Howards End – Chapters 27-31

Summary

Helen and Leonard discuss Henry at
their hotel, while Jacky sleeps in another room.
Helen regales him with theories about the concept of
“I”: A certain kind of person, she says, is missing
the “I” from the middle of their brains. She says that Mr. Wilcox
is such a person, perhaps the world will fall to such
people, and so on. Leonard complains that life is
all about money, and she argues that it is not, for
the idea of death forces people to arrive at an idea
of real meaning. At last, two notes arrive from
Margaret, one for each of them.

At Oniton, Margaret contemplates how to react to the
news of Henrys decade-old affair. She considers
leaving him, but is motivated by love and pity to try
to help him become a better man. She visits him in
the morning. He tells her of his encounter with
Jacky in Cyprus, where the affair occurred,
and Margaret says that she has forgiven him. She is
surprised, however, to learn that both Helen and the
Basts have left the hotel–she is worried that she
may have blundered, for she sent Helen a very
critical note about Leonard, and Leonard a terse note
saying that Henry did not have work for him.

Far from Oniton, Tibby is in his apartment at
Oxford, where he is nearing his last year.
Helen bursts in, crying and telling him all about
Margaret, Henry, and the Basts. Tibby is
detached but tolerant, and agrees to carry out
certain instructions. Helen herself cannot bear to
face Margaret, and so is taking a long trip to
Germany. She asks Tibby to give the Basts
5,000 pounds of her money, a substantial portion
of her fortune. However, Leonard refuses the
check, and by the time Helen can write to Tibby to
urge him to try again, the Basts have been evicted
from their apartment and have disappeared. Helen
reinvests her money, and becomes even richer than she
was before.

As the lease at Wickham Place nears expiration, the
house falls into a kind of desolation; the furniture
is all sent to Howards End, which Henry has
generously offered as storage space. Henry and
Margaret are married, and go to live for a time at
the Wilcoxes house in London, with the intention of
finding a bigger house soon. Time passes, and Henry
becomes happier and happier with his choice of
Margaret as a wife. She is clever, but also
submissive, and seems to understand her place as a
woman. Margaret, who understands every sacrifice she
makes for Henry, continues to be motivated partially
by pity for him; but she also begins to be less
interested in discussing societies, debate, and
theater, preferring instead to reread books and think
on her own. Now that she has passed 30, she is
passing “from words to things,” a moment in her life
when “some closing of the gates is inevitable…if
the mind itself is to become a creative power.”

Commentary

Toward the end of this section, another example
appears of the symbolic importance of houses: the
description of the house at Wickham Place falling
into desolation as its inhabitants depart. This
underscores a feature of the emergent middle-class
lifestyle adopted by the Wilcoxes and the Schlegels
that Forster consistently criticizes through his
characters: its portability. Helen continually
imagines that luggage will outlive humanity, and
Margaret mourns the impermanence of peoples
relationships with houses. Mrs. Wilcox even
suggests that it is a tragedy that someone would die
in a room different from the room in which they were
born.

Helens conversation with Leonard (which,
unbeknownst to the reader at this point, immediately
precedes their sexual encounter) offers an important
thematic insight into the question of the
relationship of the seen and the unseen, the physical
and the spiritual. Leonard complains that all of
life is merely a quest for money, and Helen argues
that it is not. She says that if people lived
forever, Leonard would be right, but the mere fact of
death forces them to seek some kind of meaning in
their lives. Because their lives will end, they are
forced to come to terms with the unseen and unknown.
This realization immediately recalls Helens previous
observation that “goblins walk across the
universe”–that life has no meaning and humanity has no
greatness. Helens realization here seems to imply
that what banishes the goblins is the idea of death:
People cannot accept the goblins, because they know
that they will die. But this fact does not
necessarily mean that the goblins are wrong; instead,
it suggests that they are psychologically unsatisfying.
As Helen realizes at the Beethoven performance, the
goblins can return at any time, and they are
ultimately unanswerable.