Howards End – Chapters 37-40

Summary

Inside Howards End, Margaret does not ask
Helen to explain her pregnancy; nor does she ask
who the father is. She merely asks about Helens
situation–she is living in Munich with a journalist
named Monica–and why Helen did not tell her what had
happened. At first, they seem far apart from one
another, and their conversation is awkward; but as
they look at all the old furniture from Wickham Place
arranged in Howards End, they realize how much they
love one another, and agree to spend the night
together in the house. Margaret goes back to
Charles house to ask Henrys permission.
Shockingly, he denies it: He expresses his desire to
thrash Helens “seducer” “within an inch of his
life,” but despite his own extramarital affair, he
refuses to let a fallen woman such as Helen
spend a night in his house. Margaret furiously tries
to show him his own hypocrisy, but he merely stalks
away. Margaret returns to Helen at Howards End.

After Henry learned of Helens condition, he called
Charles to solicit his help; Charles immediately goes
to see Tibby, whom he bullies into telling him
the name of Leonard. Drawing the false
conclusion that Tibby condoned an affair between
Helen and Leonard, and offered his rooms as a place
for them to conduct the affair, Charles leaves Tibby
in disgust.

Outside, under the great wych-elm at Howards End,
Helen tells Margaret the story of the night she slept
with Leonard–the night of Evies wedding,
when she and Leonard talked in the hotel after
Jacky had gone to sleep and the same night Margaret
learned of Henrys affair with Jacky. Helen asks
Margaret to come to Germany with her, and Margaret,
though she loves England deeply, considers the idea.
Suddenly imagining that she, Helen, Henry, and the
placid countryside around are all part of the dead
Mrs. Wilcoxs mind, she wonders whether
Leonard is part of that mind as well.

Commentary

Henrys shockingly hypocritical reaction to
Helens pregnancy reveals his inner crisis; he is
terribly unsure of how to act, so he simply does the
most conventional thing imaginable at every turn.
This behavior leads him into the horribly contradictory position
of wishing to blame and punish Helens seducer but
refusing to let Helen spend a single night in
his house. Here, Margarets philosophy of “Only
connect” and Henrys philosophy of “Concentrate”
crash headlong into each other. Henry is
concentrating so hard on ideas of social morality
that he is unable to see that Helen is not guilty of
anything he himself has not done. She is actually
less guilty, as Margaret points out: Helen has only
hurt herself, while Henry was unfaithful to Mrs.
Wilcox.

When Margaret, enraged, points this out to Henry in
terms that even he cannot fail to understand, he
falls to pieces, snarling his refusal once
more and then shambling away. As Forster points out
in a narrative aside, Margarets only hope of saving
Henry lies in breaking him; as long as his outward
edifice is secure, he will never learn to “connect.”
This scene in Chapter 38, though it does not complete
the process of breaking Henry, certainly prepares him
for the collapse he will experience after Charles
is charged with manslaughter.

Helens confession that Leonard is the father of
her unborn child serves to further entwine the fates
of the three main groups of the novel–it is clear
that the question of “Who will inherit England?” will
not have a simple answer. Of the two Schlegel
sisters, one has married a Wilcox and the other will
bear the child of a Bast. The message is that the
classes are mingling and the boundaries are becoming
indistinct. Howards End, like England, can no longer
belong to any one group, and soon, the groups
themselves will cease to exist as separate
classifications.