Literature / Howards End

"Only connect..."

Howards End is a 1910 novel by E. M. Forster, dealing with class differences in post-Victorian English society. In 1992, it was adapted into a film directed by James Ivory and starring Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave and Helena Bonham-Carter.

The two main characters are Margaret and Helen Schlegel, who become involved with the upper-class Wilcox family, who own the eponymous house, and with Leonard and Jacky Bast, who are on the verge of poverty. As the story progresses, the three families intersect in many different ways.

This novel contains examples of the following:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Margaret is described, more or less, as "the one with the teeth" in the novel; she's just not that attractive. In the film, she's played by Emma Thompson, who is by no means unattractive (and her teeth are perfectly normal!).
  • Ambiguously Gay: Much is made of Tibby being "different" and "unusual" and at no time does he express any interest in women. May well be an Author Avatar as well.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The sword mentioned throughout the novel causes the death of Leonard at the end of the novel.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Mr. Wilcox is a man of the Victorian Era and a succesful businessman. He fancies himself as a pragmatist, but he comes off as patronizing to Margaret and her sister, uselessly gruff to his daughter-in-law, and he totally disregards his late wife's last will as a whim.
  • Hypocrite: Mr. Wilcox chastizes Margaret about Helen's pregnancy and the "crime" of her "seducer", while easily forgetting his own past sins.
  • In Vino Veritas: When Jacky gets drunk, she reveals that she and Henry were lovers.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Helen is an early Edwardian prototype of this to Leonard. And then, in the reverse of this trope, he dies.
  • Old Maid: When Margaret reaches twenty-nine, it's considered unlikely that she'll marry which may be why she seizes a viable opportunity when her siblings are against it. Her suitor is a middle-aged widower with grown-up children, though, and such men often married women older than would be considered eligible as first wives.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Helen's baby is known only as "baby" in the last chapter.
  • Passed-Over Inheritance: Mrs. Wilcox leaves Howards End to Margaret, whom she barely knows. The Wilcoxes simply ignore the bequest.
  • Twice-Told Tale: Zadie Smith's On Beauty, which resets the novel in contemporary academia.
  • Unexpected Inheritance: Played with. Although Mrs. Wilcox leaves Margaret Howards End, the family dismisses the note and ignores the bequest. Margaret finds out about Mrs. Wilcox's wishes only by accident in the novel's final chapter, after Henry Wilcox officially leaves her the house in his own will.
  • Where There's a Will, There's a Sticky Note: Mrs. Wilcox leaves Howards End to Margaret in a brief note, not a formal will.