starting from Howards
End, attempted to realize England.” Howards End has
already been suggested as an important symbol for
England itself, but in this chapter, its symbolic
role in the novel becomes explicit. The question of
“Who will inherit England?” begins to revolve around
the various characters relationships to Howards End:
Margarets awakening love for the house (and her
awakening love of England), Henrys indifference to
it, and Charles and the other Wilcox childrens
strange though possessive distaste for it. Each
aspect of Howards End–its position halfway
between a rural environment and an urban environment;
its past as a farm; and its status as a former home
to Mrs. Wilcox, a character who evokes the past
of England–becomes metaphoric. Those elements
parallel the condition of the England at that time,
which was in a process of transition from a rural,
farm-based economy to an urban way of life
(symbolized by the ominous flats being constructed
all around Wickham Place).