Howards End

by

E. M. Forster

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Howards End: Chapter 26 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Margaret makes an effort to get to know the house and the town before the wedding. She likes the undisturbed serenity of the land and the unhurried sensibility of the country people. The morning of the wedding, she observes Charles and the other men of the house going to swim in the river. She thinks that they look ridiculously helpless, relying on servants to carry their bathing suits for them, find the missing key to the bathing shed, and set up a springboard. She plans to run things differently when the house is hers.
Margaret enjoys the simplicity of her imagined life in Oniton, compared to the pretentiousness and rigidity of most people in upper-class society. She dreams of running a household where the inhabitants are more self-sufficient and less dependent on servants for everything. Ironically, hopelessly dependent is how men like Charles imagine women like her to be.
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At breakfast, Margaret observes Henry going about the day’s business with his customary stoicism, even on the occasion of his only daughter’s wedding: “Henry treated a marriage like a funeral, item by item, never raising his eyes to the whole.” But she is not overly troubled by her fiancé’s insensitivity, for she has faith that her affection can one day reform him: “Love is the best, and the more she let herself love him, the more chance was there that he would set his soul in order.”
Margaret laments Henry’s lack of emotion at this meaningful moment in his life as a father. Just as he did when his wife died, he manages affairs “item by item,” reducing them to tasks on an agenda. Margaret still believes that Henry can change such ways under the influence of her love.
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Henry complains about a turn in the road to the church that will be difficult to manage by car, and Margaret asks if they can simply walk the short distance instead. He insists that “One can’t have ladies walking through the Market Square,” and says they had the same problem at Charles’s wedding when Ruth Wilcox planned to walk to the chapel but was firmly deterred by Dolly’s family. Margaret remarks, “You men shouldn’t be so chivalrous.”
The old roads of Oniton weren’t designed for automobiles, which suits Margaret. She doesn’t see why they can’t just proceed to the church on foot, but Henry insists that it wouldn’t be proper for the women in their party to walk through town. His in-laws agreed with him when Ruth wanted to do the same thing. Margaret finally voices some of her irritation with this demeaning treatment.
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Margaret and Henry look for the butler among the large crew of new servants to show them to the wine cellar, a massive room full of bottles. She feels intimidated by the size of the home she is to manage. Nonetheless, she is determined both to fulfill her hostess duties for Henry’s sake, and to make the place her home. She observes the wedding preparations with detachment, not sharing in the overall enthusiasm, but considering how she might plan her own successful wedding with Henry—it is to be an even bigger affair than Evie’s.
Henry possesses an incredible amount of wine, a symbol of gratuitous luxury and gluttony. The grand manor house in general represents Henry’s taste for extravagance. Margaret doesn’t share his taste for conspicuous luxury, but she is eager to please him.
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The wedding goes off without a hitch until Helen arrives at the after party with Leonard and Jacky Bast in tow. She claims that the Basts are starving now that Leonard has lost his short-lived position at the bank—“We upper classes have ruined him.” After hearing that Leonard lost the ability to pay his bills, Helen paid for their late rent, their furniture lease, and their meals before taking them up to Oniton. She has brought them to see Henry before he leaves for Scotland the next day, convinced that he owes the Basts for having started the whole crisis with his bad business advice. While furious at Helen for acting so rashly and making such a scene, Margaret is sympathetic to Leonard’s plight, and she promises her sister that she will ask Henry about helping him if Helen will immediately take the Basts away to a hotel.
Helen has rebelled against Henry’s latest advice, become even more invested in the Basts and even more convinced that Henry is to blame for Leonard’s misfortune. She is likely feeling incredibly guilty herself for putting Leonard in this sad position by following Henry’s word to begin with. Blaming Henry is more convenient than accepting responsibility herself, and this gives her a purpose instead of simply feeling miserable and helpless. Invading Evie’s weeding may be somewhat inappropriate, but the Basts do need help rather desperately. Helen’s forceful response speaks to her compassionate character—more so if she’s acting for the right reasons, and not merely trying to get back at Henry.
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Related Quotes
Margaret sits down with Henry and asks him if he could possibly offer her friend Leonard a new job in his company. He agrees to do her this favor out of gratitude for all her careful tact and devotion throughout the wedding (Margaret recalls how she “had made a special point of kotowing to the men”). Margaret is satisfied that her pragmatic, unsentimental fiancé “would save the Basts as he had saved Howards End, while Helen and her friends were discussing the ethics of salvation.” She is also satisfied with herself for this wifely triumph and realizes “why some women prefer influence to rights.”
Margaret is still compassionate towards the Basts and their plight, but her main concern is Henry’s happiness. She doesn’t want to hassle him or ask too much of him. Her mindful consideration of Henry’s feelings thus far pays off when he agrees to help Leonard for her sake. She is duly rewarded for playing the role of his dutiful, submissive fiancée. In a more equal partnership, perhaps Henry would simply have trusted her not to make any trivial request of him and would have agreed to help without any incentive. However, Margaret is satisfied with how their current relationship seems to be working out.
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However, Margaret’s happiness is diminished when she and Henry find Jacky still in the garden, having a bit of cake and champagne and recovering from being roped into an unexpected expedition to a stranger’s wedding. Henry approaches and asks Jacky to rejoin Leonard at the hotel at once. To Margaret’s surprise, a drunken Jacky recognizes her “Hen”: “Hen, don’t go. You do love me, dear, don’t you?” Henry asks Margaret, “Are you now satisfied?” and Margaret, in horror, begins to put two and two together: Jacky was once Henry’s mistress. Henry believes that Margaret knew all along and planned the whole visit from the Basts to confront him. He tells her that the affair took place ten years ago, when he was married to Ruth, and he releases her from her engagement. 
Margaret is displeased at the continuing disruption of Henry’s perfectly-orchestrated wedding. She feels upset for Henry’s sake that such a common woman is there to disturb his peace. However, she quickly realizes that he has not always been so respectable as he tries to appear. He had an affair with Jacky while he was married to his first wife, Ruth. He accuses Margaret and her sister of staging the whole encounter, and declares that Margaret must not marry a man proven to be so morally unfit.
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