Places: Howards End

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1910

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Domestic realism

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedHowards End

Howards Howards EndEnd. Modest farmhouse near Hilton owned by Mrs. Wilcox, an hour by train north of London, England. E. M. Forster based the house on his boyhood home, called Rooksnest, in Hertfordshire. Both Rooksnest and Howards End are just outside the suburban ring of 1910 London. Although it takes Aunt Juley an hour to get to Hilton by train, following the Great North Road, this is still a journey too far for Paul Wilcox to commute to the city daily for work. As he says, it is somewhere between country and town.

The house is heavily symbolic. To Ruth Wilcox, “it had been a spirit, for which she sought a spiritual heir.” On her deathbed Mrs. Wilcox tries to leave Howards End to Margaret Schlegel. Both Howards End and Mrs. Wilcox are tied to the past of working farmers with owners and laborers living side by side, not of manor houses, domestic servants, and vast estates. The house and grounds stand for England itself and embody the native mythology of the countryside. Modern England is seen to be encroaching on this land: The Wilcox children and their father are ill-suited to it, and they all end the novel inside while Helen and her son are out in the fields. Meanwhile, the “red rust” of the city is moving nearer.

*London

*London. Capital of Great Britain and city in which the Schlegel family has a house. The Schlegel’s Wickham Place address is a middle-class row house in the fashionable southwest section of the city. The house is to be torn down and replaced by a block of flats when the Schlegel’s ninety-nine-year lease has expired. It is into a flat across the street that Mrs. Wilcox moves when she becomes ill. Forster’s attitude toward London is ambiguous. London stands opposed to the country, to nature, in the novel. Forster sees London as modern, as the place of “telegrams and anger,” while the country holds the true values of English society.

London has created and nurtured the class of people that the Schlegels represent, that is, intelligent, cultured liberals. At the same time, another class of people is not as nurtured as the Schlegels. These are the Leonard Basts of England, former country dwellers whose occupations have been made obsolete by the industrial revolution and who are drawn to the city by menial, low paying jobs. Located in a newly built block of flats (“constructed with extreme cheapness”) on the south side of the River Thames, Leonard’s flat is also on the edge of the abyss of poverty.

*Swanage

*Swanage. Town in Dorset, along the southern coast of England. The Schlegels’ Aunt Juley lives in a house at The Bays. Forster’s paean to the English countryside begins with a view of the nearby Purbeck hills and encompasses rivers, valleys, villages, and churches, and “beyond that onto Salisbury Plain itself,” the site of Stonehenge. The view also encompasses suburbia and “the gates of London.”

Oniton Grange

Oniton Grange. Country estate in Shropshire near the border of England and Wales. Oniton is the symbol of the transitional state of the English class system in the early twentieth century. It is a grand country manor acquired from an aristocratic family by the rich industrialist Henry Wilcox, who has made his money from the Imperial and West Africa Rubber Company. Forster treats a similar situation in Maurice (1971), in which the Durhams’ estate is crumbling due to declining income and rising costs. As at Howards End, Wilcox is hardly aware of the history and cultural significance of his estate. Rather he sees Oniton as an investment and a status symbol, much as he sees his London house on Ducie Street.

BibliographyDuckworth, Alistair M. “Howards End”: E. M. Forster’s House of Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1992. Excellent overview of the novel’s literary and historical contexts. Chapter analyzing the problems of narrative voice and authorial intrusion.Furbank, P. N. E. M. Forster: A Life. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978. Definitive biography: detailed and well written; copiously illustrated. Demonstrates how Forster incorporated into Howards End, through the characters of Margaret Schlegel and Leonard Bast, his concerns about culture and society.Godfrey, Denis. E. M. Forster’s Other Kingdom. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1968. Focuses on the mystical qualities of Howards End. Good analysis of each of the characters.Trilling, Lionel. E. M. Forster. New York: New Directions, 1943. Classic study of Forster’s fiction; credited with focusing attention on Howards End as a masterpiece of humanist literature.Widdowson, Peter. E. M. Forster’s “Howards End”: Fiction as History. London: Chatto and Windus for Sussex University Press, 1977. Cultural critique of Forster’s liberalism that compares the novel to C. F. G. Masterman’s The Condition of England (1900).
Categories: Places