Howards End – Summary

After Helen Schlegels brief romance with Paul
Wilcox ends badly, the cultured, idealistic
Schlegel family thinks it they will have nothing
further to do with the materialistic, commerce-obsessed Wilcoxes. The Schlegels
continue with their
intellectual lives. At a performance of Beethovens
Fifth Symphony, they meet an impoverished insurance
clerk named Leonard Bast, who regards them with
general suspicion when Helen accidentally steals his
umbrella. The Schlegels are shocked when the
Wilcoxes move from their country estate of Howards
End to a London flat opposite their home on
Wickham Place in London. But Paul has left to win
his fortune in Nigeria, and Helen is vacationing with
her cousin Frieda in Germany, so there is little
danger of an unpleasant scene. Margaret, Helens
older sister and the head of the family, even
befriends Mrs. Wilcox; they go Christmas shopping
together, and Margaret throws a luncheon for the
ethereal, selfless Mrs. Wilcox.

When Mrs. Wilcox dies not long afterward, she leaves
a handwritten note behind asking that Howards End be
given to Margaret. But her pragmatic husband,
Henry, a prominent businessman, and her greedy
son Charles, a struggling businessman, refuse to
act on the matter and never mention it to Margaret.
One night, Margaret and Helen run into Henry,
and they discuss the case of Leonard Bast; Henry
warns them that Leonards insurance company is doomed
to failure, and they advise him to find a
new job. But poor Leonard, who associates the
Schlegels with all things cultural and romantic–he
reads constantly, hoping to better himself–resents
this intrusion into his business life and accuses
them of trying to profit from his knowledge of the
insurance industry.

Margaret and Henry develop a halting, gradual
friendship. When the lease expires at Wickham Place,
the Schlegels begin looking for another house (their
landlord wants to follow the general trend and
replace their house with a more profitable apartment
building). Henry offers to rent them a house he owns
in London, and when he shows it to Margaret, he
suddenly proposes to her. She is surprised by her
happiness, and after considering
the proposal, she accepts.

Shortly before Margaret and Henry are scheduled to be
married, Henrys daughter Evie marries a man
named Percy Cahill; the wedding is held at a
Wilcox estate near Wales. After the party, which
Margaret finds quite unpleasant, Helen arrives in a
disheveled state, with the Basts in tow. She
declares indignantly that Leonard has left his old
company, found a new job, and been summarily fired;
he is now without an income. Helen angrily blames
Henry for his ill-considered advice. Margaret asks
Henry to give Leonard a job, but when he sees Jacky
Bast, he realizes that he had an affair with her
10 years ago, when she was a prostitute in Cyprus.
Margaret forgives him for the indiscretion–it was
before they even met–but she writes to Helen that
there will be no job for Leonard.

Helen and the Basts have retired to a hotel in town,
and after Jacky goes to sleep, Helen and Leonard stay
up discussing Helens philosophical observations
about life. After Margarets note arrives, a feeling
of tragedy descends on their conversation, and they
make love–an unwelcome development for both of them:
Leonard is wracked with guilt, and Helen becomes
pregnant. She leaves for Germany the following
morning, and both she and Leonard recede from
Margarets life. Margaret and Henry are married, and
plan to build a new home in Sussex.

After some time passes, however, Margaret begins to
worry about her sister, and with Henrys help, she
arranges a scheme to surprise her at Howards End,
where Helen is going to collect some books. (The
Schlegels belongings are being stored at Howards
End.) Here, Margaret sees Helens advanced
pregnancy, and is filled with love and tenderness for
her sister. Helen asks to spend the night with
Margaret at Howards End, but Henry refuses to let a
“fallen woman” sleep in his home. When Margaret
points out that Henry himself has committed a worse
sexual indiscretion than Helen, Henry is outraged,
and Margaret resolves to leave him, returning to
Germany with Helen.

In the meantime, Leonard decides to confess
to Margaret what happened, and he travels to
Howards End the morning after Margaret and Helen
sleep there. When he arrives, he is beaten by
Charles Wilcox with the flat of a sword, and a
bookcase falls on him. Leonard has a heart attack
and dies. After the inquest, Charles is charged with
manslaughter and sentenced to three years in prison.
Henry is shattered, and comes to Margaret for help.
Henry, Margaret, and Helen move into Howards End,
where Helen and Henry learn to be friends and where
Helens son is born. Fourteen months later, they are
still living there happily.