Finding Margaret – a Case For Reincarnation
Dating back to the 1800’s, E.M Forster’s Howards End tells a story of men and women in Edwardian Society who must live by the connotation that men are superior. E.M Forster associates gender with class, and complicates the terms masculine and feminine, ultimatley closing off the possibility of a heteronormative reading based on gender stereotypes and heterosexual desire. According to Judith Butler’s theory that gender is performative; our reading of Howards End can be reconstructed to show that Margaret is anachronistically masculine. Although she is comfortable embracing these ideals in the abstract of her own life, she instinctively resorts back to displaying “acceptable” feminine behavior most visibly in her relationship with Henry.
To begin with, in Judith Butler’s theoretical essay titled “Gender Trouble”, Butler’s main argument is that gender identity is not identified through social order, but rather through ones performative actions and behaviors. Butler writes, “Gender out not to be construed as a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts follow; rather, gender is an identity tenuously constituted in time, instituted exterior space through a stylized repetition of acts”. This creates the notion that anyone female can be deemed having a masculine role in life just by the way that they act. Thus, looking at Margaret in a way that makes her fit for assuming a masculine role in her life.
Margaret displays qualities that represent both male and female. Being the older sister of both Helen and Tibby, Margaret was left to care for both the house and her family after their parents had died. Forster explains, “she had kept house for over ten years; she had entertained, almost with distinction; she had brought up a charming sister, and was bringing up a brother”. Being that there was no one left to share the roles with Margaret, she had to assume the role as both male authoritarian while concurrently raising her two younger siblings, as the role of a mother. It was not until Margaret had met Henry Wilcox, when everything had changed.
Granted that Margaret had fallen in love with the idea of Henry, she struggled to conform to his ideals of femininity. Henry believes that women will always be inferior to men, and holds women to a much stricter moral code than his own gender. Charles Wilcox emphasizes to Margarat that, “He says the most horrid things about women’s suffrage so nicely, and when I said I believed in equality he just folded his arms and gave me such a setting down as I’ve never had. I had just picked up the notion that equality is good from some book probably from poetry, or you”. Henry’s opposition to women’s equality suggests that he finds Margarets blindness to her true nature as an advantage so she will always make him feel superior, and secure.
In spite of their whirlwind marriage, their relationship runs smoothly for some time. Margaret becomes more domesticated, and feminized, in her marriage to Henry Wilcox. Under Henry’s influence however, Margaret begins to become more domesticated, and morphing into a new role as a traditional wife who is submissively feminine. Once Margaret had found out about Henry’s affair with Jackie when he was previously married, Margaret forgives Henry easily, whereas the masculine role of Margaret would have “balked at this revelation”. Although this is not a huge gender setback for Margaret, the true climax of Howards End in terms of gender binary roles is Helen’s out of wedlock pregnancy.
With this in mind, Helens pregnancy caused such a rift in their society, and Helen was quick to be shunned from the community; and her family. Being that Margaret is such a superior figure in terms of family, she turns to Henry as her only hope. Being a traditional man in the 19th century, Henry had responded to the news of Helen’s pregnancy leads to his selfish presumption that Helen is unstable; which infuriates Margaret. His behavior opens her eyes to Henry’s faults, causing a resurrection in her masculine presence, and free spirit. For the first time in their marriage, Margaret breaks out of her feminine gender role, and exclaims, “You shall see the connection if it kills you, Henry! You have had a mistress I forgave you. My sister has a lover you drive her from the house. Do you see the connection? Stupid,hypocritical, cruel oh, contemptible ! a man who insults his wife when she!s alive and cants with her memory when she!s dead. A man who ruins a woman for his pleasure, and casts her off to ruin other man. And gives bad financial advice, and then says he is not responsible. These, man, are you.
With this being said, this speech marked a turning point in the novel, as well as Margaret. Not only did Margaret stands up for herself against Henry, she proves that just because she is born feminine does not mean that society, and your environment cannot influence your true gender binary role. After Leonard Bast’s death, and Charles Wilcox’s arrest, it is not Margaret who is stripped of their gender role; it’s Henry. Forster writes that his “fortress gave way. He could bear no one but his wife, he shambled up to Margaret afterwards and asked her to do what she could with him”. Upon being asked to guide Henry through this difficult time, Margaret forgives Henry of all he has done, and agrees to rebuild their marriage; but this time as equals.
Not only does Judith Butler’s theory on gender roles allow you to view Margaret and Henry’s relationship differently, it gives Howards End a new meaning in terms of empowering women who still may be stuck in a hierarchical mode within their society. Margaret and Henry’s relationship in the aspect of their gender roles allows us readers to determine what being female was like in a patriarchal society was like. Being that Margaret had deemed herself to be a more masculine role in society, Howards End is able to tell her story in order to influence any audience to assume whatever gender they are without judgement.
Analysis Of Howards End By E.M. Forster
Howards End is a book written by the author E.M. Forster. The book deals with many, serious political issues throughout. These political issues were going on during the change of England. Howards End was written about the English before World War I came to be. E.M. Forster used the families he wrote about to represent different social classes of society. The upper class was represented by the Schlegel family. The Schlegel family were very idealistic and cultured. The Wilcox family represented other parts of the upper class, Forster showed materialism through this family.
As stated in Howards End, “Why did we settle that their house would be all gables and wiggles, and their garden all gamboge-colored paths? I believe simply because we associate them with expensive hotels – Mrs. Wilcox trailing in beautiful dresses down long corridors, Mr. Wilcox bullying porters, etc. We females are that unjust.” This quote at the beginning of the story shows the Wilcox’s association with money, as they are in the upper class.
Last is the Bast Family. The Bast’s were put into the middle class. Forster used this family to represent the people in this time who were trying to avoid poverty. As stated in Howards End, “Oh, how one does maunder on, and to think, to think of the people who are really poor. How do they live? Not to move about the world would kill me.” This quote describes the people in the society who are struggling with money and falling into poverty. Forster put these three families into different groups of society so he could bring them together in the novel. The purpose of this was so that he could show that people, no matter their social class, need to learn how to live together in harmony, and be peaceful. Forster used the disparity between the rich and poor multiple times in his novel.
As stated in Howards End, “By all means subscribe to charities – subscribe to them largely – but don’t get carried away by absurd schemes of Social Reform. I see a good deal behind the scenes and you can take it from me that there is no Social Question – except for a few journalists who try to get a living out of the phrase. There are just rich and poor, as there always has been and always will be.” In the book Henry Wilcox supported a disinterested involvement in the lives of working class clerks. Henry challenged Margaret’s middle class perspective on life. As stated in Howards End, “He asks Margaret, “What do you know of London? You only see civilization from the outside.” Henry Wilcox believed that all men had their place in the world, and that they had to support the structure of society. As stated in Howards End, “Helen had begun bungling with her money by this time, and had even sold out her shares in the Nottingham and Derby Railway. For some weeks she did nothing. Then she reinvested, and, owing to the good advice of her stockbrokers, became rather richer than she had been before.” When Helen’s money was rejected, she had no idea what to do with it, but without meaning to, she ended up with more money. This showed that in today’s world, the rich get even richer, and the poor get even poorer. Forster also used Howards End to write about the urbanization going on during his time. As Stated in Howards End, “Like many others who have long lived in a great capital she strong feelings about the various railway termini. They are out gates to the glorious and the unknown. Through them we pass out into adventure and sunshine, to them alas! We return.” When Howards End was published, the progression of urbanization and industrialization across Britain brought a huge social change in the society. During the agricultural years of depression, many farmers moved from the country into the cities looking for work.
In the novel Helen Schlegel remarks “London’s creeping” this was a reference made about the takeover of the suburbs by the farmers in the country. As stated in Howards End, “A block of flats, constructed with extreme cheapness, towered on either hand. Farther down the road two more blocks were being built, and beyond these an old house was being demolished to accommodate another pair. It was the kind of scene that may be observed all over London, whatever the locality–bricks and mortar rising and falling with the restlessness of the water in a fountain, as the city receives more and more men upon her soil. Camelia Road would soon stand out like a fortress, and command, for a little, an extensive view. Only for a little. Plans were out for the erection of flats in Magnolia Road also. And again a few years, and all the flats in either road might be pulled down, and new buildings, of a vastness at present unimaginable, might arise where they had fallen.” Forster wrote this to show the great change in London.
As stated in Howards End, “The feudal ownership of land did bring dignity, whereas the modern ownership of movables is reducing us again to a nomadic horde. We are reverting to the civilization of luggage, and historians of the future will note how the middle classes accreted possessions without taking root in the earth, and may find in this the secret of their imaginative poverty.” Through this quote, Forster continues to explain urbanization and its ills on modern life. It talks about how people are constantly moving around, and not staying in one place to live forever. The Howards End family house was also a symbol of urbanization. It represents what stands to be lost from urbanization in the country. The house symbolizes a place of peacefulness, and love. The urban landscape was going through both, a fascinating and terrifying transformation. In the novel, the color gray was often used. Gray was used to reference the hopelessness, and depression that urbanization caused.
Life in London was described as “swimming the gray tides”. Mr. Bast’s existence was described as “a gray life”. The differences of each individual is what the color to life in their society. Forster had an interest writing about women. He used Howards End to write about the feminist movement going on during the social change in England. In Howards End Helen says, “The fun of it is that they think of me a noodle, and so say-at least Mr. Wilcox does-and when that happens, and one doesn’t mind, it’s a pretty sure test, isn’t it? He says the most horrid things about women suffrage so nicely, and when I said I believed in equality he just folded his arms and gave me such a settling down as I’ve never had.” This shows how Helen wants to be, and is an independent women, but with people like Mr. Wilcox to set her back, this makes it hard for her to be one. Forster used the Schlegel household to show feminism.
All of the Schlegel household was full of women, and one male figure, being Tibby Schlegel. This was totally opposite compared to the wilcox family. The Wilcox family household was a mix of both men and women figures. As stated in Howards End, “Man is for war, woman for the recreation of the warrior, but he does not dislike it if she makes a show of fight. She cannot win in a real battle, having no muscles, only nerves. Nerves make her jump out of a moving motor-car, or refuse to be married fashionably. The warrior may well allow her to triumph on such occasions; they move not the imperishable plinth of things that touch his peace.” This quote shows the trouble between women and men in the society. Henry had a very twisted idea of who women were.
In Howards End Margaret says, “I believe that in the last century men have developed the desire for work, and they must not starve it. It’s a new desire. It goes with a great deal that’s bad, but in itself its good, and I hope that for women, too, ‘not to work’ will soon become as shocking as ‘not to be married’ was a hundred years ago.” Here in this quote Margaret was addressing Tibby. Margaret was explaining how she hoped women to be in the near future, in their society. She hoped that all women would be independent, and hardworking. In Howards End, the females were constantly faced with the social pressures and frustration from the society they lived in.
Howards End by E.M. Forster: Topic Analysis
The attempt to connect the two different worlds of money and ideals is a central theme in E.M Forsters Howards End. The concept of money is most strongly represented by the Wilcox family. Idealism and intellectualism are the driving forces of the Schlegels especially the younger sister Helen. Establishing the rainbow bridge (page 187) between these two is Margaret Schlegel, the novels protagonist.
The central relationship in the novel is between Henry Wilcox, who has made his fortune through the rubber industry, and the elder Schlegel sister, Margaret. The novel follows their courtship and consequent marriage through a journey of obstacles and revelations. Henry Wilcox is driven by money and power with little time for culture and intellectual thought. He is obtuse but also kindly. Margaret is an intellectual who cares for the troubles of the world but cares most for the welfare of her siblings and her husband.
The other characters in the novel represent more extreme types. Helen, Margarets much loved younger sister, is a bohemian idealist who responds passionately to situations. Charles Wilcox is the most prosaic character. The clerk, Leonard Bast, is tormented by a glimpse of societys privileged he is at the extreme verge of gentility and though not in the abyss (page 58) he is aware of it. His gaudy wife, Jacky, represents the seedier side of society. She is in the abyss but does not seem aware of it. Mrs Munt (Aunt Juley) is awfully English, with little genuine understanding of Art and Literature but a great understanding of its importance in cultured society. Mrs Wilcox represents an ideal wife, a gentle diplomat who is not passionate about anything that might be controversial but is passionate that people should have a home.
The upbringing of the Schlegel sisters is one of liberal idealism from their German father and bone-deep Englishness from their mothers side. The maternal side of the family is represented by Aunt Juley.
The Schlegels have money, and a constant flow of it as they invest wisely. Aunt Juley agitates over their decision to invest in foreign things and encourages them to have an old, safe investment in Home Rail which does not do as well (due, possibly, to increasing use of the motorcar). Not having to worry about money puts the Schlegels in the leisured class they have the freedom to read well, to attend lectures and public meetings (page 41) to cultivate their minds and to discuss issues developing strong ideals of right and wrong within the two sisters, especially Helen.
Margaret, the eldest sibling and surrogate mother to Helen and Tibby, is intelligent and idealistic but more pragmatic than her younger sister. She is concerned about the haste of Helens engagement to Paul Wilcox but feels that as long as her sister is in love it doesnt matter even be it with a penniless clerk (page 25). When it comes to money Margaret is shrewd but not obsessive. At the dinner party in Chapter 15, she automatically calculates what how much per annum a million dollars will result in.
She impresses Henry with her direct division of how he should spend his income in Chapter 20 not requesting any for herself, give away all you can, bearing in mind Ive a clear six hundred. What a mercy it is to have all this money about one! (page 182).
Academically, Margaret supports the plight of the poor though this does not affect her behaviour as it does Helens. Margaret creates a stir at the ladies dinner party where the conversation revolves around how a million dollars should be distributed and how best to aid the Mr Basts of the world. Says Margaret, Money; give Mr Bast money, and dont bother about his ideals. Hell pick up those for himself, (page 134). Margaret has a bad time between the idealists and the political economists indicating that she is neither (page 134).
Where Margaret theorises, her sister Helen acts upon her ideal that all men are created equal including Mr Bast and Mr Wilcox. Helens idealistic notions of equality drive her to distraction by the time of Evies wedding where she brings the now poverty stricken Basts. She demands that Mr Wilcox see the outcome of his flippant advice and takes accountability for his actions. Flung into this uncomfortable situation Leonard comments – Poetrys nothing your money, too, is nothing There will always be rich and poor (page 225). Leonard has become resigned to the ways of the world at the end of Edwardian England. Mr Wilcox also believes there will also be rich and poor but that comes from the theory that the fittest will survive. Helen views the situation as unjust. Margaret sees the unjustness but her stronger desire is to avoid conflict between the differing opinions of Helen and Henry.
Helen is the most idealistic character in the novel. It is Leonard Basts walk through the forest in Surrey that initially appeals to her ideal of Romance. She longs to help Leonard Bast as though he is a project – some proof that when given the right opportunity (a job, money) the poor can become as successful as the rich.
She fails this, through her impetuousness and because the Industrial England at the turn of the century was driven towards output and productivity and less sympathetic to the welfare of the lower classes. Helen is emotional in her expression of ideals, no more so that when she sleeps with Leonard after the disastrous encounter with Henry Wilcox at Evies wedding.
In Chapter 22 of the novel the reader discovers that to Only connect! is what Margaret strives for – she wishes to connect the prose in us with the passion (page 188). She wants to see a harmonious link established between prose (pragmatism, materialism, money) and passion (emotion, culture, ideals). Margaret believes to be truly happy humans should be a mixture of both Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts. (page187). Henry is represented as a monk he believes bodily passion is bad (page188). The term beast is similar to Bast.
In a sense Margaret is successful in building her rainbow bridge. She brings the two worlds of money and strong idealism together in harmony – the glue being Howards End where Helen comes to live with her illegitimate son and Henry agrees to live with Margaret. But both Helen and Henry come to Howards End mellowed, Henry, by the conviction of Charles and Helen by childbirth and greater acceptance of the ways of the world. Much of her change of attitude comes from Leonard himself. After Evies wedding Helen and Leonard discuss his future and Jackys past. Leonard says he would be okay if I could only get work and that he doesnt trouble after books any more (page 235). Helen implores him to remember all the beautiful things, the romanticism of music and walking at night. But Leonard discards this as nonsense. He sees clearly where he stands after the bailiffs fingered his Ruskins and Stevensons; I see one must have money (page 235).
Helen tells him that the real thing is not just money but also death and that awareness of death shows the emptiness of money. Leonard recognises that Helen speaks of an ideal but she does not comprehend his reality: Death, Life and Materialism were fine words, but would Mr Wilcox take him on as a clerk? (page 236).
In Howards End, within the boundaries of love, truth, equality, and politics, Forster questions whether it is possible for a man to elevate his position in society by improving himself. Leonard Bast tries to improve himself through Art and Literature. He recognises this is what he does and yet cannot help trying to obtain Culture: Oh, it was no good, this continual aspiration. Some are born cultured; the rest had better go in for whatever comes easy. (Page 67). Helen Schlegel tries to improve him through the offer of money and a job the wealthy aiding the disadvantaged. Helen believes all men (and women she believes in suffrage) should be given equal opportunity an idealistic notion. Leonard is at first cheered by this, after his second visit with the sisters he is filled with permanent joy that the Schlegels had not found him foolish. Somehow the barriers of wealth had fallen, and there had been he could not phrase it a general assertion of the wonder of the world (page 131). Margaret believes an outlay of money would give a man the opportunity to develop his own ideals should he not take advantage of the opportunity, so be it. The Wilcoxes believe society is naturally formed with some weaker and some stronger. People should not challenge the status quo as this is disruptive and futile: You do admit that, if wealth was divided up equally, in a few years there would be rich and poor again just the same. The hard-working man would come to the op, the wastrel sink to the bottom, (Henry to Margaret, page 160).
Due to the position in society of the Wilcoxes it is easy to understand why they would not like to change the status quo.
In the end, Forster suggests none of these stances are correct. Despite Leonards worthy attempts to become cultured he loses his job, is stuck with his bawdy wife, and dies a death of little dignity. But neither do the Wilcoxes conquer; Charles goes to prison and Henry becomes a broken man. Margaret succeeds in bringing all her family together at Howards End which means it is not quite the end of Ruth Wilcoxs (nee Howard) legacy. However, the house looks to have a temporary future. London is spreading towards it, Margaret and Henry are unlikely have a child together and while Helens illegitimate child will grow up there it is the Charles Wilcoxes who, in the words of Mrs Avery, breed like rabbits (page 268).
The relationship between money and ideals is one that is fraught with conflict the conflict between the characters who represent these worlds and its resolution via an intermediary, Margaret, forms the novel. Forster demonstrates to the reader that while neither world is perfect they both have their merits and with careful diplomacy have the potential to operate harmoniously together.
The Capitalist in Howards End by E.M. Forster – Novel Analysis
A Case for Henry’s Humanity
“Preachers or scientists may generalize, but we know that no generality is possible about those whom we love…” claims the narrator of E.M. Forster’s novel Howards End (196). While in this particular moment the narrator is suggesting that a general or unclear cause of death, and the equally unclear afterlife that awaits the dying, is unsuitable for the grieving loved ones, the sentiment that a loved one defies a generality or “type” is useful in considering the many characters in the novel. It is the sentiment that allows readers to see Henry Wilcox, who appears to be the epitome of the emotionally stunted capitalist, as potentially more human than other characters, such as the cultured intellect Helen Schlegel, might suggest. Closer reading indicates that the character of Henry Wilcox, and therefore all the “Wilcoxes” of the world, is more nuanced than readers and some of the “Schlegels” of the world may wish to acknowledge.
From Helen’s opening letters, the sense of Henry Wilcox is determined at once: the Wilcox patriarch bullies porters, openly suggests Helen is dimwitted (“…they think me a noodle—at least, Mr. Wilcox does…”), and charmingly denies the importance of women’s suffrage and equality (5-7). The addition of charm only initially makes the many “horrid” things Henry says easy to swallow, and once the charm fades away—that is, when Helen greets the Wilcoxes the morning after she and Paul determine to be married and realizes how disastrous it would be to mention it in front of Henry—Helen is determined to perceive Henry as the focal point in a family obsessed with the material life at the cost of personal relations (21-22). Unfortunately for Helen, this characterization gradually falls through when Henry’s actions, particularly those related to his courtship of Margaret, aren’t filtered through Helen’s bias.
Henry’s courtship of Margaret is certainly not romantic in the traditional sense. He makes his daughter Evie invite Margaret out to dinner, where he “just happens” to show up (110); he invites Margaret to view his Ducie Street house on the pretense that the Schlegels might find it a suitable place to move, when in fact he means to get Margaret alone to propose to her (119); his next encounter with her is almost entirely a discussion of their economic situation; and indeed their marriage ceremony’s most notable quality is that it is “very quiet,” without even the accompaniment of music (184). Barring two sudden outbursts of passion in his life (kissing Margaret in Mrs. Munt’s garden and sleeping with Jacky a decade ago), it seems that no grand gesture of love or devotion effervesces from the stoic capitalist. Here, Helen’s characterization of the man is not far off. However, the fact that Henry actively courts a woman whose personal and economic values clash with his own rejects a simplified or generalized idea of the man.
In addition to his humanizing romantic exploits, Henry gradually appeals to the common sense of his betrothed and, in turn, of the reader. Margaret herself acknowledges that he is “not a rebuke, but a stimulus, and banished morbidity…he preserved a gift that she supposed herself to have already lost—not youth’s creative power, but its self-confidence and optimism” (117). Moreover, Margaret claims, “‘If Wilcoxes hadn’t worked and died in England for thousands of years…[t]here would be no trains, no ships to carry us literary people about in, no fields even… Without their spirit life might never have moved out of protoplasm’” (126-27). Whether it is the competence of experience or if it is simply a driven spirit, there is something intrinsically likeable about the Wilcox patriarch. It’s what makes Helen initially accept his criticism and is what allows Leonard Bast to accept his business counsel. It defies the stuffy, over-simplified “type” that the cultured intellectual might label him and emphasizes his humanity.
Indeed, Henry Wilcox is complex in an aggravating way. He may easily be hated for his dismissal of the Basts’ economic suffering, for his dismissal of women’s moves toward independence, for his manipulative tactics in securing Margaret’s acceptance of marriage, and for so many other qualities that can strike the cultured intellectual like Helen as inhumane and unjust. But to dismiss his own awkward efforts to connect is to dismiss the inherent humanity of all those who have accepted, and now hold dear, that material outer world of “anger and telegrams,” that world of physical and emotional distance, that world of wealth without meaning. Even at its most dispassionate moments, the character of Henry Wilcox subverts the caricature of The Capitalist and emphasizes one of the many iterations of The Human.
Representation of Social Class Structures in England in Howards End by E.M. Forster
An Analysis of Social Class In E.M. Forster’s Howards End
From the very beginning, it is evident that Edward Morgan Forster’s Howards End is a commentary on class and the reconciliation of the social class structures in England during the turn-of-the-century. However, it wasn’t until the opening of chapter six that the point was truly emphasized. The chapter began with, “We are not concerned with the very poor. They are unthinkable, and only to be approached by the statistician or the poet. This story deals with gentlefolk, or with those who are obliged to pretend that they are gentlefolk” (Forester, 49). The mere notion that the novel is to be unconcerned for the poor is ironic as it draws so much attention to their class. In this novel, the upper classes are losing their titles of ‘noble lord of the manor’, the middle classes are on the rise, and the members of the poorest class are no longer invisible. In Howards End, Forster comments on the illusion of people being able to move between social classes by attaining intellectual class. He does so through the use of three different families that are all a part of each of the three social classes. There are the Schlegels that exist in the upper-middle class. They are the sympathetic family that serves as the bridge to the upper class. The upper class family is the Wilcoxes who are. Leonard Bast and his wife portray the lowest of the middle class. They seem to be only a mere tragedy away from fading away into the fields.
Mr. Bast is doing what the lower ranks in Edwardian England was told to do to improve themselves; read, take in public lectures and concerts, visit museums, go for walks in the country. He tries to engage in converation with the Schlegel sisters as a part of this “improvement” but is less than successful. He is prevented from having a meaningful connection with the women due to his view of culture, which isn’t shared with the women. Despite him following the advice to “improve” himself, the Schlegels still view him as an imitator of their own class. “His brain is filled with the husks of books, culture – horrible; we want to show him how to wash out his brain, and go to the real thing” (Forster, 155). This concept can be seen again with Margaret when she states, “…I don’t believe in suiting my conversation to my company. One can doubtless hit upon some medium of exchange that seems to do well enough, but it’s no more like the real thing than money is like food. There’s no nourishment in it. You pass it to the lower classes, and they pass it back to you, and this you call ‘social intercourse’ or ‘mutual endeavour,’ when it’s mutual priggishness if it’s anything” (Forster, 165).
Despite the women’s reluctance to accept Leonard into their circle, they still find themselves drawn to something natural within him. As much as they distaste the lack of his education, they applaud his effort to experience new things. So much so that his spontaneous walk out of London earns their respect. Leonard is conscious of the gap that lies between the Schlegels and himself. So much so that he questions himself and his ability to ever catch up with the Schlegels. He asks himself, “With an hour at lunch and a few shattered hours in the evening, how was it possible to catch up with leisured women, who had been reading steadily from childhood?” (Forster, 42-43). In Margaret’s opinion, culture has caused Leonard to lose sight of the “real thing.” He strives to obtain culture, and he hopes to come upon it abruptly., while Leonard views art and literature as a means to broaden his knowledge. Yet, during moments of pessimism, it’s very easy to detect Leonard’s self doubt. “Oh, it was no good, this continual aspiration. Some are born cultured; the rest had better go in for whatever comes easy” (Forster, 59).
While Leonard struggles with culture, the Wilcox family is unrefined and lacks culture as well. They care little for music and despite all that they lack; they have successfully climbed to the top of the social pyramid. Unlike Leonard’s intellectual approach, they did so via industry. It is stated that, “Mrs. Wilcox had no idea; she paid little attention to grounds. She was not intellectual, nor even alert, and it was odd that, all the same, she should give the idea of greatness” (Forster, 82). Her German cousin even goes so far as to describe her as “not a lady.” She too is viewed as out of place to the Schlegel sisters. She didn’t have the intellectual capacity to contribute their conversations. Mrs. Wilcox’s death represents the sudden passing of the ‘old order’.
The ending of the novel leaves readers wondering, “Who will inherit Howards End?” Which can be further interpreted as “Who will inherit England?” With the social class system in a state of disarray, which class will rise to the top of the social food chain? Which, in itself, emphasizes the importance of social class in England during the turn-of-the-century.
Howards End and On Beauty: Understanding Smith’s Parallels
Even without reading the acknowledgments in Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, it is extremely apparent that she derives her inspiration from E. M. Forster’s Howards End. From the first line, the reader is able to start drawing parallels between the two novels. Surprisingly, Smith did not borrow her title from Forster’s novel. Instead, it comes from Elaine Scarry’s essay, On Beauty and Being Just, which begins with the claim that “Beauty brings copies of itself into being” (Scarry 3). With this, Smith is nodding to the beauty of Forster’s novel by beautifully imitating it in a modern-day American version. While she takes a modern approach to Forster’s condition-of-England novel, she maintains the central characters and conflicts that pervade the classic novel. Smith’s novel, like Forster’s classic, concentrates on the conflicts between two families from opposite ends of the ethical and political spectrum. These clashes present the reader with significant insight into the issues of the time. Just as Forster addresses issues of class and feminism in his novel, Smith tackles issues such as race, opportunity and intellect. Through her use of similar characters, plot points and reactions to beauty, Smith revamps the classic novel originally written by Forster.
Smith constructed main characters that are easily recognizable as modern, American versions of Forster’s English characters. Both novels center on the thoughts of the main heroine. Smith’s leading lady, Kiki Belsey, is obviously a reconstruction of the intellectual, liberal Margaret Schlegel. While the similarities between the two are startling, Smith created Kiki as a stronger female figure than Margaret. Although Margaret was extremely progressive and liberal for her place and time in history, she compromises some of her core beliefs and values in order to appease her husband. Kiki, on the other hand, refuses to make concessions on her ideas on marriage and love, which ultimately leads to her separation from her husband. Smith indicates that this refusal is the mark of a true strong, independent woman. While the majority of the Smith’s characters are transpositions of Forster’s, she believes that some players were so complex that she felt it necessary to divide them into multiple people. Furthermore, it is obvious that Smith is less forgiving of her morally corrupt characters than Forster. While Henry Wilcox is hardly a likeable character, the two subsets of him are much more devious. Collectively, the two embody the infidelity and arrogance present in Henry’s behavior. Separately, each one adopts different aspects of Henry’s flawed nature. Monty Kipps represents the superiority and conservative aspects of Wilcox’s personality. His traditionalist views on class structure and women’s rights are reflected in Kipps’s ideas on race and affirmative action. Howard Belsey, on the other hand, represents the ignorance that makes Henry such an unlikeable character. Furthermore, Carl Thomas is a beautiful, hip hop rapper that represents the lower class, just like Leonard Bast. Both men are aspiring and reaching for culture and higher class, which ultimately leads to their loss of identity during the process.
Along with characters, Smith also heavily borrowed from Forster’s plot in Howards End. Although some of Smith’s scenes are startlingly similar to Forster’s, she tends to put a modern spin on Forster’s outdated tale. There are obvious transformations, such as Helen’s letters evolving into Jerome’s emails. Both novels open with similar lines introducing these forms of communication. Smith opens with, “One may as well begin with Jerome’s e-mails to his father” (3) while Forster states “One may as well begin with Helen’s letters to her sister” (2). Even though these two lines seem incredibly similar, Smith goes on to further adjust Forster’s plot to fit a modern American family. While class structure was a huge part of English life during the early twentieth-century, it is not an issue that is as well defined in the United States during the 1990s when On Beauty is set. Instead, Smith transforms class to an issue of race and educational opportunity. These issues are not only much more realistic for an interracial family living in the Northeast but are also more relatable to her modern audience. Furthermore, perhaps the most ironic aspect of Smith’s novel is how she ended her novel. Howards End ended with Margaret finally obtaining her possession, the house Howards End, which answers many issues presented throughout the novel. By finally obtaining her pastoral inheritance, Margaret discovers the primary basis of her identity and answers the question of who will inherit England. Likewise, Smith ended her novel with a literal translation of Howard’s end. When Kiki leaves Howard, he discovers that his identity begins and ends with his wife. Like Margaret, he also inherits a house, along with the children and all the responsibilities they entail. Smith subtly employs Zora’s mouth to speak on the idea of placing such importance on a pastoral setting. Zora warns against “falling into pastoral fallacy” that is simply “a depoliticized reification” (218). She believes that this idealization of landscapes is the opposite of what intellectuals should believe. Even though Smith ended her story with this ironic and cynical approach, both novels leave the ending open to a hopefulness for the future.
Smith, like Forster, utilizes beauty and her characters’ reactions in order to comment on their distinct personalities. In Forster’s novel, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony exposes each character’s inner thoughts about beauty and life. While Margaret attentively listens to the music, Helen pictures “a goblin walking quietly over the universe, from end to end” (Forster 46). Likewise, Smith uses classical music to expose the true nature of her characters. Howard, who is known for his inability to truly value beautiful art, simply sleeps through the masterpiece. Zora attempts to analyze the music by listening to a commentary simultaneously, which reflects her habit of “[living] through footnotes” (Smith 70). Jerome, on the other hand, is emotionally moved by the music. Considering his sensitive nature and deep connection to Christianity, it is understandable that he would be the most moved by the piece. Like Helen, Kiki imagines inspired illustrations to accompany the music, such as apes and mermaids. The fact that she is not an intellectual allows her to see past the academia that surrounds Mozart’s work. This open mind allows her to appreciate the music for what it truly is rather than dissect is, like her daughter, or completely ignore it, like her husband. Music is not the only way that Smith reveals the complexity of her characters. Paintings are also a major focus of Smith’s novel. Howard, an art history professor, cannot acknowledge the beauty of anything in life, which Jerome diagnoses as “a denial of joy” (Smith 236). Carlene’s Haitian painting inspires many different reactions from Smith’s characters. Each character loved the painting for different reasons; Monty for monetary motives and Levi for political implications. Other than Carlene, Kiki is the only one who actually enjoys the painting for its emotional and aesthetic effect. Both Forster and Smith realize the importance and magic of beauty. The endings of both novels result in a beautiful possession, either the house or the painting, which bestows a sort of magic or understanding on the main character. In Forster’s work, Margaret gains Howards End just as she is forced to decide how to deal with Helen and her fatherless child. When faced with issues of feminism and morality, she takes inspiration from Howards End to confront the challenges and support her family. Likewise, Kiki discovers the painting in the exact moment that she is faced with her husband’s devious infidelity. Like Helen, Kiki is challenged with this problem, but is able to overcome jealous in favor of reconciliation. This charming notion, that beauty conquers all, is prevalent throughout both literary works.
Smith’s parallel use of characters, plot and reactions not only renovates Forster’s classic novel, but also places a significant importance on the magic of beauty. Considering mimicry is the highest form of flattery, it is apparent that Smith holds Foster in high regard. Beauty, according to author Catherine Lanone, is “to deem something beautiful means to fetishize it, to dehistoricize and depoliticize both art and perception”. Howard definitely has a problem with accepting this idea of beauty which relates to his inability to simply “like the tomato”. However, Margaret has no issue fetishizing the beauty of Howards End, just as Kiki can recognize and depoliticize the beauty of Carlene’s painting. Smith expertly weaves a modern tale out of a British classic. When writing an essay on Forster, Smith comments, “There is no bigger crime in the English comic novel than thinking you are right”. She manages to prove her point in her re-creation of Forster’s novel. Howard, who never admits his wrongdoing, pays the ultimate price for his vanity. He loses his wife, potentially his job, as well as his self-respect. All in all, it is obvious that Smith’s high esteem for Forster inspired her to write a stunning novel that skillfully addresses the issues that plague modern interracial families in a beautiful, artful manner.
Forster, E. M. Howards End. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2002. Print.
Lanone, Catherine. “Mediating multi-cultural muddle: E. M. Forster meets Zadie Smith.” Cairn.info 60.2 (2007) : n. pag. Web. 7 April 2015.
Scarry, Elaine. On Beauty and Being Fair. The Tanner Lectures delivered at Yale University, March 25 and 26, 1998.
Smith, Zadie. “Love, Actually.” TheGuardian: Winner of the Pulitzer prize (2003) : n. pag. Web. 6 April 2015.
Smith, Zadie. On Beauty. New York: Penguin, 2005. Print.
Outside the Drawing Room
Few subjects seem better suited for traditional Victorian drawing room conversation than that of social class. Written in 1910, E.M. Forster’s Howards End has just enough Victorian influence to concern itself with the struggles of social class, while simultaneously being just Edwardian enough for Forster to peer out of the drawing room into England’s future. Throughout the novel, Forster contrasts the wealthy Schlegel and Wilcox families with the economically struggling Basts. Forster gradually intertwines the three families, blurring social lines and using their ultimate confluence to represent the hope of a kind of classless Utopia in England’s future.
The Schlegel and Wilcox families both represent the privileged upper class, with their main contrast being in ideology. While the Schlegels adhere to liberal, emotionally driven ideas based on art and literature, the Wilcoxes represent a more traditional, materialistic background. Margaret summarizes these ideological differences, remarking of the Wilcoxes, “Personal relations, that we think supreme, are not supreme there. There love means marriage settlements, death, death duties” (18). From the beginning, the Wilcox family is obviously associated with money, with Helen herself admitting to instinctively “associat[ing] them with expensive hotels” (1). Although the Schlegels also come from a privileged background, their observations of the Wilcoxes cause them to fear the threat wealth poses to their idealism. Helen confesses to fearing that behind their money, “the whole Wilcox family was a fraud, just a wall of newspapers and motor-cars and golf-clubs, and that if it fell I should find nothing behind it but panic and emptiness” (17). Margaret, too, fears the power of her own wealth, remarking, “You and I and the Wilcoxes stand upon money as upon islands. Last night… I began to think that the very soul of the world is economic, and that the lowest abyss is not the absence of love, but the absence of coin” (42). Here, Margaret laments society’s dependence on wealth, echoing the earlier fear that “this outer life, though obviously horrid, often seems the real one,” as there may truly be nothing behind their wealth but “panic and emptiness” (18). In uniting the Schlegels and Wilcoxes through the marriage of Margaret and Henry, Forster attempts to dispel this fear of panic and emptiness, suggesting that as England continues to change, the lines between materialism and idealism will blur, resulting in a society in which “personal relations” carry as much weight as “telegrams and anger” (18).
Forster’s ultimate confluence of social classes, however, is not possible without its third party, Leonard Bast. Unlike the wealthy Schlegel and Wilcox families, Leonard stands “at the extreme verge of gentility. He was not in the abyss, but he could see it” (31). While the Schlegels fear that wealth may overpower their ideals of culture and “personal relations,” Leonard believes that he can only attain wealth through culture, feeling that he is “obliged to assert gentility, lest he slip into the abyss” (32). However, although Leonard has clear ambitions, his social status continuously frustrates his quest for culture, causing him to question “how it was possible to catch up with leisured women who had been reading steadily from childhood” (27). Throughout the novel, Leonard’s interactions with the wealthier families repeatedly end in disaster, ultimately leading to Leonard’s death. In presenting Leonard as a tragic figure who never achieves his cultural aspirations, Forster concedes that, during Leonard’s lifetime, it is in fact not possible for people of lower social classes to “catch up” with the wealthy.
However, as with the Schlegels and Wilcoxes, Forster does not stop at England’s present, but rather paints a portrait of his hope for England’s future. Although Leonard Bast himself is incapable of social mobility, his ambitions come to a kind of secondhand fruition through his son with Helen. Leonard Bast’s son is born into the novel’s utopian confluence of Schlegelian idealism and Wilcoxian wealth, representing a new generation of Englishmen. The baby functions as a symbol of Forster’s quest for social harmony, solidified by the promise that the privileged baby and the young servant boy, Tom, “are going to be lifelong friends” (240). Although Leonard Bast himself is a tragic representation of England’s present social structure, his son’s presence within the ultimate union of the Schlegels and Wilcoxes illustrates Forster’s hope for a socially harmonious English future.
In literature, social class is an almost comically Victorian subject, immediately calling to mind images of Dickensian orphans and Brontësque governesses. While the novel at many times conjures an image of Forster engrossed in drawing room conversation with George Eliot and Anthony Trollope, its ending proves that Forster belongs to a different generation of writers. In Howards End, Forster puts down his tea just long enough to glance out of the drawing room into England’s future.
Howards End: The Idealist of Modernism
Though it is universally acknowledged that art is subjective, literary critic and philosopher Georg Lukacs offered his opinions on what form art ought to take. In his essay “The Ideology of Modernism,” Lukacs wrote negatively against the modernist movement in literature. He describes traditional art as assuming that there is meaning to human existence (1229), whereas modern literature and art is devoid of substance and meaning, or worse, it promotes an ideal and neglects reality. He states, “in realistic literature, each descriptive detail is both individual and typical. Modern allegory, and modernist ideology, however, deny the typical” (1230). Lukacs does not see human existence reflected back through modernist art. As a result of this, Lukacs concludes “modernism means not the enrichment, but the negation of art” (1232). E. M. Forster wrote his acclaimed Howards End right at a transitional period from traditional Edwardian literature towards literary modernism. Forster writes with the effect to allow the reader to be exposed to and explore modernist ideals behind the safety of tradition. As a result, his novel overwhelmingly reads as a traditional novel, with modernist concerns embodied by certain characters.
Howards End represents the transitional period it finds itself in through its vastly different characters. The Schlegel sisters represent an upper middle class that is able to fit into both an elitist, capitalist society, embodied by the Wilcox family, and a lower class, but modernist way of thinking through Leonard Bast. As much as the Wilcox family represents elitism and “old money,” Leonard Bast fits the description offered by Lukacs of a modernist man. Lukacs explains that, “The ontological view governing the image of man in the work of leading modernist writers is…this. Man, for these writers, is by nature solitary, asocial, unable to enter into relationships with other human beings” (1219). In Howards End, Bast encounters such difficulties with his relationships with others and his attempts to climb the social ladder. From his natural distrust of others, whether this fear is warranted or not, his consistently finding himself in situations he doesn’t want to be in with people he does not want to be with, even feeling “trapped” in his marriage, the reader is continuously told that Bast has an inability to form normal social relationships or to “fit in” with society, even though it does not seem to be for lack of trying.
According to Lukacs, modernism is a form that attempts to capture the demise of capitalism by its focus on individual alienation from society and fellow man. He explains, “Man is reduced to a sequence of unrelated experiential fragments; he is as inexplicable to others as to himself” (1222). Conversely, Lukacs sees realism as the form of writing that offers a true portrait of man in relation to their socio economic standing while rooting them accurately in a historical setting. Traditional literature places a character within context, yet the absence of place is a trend in modernist literature. Lukacs explains, “By destroying the complex tissue of man’s relations with his environment, it furthers the dissolution of personality” (1223). However, Forster’s text does not destroy potential problems the characters may feel with their environment, in fact, his text highlights the importance of place for all characters, many of whom have their identities entangled with their homesteads. In Howards End, both the upper class Shelegels and the lower class Bast experience a lack of place, in both physical homesteads, and through blurred class identities. These feelings of disillusionment are reflective of the re-urbanization of London, and the loneliness felt by its inhabitants as a result. The narrator of Howards End describes the city with the following scene:
A block of flats, constructed with extreme cheapness, towered on either hand. Farther down the road two more blocks were being built, and beyond these an old house was being demolished to create another pair. It was the kind of scene that may be observed all over London… bricks and mortar rising and falling the relentlessness of the water in a fountain, as the city receives more and more men upon her soil. (41)
Howards End makes modernist commentary on the disintegration of London. Old buildings are demolished to make room for an expanding middle class, and it negatively affects the characters that are currently situated in upper middle class and high class society. Describing London, Margaret Schlegel notes that, “the population still rose, but what was the quality of the men born” (99) and later decries “I hate this continual flux of London. It is an epitome of us at our worst- eternal formlessness; all the qualities, good and bad, and indifferent, streaming away…” (167). Though Ms. Schlegel is an upper middle class woman, she will find herself married to an elite man by the end of the novel. It is fitting, therefore, that she finds the socioeconomic unrest in London to be an unstable setting for her, as it allegorically represents economic shifts taking place in her own life.
In addition to removing the character from a significant setting, modernist literature wipes away a character’s unique history. Lukacs explains, “Negation of history takes two different forms in modernist literature. First, the hero is strictly confined within the limits of his own experience… Secondly, the hero himself is without personal history. He is ‘thrown-into-the-world,’ meaninglessly…(Lukacs 1220).” In Howards End, characters are shaped by their history, class, money, and politics. An overview of the last ten years of Margaret’s life is provided by the narrator, who asserts “surely, if experience is attainable, she had attained it” (67). Even Leonard Bast has hints of a history, though his character is the one that appears most “thrown into the world,” his helplessness evokes sympathy and drives the plot. Forster does not remove characters from their history, although his modern London often coincides with a modernist one, and his characters learn the hard way that history cannot compete with the present moment, which is all there is in modernism.
Perhaps the most notable characteristic of modernism is how the movement addresses the idea of potentiality. According to Lukacs, “Potentiality, seen abstractly or subjectively- is richer than actual life… Modern subjectivism, taking these imagined possibilities for actual complexity of life, oscillates between melancholy and fascination” (1220). While Lukacs condemns modernism for its inability to appreciate “real” life, he discounts the fact that melancholy, nostalgia, and anxiety of the future are all real experiences of the human condition, and should be regarded as so in literature. Forster uses his traditional characters to speak against this idea of potentiality by removing some of the glamor from the elite Wilcox family. According to Helen Schlegel, “I felt for a moment that the whole Wilcox family was a fraud, just a wall of newspapers and motor-cars and golf-clubs, and that if it fell I should find nothing behind it but panic and emptiness” (21). Here Helen attributes the Wilcox’s material possessions and class as a smoke screen, hiding the real human fears and emotions the family has buried. The family uses their materialism to mask the experience of living actual life, unable to communicate or relate to one another. The Schlegels, one step lower economically than the Wilcox family, are able to see that the grass is not always greener, and with a modern sensibility they see living up to ones potentiality as potentially empty.
Modernism alone does not simply root an individual in a state of dissatisfaction and unrest, and heroes of traditional literature experience the same desires that Lukacs discredits as casualties of modernist potentiality. In Howards End, Leonard Bast best exemplifies this unrest and desire for potentiality from a modern perspective. Internally Bast laments, “Oh, to acquire culture!.. But it would take one years… how was it possible to catch up with leisured women, who had been reading steadily from childhood? (34),” and he is able to admit to himself that he will never quite reach that potential. Of course, one issue holding him back is the fact that he was not raised with money. Money undoubtedly effects potential. The Schlegel sisters understand this, seen with the following statement. Margaret comments, “But Helen and I, we ought to remember, when we are tempted to criticize others… the poor cannot always reach those whom they want to love, and they can hardly ever escape from those whom they love no longer. We rich can” (54). Both modernist Bast and the traditional Schlegel’s must acknowledge the role that money, or lack thereof, plays an enormous role throughout their lives. The rich are privileged in their wealth, and the poor are truly in want of it.
The narrator describes Leonard Bast’s unrest with his socioeconomic position in life. He is written as “inferior to most rich people… not as courteous as the average rich man, nor as intelligent, nor as healthy, nor as loveable. His mind and his body had alike been underfed, because he was poor, and because he was modern they were always craving better food” (40). Bast fails to reach his “potential” as a condition of being modern. The narrator seems to be commenting that this drive for “something more” seems to be the exact thing that holds his character back. Despite his attempts to fall into the right crowd socially, make the right career moves, and to find love, nothing goes exactly the way Bast had planned, he often seems lost and out of control of his own life.
This too falls in with Lukacs ideas of modernism, and the critic explains that “As the ideology of most modernist writers assert the unalterability of outward reality… human activity is…rendered impotent and robbed of meaning” (1227). Though Bast more represents the “modernist man” in Howards End, other characters in seem to find humanity lacking in importance, especially the wealthy. Of Mrs. Wilcox, the narrator notes that her voice “suggested that pictures, concerts, and people are all of small and equal value” (63). Additionally, Margaret states, “I believe we shall come to care about people less and less, Helen. The more people one knows the easier it becomes to replace them. It’s one of the curses of London” (119). In Forster’s novel, human activity is only lacking importance when one is wealthy enough to afford to see life as meaningless. In that case the individual, something so important to the modernist man, is replaceable, and even worse, a commodity to collect.
Lukacs may fall somewhere in between when examining the text of Howards End as an Edwardian or modernist piece, however, it is important to note some of the downfalls of his theories on modernism. His belief that writing must be written realistically in order to accurately portray man does not allow for change, growth, or the evolution of the written word. It pigeon holds the artist and humanity creatively, and artist have always charismatically rallied against having rules imposed on them when it comes to their art.
Without the freedom to break rules, novels like Howards End would never get written. Though it is arguable where Forster’s loyalties really lie, he writes his characters in a way that embodies many voices that were in a “modernist” London. Perhaps Forster’s overall views on capitalism and elitism are summed up in a passage near the end of Howards End. The narrator states, “…the Imperialist is not what he thinks or seems. He is a destroyer. He prepares the way for cosmopolitanism, and though his ambitions may be fulfilled, the earth he inherits will be grey” (300). Forster and Lukacs both interpret the materialist world the modernist man inhabits as a bleak and unfulfilling one driven by capitalism. Assuming the unnamed narrator is Forster’s voice of reason interjecting into the story, the reader hears the same message Lukacs delivered in his essay. Materialism is unfulfilling, elitism is empty, modernism is riddled with flaws, and yet the unrest within tradition cannot be ignored. Forster presented such topics hidden behind the veil of a traditional novel, allowing readers to become exposed to modernist sentiment, perhaps whether they realized it or not.
Forster, E.M. Howards End. 2013: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, London.
Lukacs, Gyorgy. “The Ideology of Modernism.” The Novel: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory 1900-2000. Ed. Dorothy J. Hale. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006. 394-412.
A Case for Umbrellas: Examining Practicality in Howards End
At the end of the Victorian era and into the modern age, everything seemed to be up for debate, including deepest held values. A strong clash was particularly felt between the social and economic classes. The upper class, with the security of wealth, clung to intellectualism and idealistic virtues. The lower classes, without the luxury of financial security, were forced to focus on earning their living. For those in the middle classes, the modern age created an environment of struggle between wanting to improve oneself intellectually but also providing for oneself financially. E.M. Forster wedged his novel Howards End into this age of conflicting values. His characters are forced to grapple with these changing values, particularly the character Leonard Bast, a lower-middle class insurance sales clerk who attempts to better himself. In an encounter with the upper-class Schlegel family, Leonard seeks intellectual stimulation as a way to escape his social and economic disparity. While Leonard may play the part of an intellectual for a short time, in the end, he always returns to practical matters. He cannot evade the survival instinct to keep bread on the table, no matter how wonderful the intellectual world seems. Howards End thus presents a case for practicality. Forster gives space to the seemingly mundane to give it value. Leonard’s character reinstates the value of practical matters behind the veil of intellectualism in the modern period.
Leonard is introduced to the novel by means of an object: a seemingly insignificantumbrella. At a performance of Beethoven music, Helen Schlegel accidentally walks off with Leonard’s umbrella. This umbrella may seem like an ordinary object, but for Leonard, it is of the utmost importance. The umbrella represents the world of practicality, Leonard’s world. An umbrella is an ordinary, simple device that protects us from rain. But literarily, it reveals the underlying separation of the classes. The upper-class would not give the umbrella any second thought. The Schlegels, as part of the upper class, will focus on intellectual debate rather than practical matters. Why should they spend time worrying about such trivialities as an umbrella? But this simple object becomes the center of Leonard’s fixations. We will see that even as he tries to engage in the “higher” form of intellectualism, he cannot fully change his focus. The umbrella, the representation of the practical world, will invade his attempts to “better” himself. Leonard’s attempt to retrieve his umbrella will bring into the open the hidden barriers between the social classes and the philosophical and practical world.
Leonard seeks out the Schlegels’ place of residence to try to retrieve his lost umbrella.What seems like a chance encounter reveals something important to us about Leonard’s character: he does not have the luxury of carelessness. When Leonard finds Margaret, she tells him, “My sister is so careless” (31). Helen is careless about umbrellas because she can afford to be. She causes this problem for Leonard because she does not check to see if the umbrella she picks up is hers. When Leonard informs Margaret that her sister has taken his umbrella, Margaret is apologetic. Leonard responds, “It isn’t of any consequence” (30). However, this statement is simply a formality. The narrator reveals that Leonard is “in truth, a little uneasy about his umbrella” (30). Leonard cannot afford to be careless about his possessions and is naturally uneasy about them. Any member of the upper-class in this situation would buy a new umbrella, not fretting over this small loss. But Leonard does not have this option. For him, every small possession is important. To lose an umbrella may mean a large cut in his paycheck. His attempt to retrieve the umbrella sets Leonard apart from the backdrop of the upper-class characters, casting him into a unique space in the novel, one we should give our attention.
We see some of Leonard’s situation revealed in the simple action of trying to get hisumbrella back. More of his character is exposed in his conversation with the Schlegels. After the concert, Leonard attempts to engage in an intellectual discussion with the Schlegels. The family discusses Brahms and Beethoven, diving into a heated discussion about the merits of art. Tibby, the person in the family who knows music the best, rattles off a series of questions, “What is the good of the Arts if they are interchangeable? What is the good of the ear if it tells you the same as the eye?” (32). To Leonard, these assertions sound like a foreign language. The speeches “fluttered away from the young man like birds” (33). He longs to be able to engage in this conversation, to join the ranks of these upper-class idealists. He wishes, “If only he could talk like this, he would have caught the world. Oh to acquire culture! Oh, to pronounce names correctly!” (33). Leonard idealizes the Schlegels and sees them as a golden embodiment of culture and knowledge. He sees their discussion as access to “the world.” He longs to know of music and discuss with them, not for the sake of knowing music itself, but to be able “to pronounce words correctly.” He wants to have knowledge for the sake of impressing others, for the sake of boosting his cultural identity. Leonard wants to engage in this debate to escape the worries of umbrellas and practicality.
But try as he might to join this conversation, Leonard is unable to escape his place inhis community. He cannot focus his attention on art because “he could not quite forget about his stolen umbrella” (33). Leonard’s umbrella is the “real trouble. Behind Monet and Debussy the umbrella persisted, with the steady beat of a drum.” Talk of Monet and Debussy seems to be a mask Leonard puts on, but behind it remains his true identity in the world of practicality. He talks of art with the Schlegels, but true thoughts center on his umbrella. This representation of the working sphere invades Leonard’s mind and cannot let him forget his true place in society. He belongs to the class who must worry about umbrellas. At the end of the day, it does not matter if Leonard can pronounce names correctly. He needs his umbrella back.
This conversation exposes not only the inner drive towards practicality but also the emptiness of scholarly discussion. The Schlegels devalue art by experiencing it for the purpose of impressing other people. The Schlegels discuss music and recite names of composers, but their conversation does not have any real merit. As readers, we experience the emptiness of their talk. Tibby’s comments, for example, show his knowledge of music but not an appreciation for it. He intentionally asserts his technical knowledge of music for what seems like the purpose of showing off. “But surely you haven’t forgotten the drum steadily beating on the low C, Aunt Juley?” (32). Tibby’s knowledge does not seem to have a use besides inserting itself into conversation. The Schlegels’ conversation is empty, intellectual talk. The center of the plot and the action rests not on the concert and their talk about it but on the stolen umbrella. The umbrella drives the plot, and by centering attention on it, Forster both reveals the uselessness of inflated intellectualism and gives value to the mundane.
Meaningless chatter is not the only way to devalue art. Leonard devalues art by treating it like a to-do list. Leonard wishes he could “catch up” with the Schlegels and their knowledge. He wishes:Oh to be well informed, discoursing at ease on every subject the lady started! But it would take one years. With an hour at lunch and a few shattered hours in the evening, how was it possible to catch up with leisured women, who had been steadily reading from childhood? (33)
But Leonard does not really want to understand great artists; he just wants to able to say their names and impress others. Leonard feels he has to know certain names in order to be properly cultured. But this kind of thinking robs art of any merit. Art and scholarly debate do have a place, but Forster shows us they are not the ultimate reality. Many people do not have the luxury of epitomizing intellectualism. We cannot give our full attention to idealism because in doing so, we lose our umbrellas. We lose our sense of practicality. What seems trivial has worth. The Leonard Basts of the world and their umbrellas have as much value as the Schlegels. Both art and practicality must be in their proper place to receive full value.
Leonard encounters the struggle between arts and practicality at the beginning of the text. In the end, he stops trying to gain footing in the philosophical world because he sees the value of practical matters. Towards the end of the novel, Leonard and Helen argue about what matters most in life. Leonard has lost his job and is forced to focus closely on his financial affairs. He tells Helen, “I can imagine that with regular work we should settle down again” (200). Helen is offended for she wants Leonard to continue to pursue beauty. “And that’s to be life!” she says. “How can you, with all the beautiful things to see and do— with music— with walking at night—” (200). Helen is still transfixed with the philosophical world. But Leonard asserts, “My books are back again, thanks to you, but they’ll never be the same to me again, and I shan’t ever again think walking in the woods is wonderful. . . Because I see one must have money” (200). Leonard is right to make this statement. In intellectual circles, we want to deny our need for money and pursue “higher” causes. But the need to put bread on the table will always be there.
Helen, like many of us, wants to argue with Leonard and says he is wrong. He says to her, “I wish I was wrong. . . the real thing’s money and the rest is all a dream” (200). Perhaps Leonard takes his argument too far. Helen seeks the beautiful things of the world, and this is a good thing. The rest is not “all a dream,” but we can understand Leonard’s sentiment. We can certainly make “the rest” a dream by devaluing art and robbing it of its substance. If we seek beauty for the sake of impressing others and not for the experience itself, we miss the point. We still must give Leonard’s side of things some credit. Helen is upset that “settling down” is “to be life,” but it is a part of life, one we cannot deny (200). Leonard sees that though his “books are back,” he still has to focus on earning a living. Books are of little use when one is out of a job. This is not a welcomed statement in the intellectual community, but it is still true. All the books in the world will not make a decent wage for us. Both books and money must have their proper place.
The umbrellas come back to haunt Leonard once again in this scene with Helen:
Leonard looked at her wondering, and had the sense of great things sweeping out of the shrouded night. But he could not receive them, because his heart was full of little things. As the lost umbrella had spoilt the concert at Queen’s Hall, so the lost situation was obscuring the diviner harmonies now. (201)
The narrator comments here that the “little things” Leonard focuses on take up too much space in his mind for the “diviner harmonies” to fit. But perhaps the little things take up space because they do matter. The “little things” demand attention from Leonard because they are important too. Leonard is upset that he cannot focus on what seems to be higher, but he forgets the value of little things. What seems to be trivial demands its own importance in our lives. If we give our trivialities proper attention, then perhaps we can fit the “diviner” things into the space of our lives as well.
Forster gives unusual attention to “little things,” to umbrellas and to the character of Leonard Bast. The space taken by the seemingly mundane my puzzle readers, but Forster draws our attention to them to once again give them value. We cannot forget the mundane, ordinary things of life. Howards End becomes a voice for people like Leonard, for the middle class struggling in the awkward, in-between place of philosophy and practicality. Somewhere there is a balance between these two worlds. Forster’s characters never seem to find it, but perhaps we can. As readers we can seek intellectual stimulation, but we must not forget about our umbrellas.