I enjoyed this first book, especially Forster’s attention to gender and the woman’s viewpoint. Modernism was taking form. When Mrs. Wilcox dies, Forster emphasizes that her death represents the death of the Victorian ideal of a woman. “London had done the mischief, said others. She had been a kind lady; her grandmother had been kind, too—a plainer person but very kind. Ah, the old sort was dying out!” (Forster 66). We are informed what the “old sort” is in Mr. Wilcox’s description of his wife, which contains the traditional ideals of the Victorian woman. In other places, Forster shows the main themes of Modernism. With Mr. Bast, he shows the issues of undefined class. “His mind and his body had been alike underfed, because he was poor, and because he was modern they were always craving better food. Had he lived some centuries ago, in the brightly coloured civilizations of the past, he would have had a definite status (35). The ideas of Modernism and traditional views are in opposition like the two families of Howards End.
The Wilcoxes and the Schlegels are depicted as opposing viewpoints that in the end are united by Margaret Schlegel’s marriage to Henry Wilcox and her subsequent conquering him. However, it is not just a comparison in people but in households. The Schlegel sisters’ household, Wickham Place, is characterized as feminine. Tibby is there, but he said to be feminine. He was raised by Helen and Margaret, without a male figure. Tibby seems similar to Forster in this aspect, since as Martin and Piggford point out, Forster was raised by women and “his overprotective mother remained a strong influence on him until her death in 1945” (Martin 11). Wickham Place is filled with intelligent and liberal people. Often, the Schlegels have artists over to their house, the type of people Mrs. Wilcox does not like.
We can clearly see the transitional phase that Forster was living in. On one hand, the Schlegel sisters are independent and intelligent women, a far cry from the traditional Victorian ideal of the domestic angel. However, on the other hand both women are taken by the masculine qualities that the Wilcoxes represent. After Helen returns from Howards End, Forster describes her love for the Wilcox family and how they are different from her.
She had liked giving into Mr. Wilcox, or Evie, or Charles; she had liked being told that her notions of life were sheltered or academic; that Equality was nonsense, Vote for Women nonsense, Socialism nonsense, Art and Literature, except conducive to strengthening the character, nonsense. One by one the Schlegel fetishes had been overthrown, and, though professing to defend them, she had rejoiced. (Forster 19).
Helen gladly accepts all her notions as an intelligent and independent woman being taken away. Other than this, we glimpse into the Wilcoxes’ views as being completely opposite of what the Schlegels’ modernist views. Margaret also appears to accept being taken out of her views into the world of the Wilcox family’s views. When Margaret asks Henry to hire Leonard Bast, she does it with her influence.
It was the reward of her tact and devotion through the day. Now she understood why some women prefer influence to rights. Mrs. Plynlimmon, when condemning suffragettes, had said: “The woman who can’t influence her husband to vote the way she wants ought to be ashamed of herself.” Margaret had winced, but she was influencing Henry now and though pleased at her little victor, she knew that she had won it by the methods of the harem. (165)
Margaret, here and several other places, gives into the views of the Wilcoxes and of those that her ideals opposed when she was an independent woman.
However, these oppositions are unified at the end by Margaret’s ability to bring together pregnant Helen, Henry, and herself at Howards End. Elizabeth Langland says, “the resolution of the novel where the value of connection, represented by the presence of Henry and Helen at Howards End, is enacted in the plot by Margaret’s conquest of Henry” (447). This connection unifies two people who are in opposition to one another since Margaret’s marriage to Henry, and it is also a unification of ideas.