Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Howards End

Go To

"Only connect..."

Howards End is a 1910 novel by E. M. Forster, dealing with class differences in post-Victorian English society.

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.

In 1992, it was adapted into a Merchant Ivory film starring Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave and Helena Bonham Carter. The play The Inheritance is also inspired by the film.

The story 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: Tibby is a soft and dainty academic who is noted as being quite "different" and "unusual" from the other gentlemen in his social class. At no time does he express any interest in women. May well be an Author Avatar as well.
  • Arc Words: Only connect..., the wish for humans to connect through sympathy and love despite class boundaries.
  • Big Fancy House:
    • Howards End isn't that big or impressive, but it's quite beautiful. A driving force of the plot is the fact that Margaret appreciates the house, while the practical Wilcoxes don't see what's so special about it.
    • Henry shows off his much larger and fancier mansion to Margaret as a preamble to proposing marriage.
  • Blatant Lies: Charles, after beating Leonard with a sword, insists he only hit him once or twice, very lightly. Nobody buys it, and he's arrested.
  • Butt-Monkey: Leonard Bast. On the shaky advice from Henry, relayed to him by Margaret and Helen, he quits his stable and well-paying job for an unstable, lower-paying job which he eventually loses, sending him and his wife (whom he married only because of a promise) into poverty. He then gets Helen pregnant out of wedlock and ends up dead of a heart attack after Charles beats him with her father's sword.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The sword mentioned throughout the story causes the death of Leonard at the end of the novel.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Helen tends to be a flighty dreamer, meeting Leonard after accidentally taking his umbrella.
  • Cool Old Lady: Despite her dated societal views, Mrs. Wilcox is a gracious and open-minded woman who falls in with Margaret easily.
  • Double Standard: Lampshaded by Margaret, who points out the hypocrisy in forgiving Henry for his old affair and the two of them continuing past it, yet Henry refuses to let Helen sleep at Howards End due to her pregnancy out of wedlock.
  • The Edwardian Era: The story is set during this time period, which was current when the novel was published in 1910.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Henry Wilcox is pragmatic, unsentimental and selfish, but he's clearly weighed down by his conscience when approaching his late wife's bequest of Howards End to Margaret. Rather than simply destroy the note immediately, he talks it over with his children to rationalize the decision. Ultimately he can't seem to do it himself, and it's his daughter who pulls the trigger.
  • For Want Of A Nail: If Helen hadn't stolen Leonard's umbrella, he wouldn't have met her, wouldn't have quit his job and would presumably have lived a fairly normal working-class life as a clerk with Jacky.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Mr. Wilcox is a man of the Victorian Era and a successful businessman. He fancies himself as a pragmatist, but he comes off as patronizing to Margaret and her sister and is uselessly gruff to his daughter-in-law.
  • Hypocrite: Mr. Wilcox chastises 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.
  • Jerkass: While all the Wilcox children are only after their own interests, Charles in particular is violent, scheming and self-centered, with few to no discernible positive qualities. Even his attack on Leonard for his impregnating Helen out of wedlock is due to his own rigid belief in seeking revenge for the dishonoring of a female relative rather than actual affection or loyalty towards her, as Helen herself never angsts over her situation.
  • Love Triangle: Leonard is attracted to Helen, who shares the feeling, but he's married to Jacky, whom he promised to wed after sleeping with her.
  • Meet Cute: Helen meets Leonard after she accidentally takes his umbrella at a lecture. They maintain a faint but long-simmering attraction over several years in spite of their class difference and the fact that he's promised to marry another woman.
  • Nice Girl: Margaret is friendly and gracious with everyone she meets, unlike Henry's daughter and daughter-in-law who constantly scheme and gossip.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Henry announces that he always tips the carver, but then immediately explains that he sees it as an investment on good service rather than because he's a nice guy.
  • 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.
  • Precious Puppies: Henry's daughter brings over a cute pair of Labradors to Margaret's home, and she squeals in delight over them.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Leonard seeks out Helen to make things right, only for Charles to accidentally kill him upon his arrival.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Poor Leonard is kicked around for the entire story and ends up dead at the end with nothing to show for it.
  • Soap Opera Disease: Leonard suffers from an undiagnosed heart disease, which weakens him throughout the plot. It ends up killing him during Charles's attack, though a coroner suggests he was near the end of his life regardless.
  • 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.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to Jacky, once her husband dies and leaves her with no money or prospects?
  • 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.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Mrs. Wilcox wills Howards End to Margaret. Despite all the attempts from the Wilcoxes to reverse this, Margaret really does end up getting the house in the end.