Kingwood College Library

Howards End

By E. M. Forster 1879 - 1970
Green Cottage at Hertforshire

First published:  1910 
Time of plot:  Early Twentieth Century 
Locale:  England 
Keywords:  E. M. Forster, Howards End, domestic realism, anti-industrialism, social class

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Biography Characters
Criticism Historical Events
Plot Summary Journal Articles
Internet Sites Themes



Born in London on January 1, 1879 and educated at King's College, Cambridge, Forster won many awards and was given the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II in 1969. Foster died in Coventry, England on June 7, 1970.

He inherited a serious and moral character from his paternal ancestors, the Thorntons. His maternal ancestors, the Wichelos, gave him an enjoyment of aesthetic responsiveness. His reputation was developed and strengthened during the Edwardian years. His greatest recognition came after WWII, when he had almost completely ceased writing fiction.

His ability to create characters and situations of great human significance, his speculative power, and his qualities as a serious moralist with great ability as a perceptive realist in displaying the Edwardian and post war society are among the strengths of his writing style. Women figured strongly in his upbringing. His father had died when he was 1 1/2 years old. He was raised primarily by his mother. A time which was important to his early life was his residence at Rooksnest, in Hertfordshire. He developed a love for the English countryside, and Rooksnest became a model for Howards End (1910).

While at Cambridge, he became a member of a group called the Cambridge Conversazione Society. This group discussed moral, intellectual, and aesthetic issues. Many of the members later formed a London group known as the Bloomsbury Group. Here, Forster was influenced by the writings of G. E. Moore who strongly felt that the most satisfying states were those coming from aesthetic experiences and personal relationships. Forster felt a strong affinity with many of the values of the Bloomsbury group, such as friendship, speculative discussion, persistent questioning of convention, agnosticism, and advocacy of social change, appreciation of the innovative in the arts, and a testing of moral values. These values are dramatized vividly in Howards End (the Schlegel sisters).

by , Reference Librarian from Dictionary of Literary Biography, v. 34, p. 131

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REF PN 41.D5  Dictionary of Literary
DLB is a multi-volume work which provides detailed biographical 
sketches of the authors' literary writings as well as general critical commentary. 
REF PN 451.M36 1974  Cyplopedia of World Authors This concise collection of literary biographies provides information about the lives, careers and works of world writers.
REF PN 523. M29  Magill's Survey of World Literature Discussion of E. M. Forster's contributions and achievements in literature.



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Charleston Farm near Firle, Sussex, a Bloomsbury Group hangoutHowards End depicts the life and manners of the upper middle class that Forster knew from his own life. He portrayed the shortcomings as well as the amenities of society along side the frequent trivialities he saw. He felt that people need not be static even when a society was. A sincere individual could still achieve a morality above what his surroundings might seem to permit. In Howards End, Forster is "preoccupied with the well-being of an entire society. He not only analyzed the various strata of the British upper class, he also showed that even a sincere individual would encounter great difficulty in acquiring wholeness in the fractured modern age". (DLB, v. 34, p. 131)

The primary character in Howards End is Margaret Schlegel. She and her sister, Helen, and brother Tibby, represent the middle level of middle class society, independent, but not wealthy. Henry Wilcox, whom Margaret eventually marries, and his family represent the upper level of the middle class. Two other characters of importance are Leonard and Jacky Bast, who live in genteel poverty.

Margaret tries to bridge the upper and lower levels of the middle class. Her practical abilities, inner strength and emotional perceptiveness enable her to appreciate the Wilcoxes and, at the same time, strive for a finer life, which she perceives can only be found from enjoying an emotionally whole life experience.

Henry Wilcox's first wife, Ruth, becomes a close friend to Margaret. She feels an affinity to Margaret that her own family does not offer. The property at Howards End is hers (from her family inheritance) and she decides to give it to Margaret when she dies. The Wilcox family, ignoring her wishes, decide not to give the property to Margaret.

Through a series of social contacts, Margaret and Henry become involved and eventually marry. Helen, Margaret's sister, has discovered that through bad advice from Henry, Leonard Bast, a poor clerk in the office of the Porphyrion Insurance Company, has lost his position and fallen into the abyss of the poor. Helen tries to appeal to Henry's conscience by dragging the Basts to Evie Wilcox's wedding in Shropshire. The situation is only worsened and threatens the marriage of Margaret to Henry when it is revealed that Mrs. Bast (Jacky) was Henry's mistress when he lived in Cypress (while still married to Ruth).

Helen becomes pregnant by Leonard Bast and disappears for eight months. At Henry's suggestion, Margaret lures Helen to Howards End and they reconcile. Henry eventually must face the discovery that his son, Charles, has caused the death of Leonard Bast (a beating causes Leonard's heart to fail), and Charles must serve time in prison. Henry is a broken man, but Margaret undertakes his care. Henry eventually is reconciled to Helen. She and her illegitimate child join Margaret and Henry at Howards End, where peace and stability are enjoyed.

Howards End represents a fusion of social realism and poetic symbolism. Forster comments on the contradictions, complexities and paradoxes of human experience.

by , Reference Librarian from critical sources listed below.

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English society at the close of the Edwardian era. Country houses as images of cultural unity
Emotion versus pragmatism Culture versus materialism
The strong bond between sisters The relationship between Germany and England at the time of the novel

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REF PN 771.C59  Contemporary Literary Criticism
A current library card is required for login  Get Card : Literature Resource Center
CLC contains excerpts from critical essays in books and journals.  Use these volumes to 1) select a topic or theme 2) find the full articles or essay in the library, and 3) locate other articles and books from the "Further Reading" section. 
REF PN 523.W67 1992  World Literature Criticism A broad selection of the best criticism of works by major writers
REF PR 106.S7 Reference Guide to English Literature Critical and biographical information with excellent bibliographies. Includes a separate discussion of Howards End.
REF PR 85.N39  Modern British Literature Background information and an analysis of the author's writing style.
REF PN 3451.C7  Characters in Twentieth Century Literature A brief description of the characters and possible critical treatments.
Library Catalog Circulating Books Go to the Library Catalog and search under subject keywords such as Howards End, E. M Forster, Bloomsbury Group

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The Edwardian period in England was a time of great change. It is sometimes depicted as an idealistic period of English history - a time of order and harmony - but in reality it was a time of social and political strife. The Irish nationalists, the labor unions, and the suffragettes were all demanding that their problems and agendas be addressed. The Boer War (1899 - 1902) in South Africa divided the country much like the Vietnam War did in a later time in the United States. England was becoming increasingly urbanized and the poverty in the cities was appalling. As the need for such social reforms as old age pensions, workmen's compensation, the vote for women, and unemployment and health insurance became the focus of government policy, the resultant increase in taxes on the wealthy brought conflict between the old wealthy, privileged classes and the poorer, working class. by , Reference Librarian

REF PN 164.A85 1996  The Atlas of Literature Beautifully illustrated, this book has an excellent discussion of the Bloomsbury group which consisted of such artists as E. M. Forster, Vanessa and Clive Bell, Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant, and many others at various times.
REF DA 34.C28 1985 Cambridge Historical Encyclopedia of Great Britain and Ireland The section entitled "Political Reform and Economic Revolution 1783 - 1901" gives insight into what made the society that Howards End depicts.
REF PR 19.G53 A Companion to British Literature The History of English Critical Thought; The 20th Century 1914 - Present Day.
DA 550.T53 1988 The Rise of Respectable Society: A Social History of Victorian Britain 1830 -1900 Circulating book.
HQ 1593.J34 1988 Women, Marriage and Politics 1860 - 1914 Circulating book.

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MLA Bibliography
This is the most important database for your research.  Use it to find articles in journals and essays.  This is not a full-text database, but many of the journals will be available in the Kingwood College Library.

PA Research II/ ProQuest
This huge database is not exclusively a literary database, but a number of literary journals are indexed and some are available full text.  Many articles will be available on microfiche at the library.

Literature Resource Center
This database includes most of the information in TCLC, World Literature Criticism, and Dictionary of Literary Biography. It also has a few scholarly journal articles. You'll also find links to appropriate Internet sites.

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Only Connect
The unofficial Forster site.

The Bloomsbury Group
"Bloomsbury is a district of London, and for a period from before World War I to before World War II there was an ill-defined group of writers and artists who lived and hovered around the area," writes this web site from South Bank University, United Kingdom.

E. M. Forster
From the web site above, you can also find information on Forster.

Howard's End, the movie
Yes, it was made into a movie.


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Copyright 1999 []
Written by: Updated: Jun. 19, 2002 cbg