Howards End – Chapters 32-36

Summary

Margaret and Henry decide to build a new home
in Sussex. One day, as Margaret looks over the
plans, Dolly appears with a strange bit of news:
Miss Avery has begun unpacking all of the
Schlegels luggage, and arranging their furniture and
possessions at Howards End. Charles, Dolly
inadvertently lets slip, suspects Margaret of
ordering her to do so as part of a covert plan to
take over Howards End. Margaret insists that she has
done no such thing, and travels to Howards End to set
Miss Avery straight. Here, the peculiar old woman
insists prophetically that Margaret will soon be
living at Howards End; she says that the house has
been empty long enough, and that Mrs. Wilcox
would like to see the Schlegels furniture there.

Aunt Juley becomes ill with pneumonia, and
Margaret and Tibby rush down to Swanage to be with
her on what seems to be her deathbed. Helen, to
Margarets chagrin, has been lived abroad for many
months, and her correspondence seems troublingly
distant. She returns to England only reluctantly,
and when Aunt Juley recovers, she declines to leave London.
She only sends a note asking Margaret where her books
are, saying that she intends to return to Bavaria at once
and would like to bring a few of her things with her. On
Tibbys advice, Margaret consults Henry about Helens
strange behavior; his practical mind can only suggest that
she is exhibiting signs of mental illness, and he
orchestrates a scheme to surprise her with a doctor
at Howards End. On his orders, Margaret writes Helen
a letter telling her when she can retrieve her books
from Howards End; then she and Henry prepare to
surprise her there.

At Hilton, Henry attempts to leave Margaret at
Charles house and go to Howards End alone, but
Margaret leaps into the car just as he drives off.
They stop to pick up a doctor, Margaret feeling
increasingly reluctant about the entire plan. At
Howards End, they find Helen on the porch. Margaret
sees immediately what has prompted Helens strange
behavior: She is pregnant. She hurries Helen into
the house, and with difficulty persuades Henry and
the doctor to leave so that she can talk to Helen
alone. Feeling as though she is fighting for women
against men, Margaret ushers them away, then goes
into the house to talk to her sister.

Commentary

This section of the novel is largely transitional, and
serves chiefly to move most of the important characters
(Leonard is the exception) into position for the
final conflict of the novel. Forster builds suspense
before the revelation of Helens pregnancy by
leading the reader to suspect that she is mad, or at
least severely mentally unbalanced. Interestingly,
the only clue we have that Helen has had a traumatic
sexual episode with Leonard is her tearfulness
when she visits Tibby the next day, and that clue
also effectively plays into the idea that she is
really mad. When Forster shows Margaret
betraying her own principles to try to help Helen by
going to Henry for advice, he sets the stage for
a crisis situation. When Margaret discovers Helens
actual condition, the crisis is replaced by a moment
of acute surprise, for the reader can hardly have
suspected the truth.

At this point, any symbolic or thematic importance
ascribed to Helens pregnancy itself is postponed;
what is important in these chapters is how Margaret
reacts to it. Margarets first concern is for her
beloved sister, and she dismisses Henry and the
doctor with an argument that the most important thing
now is simply love. She says that she loves Helen
more than they do, and therefore she is the only
person who can help her. This kind of argument is
utterly alien to Henrys rather thoughtless,
emotionally repressed character, but Margaret fights
the battle as though she were fighting for all women.
Forster implies that the unjust sexual dynamic
Margaret is forced to endure on a daily basis as a
result of her marriage—a dynamic which Margaret understands,
and endures willingly–has taken more of a toll on
her than she had expected. Now, she associates a
forceful restatement of her basic philosophy of
life–that human relations are more important than
anything else–with a forceful restatement of her
independent identity as a woman.

Forsters critique of gender relations in Howards
End is an extremely nuanced and subtle one, and
the novel does not simply vilify men and glorify
feminism; rather, it simply portrays as accurately as
possible the way the individual characters really
feel about their positions, admitting that one of
Margarets reasons for marrying Henry is that she is
gratified to be loved by “a real man.” But in this
chapter, Margaret is simply sick of being bustled
about and controlled by men. In the next section of
the novel, her impatience with Henrys chauvinism
will boil over into fury.