The epigraph ‘Only Connect’ that Forster has given to ‘Howards End’ is certainly an appropriate one, as the impact of these two words is significant throughout the novel. Forster manages impressively not only to intertwine the lives of the characters, but also integrate the separate divisions of the social spectrum into the world of the novel. Throughout the novel a number of significant ‘connections’ occur between the various characters.
In the portrait of Margaret and Helen Schlegel and in the optimistic ending to the novel, Forster points readers towards a future of harmonious connection between the different elements in the world of the novel. This essay, however will argue that in fact the ‘conflict’ that is presented in ‘Howards End’, outweighs the ‘connections’. The protagonist in ‘Howards End’ who ‘connects’ with a number of characters is Margaret Schlegel. Margaret is the chief representative of the Schlegel family, which signifies the idealistic, intellectual and cultural aspects of the English upper middle classes.
For example, Margaret becomes acquainted with Mrs. Wilcox, a gentle, selfless, loving and strangely omniscient character. In contrast to Margaret, Mrs. Wilcox is clearly not intellectual. Margaret throws a luncheon for the ethereal, selfless Mrs. Wilcox. However, it is clear that Mrs. Wilcox feel uncomfortable amongst the guests. For example, it is made evident that her ‘tastes were simple’ and her ‘knowledge of culture slight’.
‘There was no common topic’ between Mrs. Wilcox and the guests. Unlike Margaret, Mrs. Wilcox is not interested in Art, Music, Journalism and Literature. Instead, Mrs. Wilcox’s life revolves around her husband and sons. Although Mrs. Wilcox is not a cultured lady, as is Margaret, and despite the failure of the luncheon, they still seem to share spiritual qualities which allow them to ‘connect’. This surprising friendship is Forster’s attempt to bring the two main families of the novel into a union. He also wishes to bring together the two symbolic ideas that they represent. 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.
The readers recognize that Mrs. Wilcox tends to have an intuitive knowledge of the people around her. Mrs. Wilcox calls this ‘an instinct which may be wrong. ‘ As their relationship develops, Mrs. Wilcox attempts to leave her home, Howards End, to Margaret. Although Mrs. Wilcox and Margaret are from different families with contrasting beliefs, they are clearly able to converse well with each other. For example, in Chapter 8 the two characters speak about ‘superstitions’. It is apparent that Margaret and Mrs. Wilcox do share some similarities.
For instance, Mrs. Wilcox tells her companion about the ‘wych-elm tree in Hertfordshire’ Margaret tells Mrs. Wilcox that she loves ‘folklore and all festering superstitions’. There are obvious parallels between these characters, and this adds to the idea of a future of harmony. Even after the death of Mrs. Wilcox, it seems that her presence still remains within Margaret. A striking incident in which Margaret reveals Mrs. Wilcox’s existence is during her first visit to Howards End. Margaret sees ‘an old woman’ who was ‘descending, with figure erect’ and with a ‘face impassive.
‘ This woman, Mrs. Avery, mistakes Margaret for being Mrs. Wilcox. Mrs. Avery stated that Margaret had Mrs. Wilcox’s ‘way of walking. ‘ Some readers might find this way of expressing the spiritual connection rather unconvincing. For instance, the incident at Howards End, can be thought to be too supernatural sounding. However, Foster is knowingly and wittily asking the reader to stretch their sympathetic connection with Margaret to the extent that they can feel with her, the presence of Mrs. Wilcox. Forster is seducing the reader into accepting something which is irrational and something that would be rejected by commonsense. In Mrs. Wilcox, there is an acceptance of a Margaret-like mentality as opposed to a Henry-like mentality. This supernatural aura is also presented in Chapter 18. ‘Mrs. Wilcox strayed in and out, ever welcome ghost; surveying the scene, thought Margaret, without one hint of bitterness. ‘ This suggests that Mrs. Wilcox approved of Margaret and Henry being together.
It portrays the spiritual ‘connection’ between Margaret and Mrs. Wilcox. The most explicit expression of the theme of ‘only connect’ occurs at the beginning of chapter 22. This is an essential chapter, as it allows the readers to grasp the concept of ‘only connect’: Margaret greeted her lord with peculiar tenderness on the morrow. Mature as he was, she might yet be able to help him to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with passion. Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never joined into a man’. In this chapter, Margaret’s task in helping Mr. Wilcox to achieve internal harmony is defined: ‘Only Connect! That was that whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted and human love will be seen at its highest. Live in fragments no longer.
Only connect, and the beast and monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die’ (chapter 22). Margaret has an overall venture throughout the novel to unify the unseen with the seen, and therefore create balance. Yet the greatest challenge to this project comes in the form of her eventual husband, Henry Wilcox. After the death of Mrs. Wilcox, Margaret grows very fond of her husband Henry Wilcox. She wishes to change the male mannerism in his character, of ‘panic and emptiness’. Margaret’s attempt to change Henry can be said to be a noble, heroic aim. Margaret starts to do this when she cultivates Henry.
While Margaret ‘never forgot anyone for whom she had once cared; she connected… and she hoped that some day Henry might do the same. ‘ The well-known critic, FR Leavis rather objects to the plausibility of Margaret and Henry’s relationship. I disagree: Forster does attempt to trace the development of Margaret and Henry’s courtship. Forster suggests the plausibility of their relationship through the narration about Margaret’s father. It can be said that Margaret is aware that her father’s characteristics are reflected in Henry. For example, the fact that her father is able to ‘change countries and ideals,’ relates to Mr. Wilcox’s spontaneous and impulsive qualities.
This attracts her enormously to Henry. She admires Henry’s male strength and soldier- like quality. It also seems appropriate that Margaret and Henry are both middle-aged, single people. Margaret also sympathises with the fact that Henry is needy without a wife. Her intentions to ‘connect’ with Henry and make him ‘connect’ are thus not so poorly motivated as Leavis thinks. However, although we might well sympathise with Margaret’s aims, it is unlikely that readers of ‘Howards End’ will feel that Margaret will succeed in changing Henry.
Henry’s character contrasts enormously with Margaret’s. He is described as being ‘obtuse,’ materialistic and money-orientated. The way in which Henry deals with Leonard Bast is definitely contrary to the way in which Margaret deals with him. Henry’s association with Leonard conflicts enormously with Margaret’s beliefs. Henry deals casually with Leonard Bast and does not show any sympathy for him when his employment situation becomes disastrous. It is obvious that Henry does not see a personal connection with Leonard Bast. Henry even forgets who Leonard Bast is, contrary to Margaret’s aim.
Margaret later tries to show Henry that he must forgive Leonard and Helen for their sexual encounter. According to Henry it is wrong to have pre-marital sex. However, he has had extra-marital sex with Jackie Bast, and so if Margaret is willing to forgive him, then surely Margaret feels he should be equally willing to forgive Leonard and Helen. She is suggesting that Henry only utilises one area of his emotions and thought, as he is too arrogant and self-protective to forgive. Henry prefers not to connect, so then he does not have to face the consequences and the reality of his actions.
It is a case of ignorance being bliss. While he needed the support from Margaret when he had been exposed, he is unwilling to succour another, and so Margaret is attempting to sever his isolation and halt his detachment from reality. Margaret tells her partner; ‘You shall see the connection if it kills you, Henry! … A man who ruins a woman for his pleasure, and casts her off to ruin other men… These men are you. You can’t recognise them, because you cannot connect. ‘ Some readers think that what happens at the end of the novel is that through ‘connecting’ with Henry, Margaret succeeds in undermining Henry’s defences.
However, it is rather the indirect influence of Margaret’s ‘connection’ of Henry and Charles to the Basts that really brings about Henry’s change. Henry eventually must face the discovery that his son, Charles, has caused the death of Leonard Bast, and Charles must serve time in prison. Henry is a broken man, but Margaret undertakes his care. Henry undergoes a breakdown and finally recognises that his values were at fault. His obtuseness and ignorance converts into humbleness and awareness. Henry eventually is reconciled to Helen. She and her illegitimate child join Margaret and Henry at Howards End, where peace and stability are enjoyed.
It is here when these ‘connections’ and reconciliation are imposed to provide a source of hope for harmony in the future. In this ending Forster is clearly trying to portray the possibility of a unified Edwardian England. Forster has earlier prepared for the climactic scene of harmony and connection by his scene of reconciliation between Margaret and Helen, ‘the past sanctifying the present’. Foster thus illustrates the restoration of the family unit, and here too attempts to convey an impression of inner-harmony and connection between the characters.
The situation of the living circumstances at the end of the novel can be said to present harmony. A harmony is achieved at Howards End, as it is inhabited by Margaret, Henry, Helen and the Bast love child. The Bast child can represent a new ‘connected’ class, a mixture of bourgeoisie and bohemian upper class. It is the characters’ aptitude to forgive, and so embrace the other that allows them to ‘connect’. This is suggested in the relationships between Margaret and Mrs. Wilcox and Margaret and Helen. However this is a mannerism not possessed by Henry until the end of the novel.
This explains the reasons for his narrow-minded treatment of Leonard Bast. Not only do various ‘connections’ or relationships in ‘Howards End’ predict a future of harmony, but Forster attempts to convey this impression through the ambience of the novel. The continuity in national life appears clearly in the description of the ‘Dorset Coast’ at the end of chapter 19. The vision of England as ‘a ship of souls, with all the brave world’s fleet accompanying her towards eternity”, is a passage which certainly embodies the ideals of harmony and continuity, untarnished by provinciality or jingoism.
Forster’s use of tone and visionary language positively creates an atmosphere of peace and harmony. A number of ideas in the book are shaped under a Romantic belief that internal order can occur through love, thus attempting to represent the notion of a reconciliation of opposites, through Romantic tendencies. For example, the Romantic idea of the healing and comforting powers of nature is conveyed through Leonard’s ‘walk’. In chapter fourteen, Leonard tells the Schlegel sisters of his connection with nature. The conversation between Leonard and the sisters is clearly enlightening.
The characters are all involved in a situation which interests them. The sisters encourage the conversation with phrases such as ‘Yes, go on’. Their curiosity is evident when Margaret asks ‘Yes, but the wood. This ‘ere wood. How did you get out of it? ‘ However, the love connection between Margaret and Henry, is not truly believable. For example, nowhere in the book is true love really moulded, but instead love based upon the desire to improve and to belong. This is portrayed through their marriage, which seems to occur out of convenience.
It is in fact the conflict between the characters which seem more realistic, thus Margaret and Helen separate through ‘conflicts’ between the families. Henry Wilcox is disgusted when discovering that Helen has fallen pregnant. He does not wish to have a ‘fallen’ girl staying at Howards End and he does not deny this to Margaret. Henry informs his son, Charles of the situation. In Chapter 39 Charles immediately consults Tibby Schlegel, Helen’s younger brother. Tibby admits that it was Leonard Bast who would be the father of Helen’s baby. The Wilcoxes anger leads to the death of Leonard Bast.
This incident indubitably predicts a future of ‘conflict’ The ending of the novel, Forster’s attempt to redeem the possibility of ‘connection’, is in fact unbelievable and implausible. The final situation in ‘Howards End’ presents an unrealistic ‘harmony’. Forster has made an ending that is too rushed and too optimistic. Readers will question whether it is truly possible for Helen to live beside Mr. Wilcox. It is because of the Wilcox family that Helen’s lover is now dead. Her baby will have to be raised as a bastard, because there will be no chance of them getting married.
It is unrealistic that Helen would forgive the Wilcox family for allowing what happened to Leonard Bast. Leonard will not be able to be a representative of the Bast family. It is likely that Helen will always hold some sort of abhorrence for the Wilcoxes because of her lover’s death. It is almost impossible to see that the Bast child will live contentedly beside the Wilcox family, knowing that they are the reason that he is a bastard. The readers also see no sign of Jacky Bast at the end of the novel. Surely it is not credible that Forster has not included this important figure in the end of his novel?
The impression of an incurable gender conflict between Henry and the Schlegel sisters is emphasised all the more in the other characters. In fact, Forster portrays almost all the male characters in his novel negatively. The men are possessive and chauvinistic characters made of ‘panic and emptiness’ as suggested by Margaret’s sister Helen. Chapter 25 contains a scene in which the clear conflict between men and women is portrayed. Margaret is determined to go back to the place where the car she was travelling in was thought to have hit a dog. Margaret exclaims ‘Do please stop! ‘ ‘I want to go back, please’.
However, ‘Charles took no notice’. The other characters told Margaret that ‘The men are there’, ‘The men will see to it. ‘ This reaction emphasizes how it was commonly thought that the men should take care of all important business and that the women should merely submit to them and do what they are told. After the demanding way that Charles and Mr. Wilcox act toward the women, the narration includes ‘Ladies sheltering behind men, men sheltering behind servants-the whole systems wrong, and she must challenge it’. On page 214, Charles speaks of the incident that occurred.
He states ‘Miss. Schlegel had lost her mind, as any woman might’. The male dominating character underlines his stereotypical view of women as he speaks of them as being over dramatic and foolish. Despite Forster’s optimistic ending, scenes like this strongly suggest that the gender differences in the early twentieth century, are likely to cause a future of conflict and disagreement. Forster’s vivid and emphatic presentation of the differences within the families, very much goes against the possibility of harmony. He places a large emphasis on the difficulty in connecting due to the families’ different backgrounds.
For example, the pragmatic Wilcox family are materialistic and very much money-orientated. They represent the solid English work ethic and conventional social morality. They are involved greatly in the business environment. On the other hand, the idealistic Schlegel family are more spiritual and cultured. The upper class family appreciate Edwardian culture such as the Arts and literature and music. The Basts, headed by a lower-middle class insurance clerk are impoverished. Leonard Bast desperately hopes that books will save him from social and economic desolation.
Their differences in interests present a huge and eventually immovable obstacle in connecting with each other. Moreover, Forster does not deal with people across the whole social spectrum in his novel. If ‘only connect’ is going to be associated with England, then it is unfair to make a prediction of the future of England upon reading ‘Howards End’. Forster does not look upon the whole of England. He avoids looking at people of great wealth such as aristocrats and upper class, and although he includes Leonard Bast, he does not look at the vast numbers of the working class people at all.
When reading ‘Howards End’, readers are aware of the ‘conflicts’ and ‘connections’ between the families. Through many relationships within the novel, people are able to ‘connect’ and share interests. They are also able to share ideas and beliefs with one another. However, apart from these, too many disagreements occur. These broad fault-lines between groups of people are very evident in the novel, and Forster does little to persuade us they can be healed. They are crystallised in the situation between Henry and Margaret. It is clear that Henry is afraid of emotion.
His motto is ‘concentrate’, while Margaret’s is ‘only connect’. This difference in attitudes creates an irreconcilable tension in the novel. They are very different people who represent extremely different ideas. The difference between ‘concentrating’ and ‘only connecting’ is the difference between Margaret and Henry; it is the difference between the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes, and the primary conflict in ‘Howards End. ‘ Through this argument, it can be concluded that the sense of ‘conflict’ outweighs the attempt to present the Schlegels, Wilcoxes and Basts as connected.
Forster is very much similar to the way that Margaret thinks. Forster tends to be biased towards Margaret’s ideas and beliefs. It can be said that Forster and Margaret share the same aphorism; ‘Only Connect’. Although Margaret encourages ‘connection’, the hope for ‘harmony’ seems doubtful. The attempted ‘connections’ prove unsuccessful. Most significantly, the ‘connection’ between Leonard Bast and the Schlegels, finally results in his death and Forster’s contrived and sketchy ‘harmonious’ conclusion cannot rescue the argument. Rather what is stressed is the ‘divided nature of Edwardian England’ and a future of conflict. ‘