Howards End – Chapters 5-9

Summary

The Schlegels take Aunt Juley, a German cousin,
and their cousins suitor to a performance of
Beethovens Fifth Symphony. There, Margaret meets
and converses with a lower-class young man named
Leonard Bast. Tibby watches the music with a
score on his knee, and Aunt Juley taps her foot.
During the last two movements of the symphony,
Helen imagines goblins dancing over the universe,
implying that no valor or heroism exists in the
world. Moved, she runs from the room, accidentally
taking Leonards umbrella. After the concert,
Leonard accompanies Margaret back to the
Schlegel house on Wickham Place to retrieve his
umbrella. At Wickham Place, Helen inadvertently
insults the umbrella, causing Leonard to hurry
away in shame. The Schlegels continue talking about art
and literature, but they are slightly unsettled by
their encounter.

For his part, Leonard is poor, but not
desperately so: He has just enough education and
sufficient possessions to assert that he is not
inferior to the rich. Walking away from the
Schlegels, he passes a fellow clerk on the street
and nods to him. He enters his dim basement
apartment, accidentally breaks a picture frame
surrounding a photograph of a smiling woman, and
begins reading Ruskins Stones of Venice in
the hopes of learning to understand English prose.
He thinks that if only he could acquire the kind of
culture the Schlegel sisters possess, he would be in a
different boat altogether. His lover Jacky, the
smiling woman from the photograph, enters;
thirty-three years old, she is plump, garish, and vulgar,
and loudly demands to know when he intends to marry
her. He repeats his promise to marry her on his
21st birthday. After a meager dinner, Jacky
goes to bed, and Leonard ignores the sound of her
voice calling him and continues to peruse the Ruskin
book.

The day after the concert, Aunt Juley presents
Margaret with what she thinks is terrible news: The
Wilcoxes have taken a flat in a building on Wickham
Place, opposite the Schlegels. Margaret is unperturbed,
saying that Helens feelings for Paul are long since
dead; Aunt Juley insists that the Wilcoxes presence
is a catastrophe. When Helen enters and learns what has
happened, she blushes furiously, lending credence to Aunt
Juleys theory. Luckily, Helen is planning a trip with
their German cousin Frieda, and will be away until
after the New Year.

Shortly after the Wilcoxes move into their new flat,
Mrs. Wilcox calls on Margaret. Margaret, who is
not home when Mrs. Wilcox appears, does not return
the call, writing a note to Mrs. Wilcox suggesting
that, given the difficult situation Helen and Paul
placed them in, it would be best if they did not
meet. Mrs. Wilcox writes a note back saying that
Margaret has been rude–she only wanted to tell
Margaret that Paul has left for Nigeria. Feeling
horribly guilty, Margaret rushes to the Wilcoxes,
where she apologizes profusely for having offended
Mrs. Wilcox. Frail and spending the day in bed, Mrs.
Wilcox asks Margaret to keep her company; Margaret
does so, and the two women gradually become friends.
Margaret learns that Howards End actually belongs to
Mrs. Wilcox, not her husband. She was born there and
has lived there her whole life. Margaret gives a
luncheon for Mrs. Wilcox, but it is a complete
failure. Margarets friends only talk about art,
culture, and politics, leaving Mrs. Wilcox, who has
spent her life caring for a husband and children,
with nothing to say. Nevertheless, they all feel
that in some indescribable way Mrs. Wilcox is greater
than they are, as though she transcends their
conversation. After the luncheon, Margaret
apologizes to Mrs. Wilcox again; Mrs. Wilcox insists
that she had a wonderful time, and the two women
clasp hands with genuine feeling.

Commentary

The introduction of Leonard brings a third
symbolic type into the novel to contrast with the
wealthy and idealistic Schlegels and the wealthy and
pragmatic Wilcoxes. Leonard Bast does not exactly
represent the poor (Forster says that the actual poor
are in an “abyss,” and are unimaginable to anyone who
is not poor), but rather the very bottom rung of the
lower-middle class. He has an office job, a
furnished apartment, and the rudiments of an
education, but still he is light-years away from the
lifestyle enjoyed by the Schlegels, as his visit to
Wickham Place makes clear to him. His poverty makes
him suspicious and mean-spirited, and his home life,
with his bawdy, aging lover, Jacky, looming over his
shoulder, is made worse by the terrible contrast
between his surroundings and the book he is reading.
Leonard believes that if he attends classical music
concerts and reads Ruskin (a famous 19th century
essayist and art critic), he will be able to better
himself. But the cultured, pampered voice in the book
is utterly irrelevant to his daily life as a
low-level clerk for an insurance company.

Margarets surprising friendship with Mrs.
Wilcox is Forsters second attempt to bring the two
main families of the novel–and the two symbolic
ideas they represent–into a union. Mrs. Wilcox is a
very different creature from her husband and
children, replacing their materialistic
hard-headedness with a kind of selfless, loving
sensitivity to those around her. It is also a
surprise for the reader to learn that Howards End
actually belongs to Mrs. Wilcox (we will learn that
her maiden name is Howard, and it was a family farm
for generations). In this sense, as the novel
progresses, Mrs. Wilcox emerges as a metaphor for
Englands past, and Howards End becomes a metaphor
for England itself.