Helen and Mrs. Munt return to Wickham Place, and Helen reflects on her infatuation with Howards End and the whole Wilcox family. She had been captivated by their energetic demeanors and their robust, sensible arguments against all her idealistic beliefs. She fell in love with Paul simply because he embodied the charisma of his family and his home, and he was momentarily swept up in her affection. She tells Margaret how she and Paul shared a magical kiss and exchanged promises on Sunday evening, but on Monday morning, Paul was pathetically overcome with panic and regret, and they immediately broke it off. Helen and Margaret agree that Ruth Wilcox seems the most—if not the only—sincere one in the family. She seemed to know what had happened between Helen and Paul without ever being told.
Helen and Margaret dissect the raw appeal of the Wilcoxes. Their sheer confidence and energy is strongly compelling, and their residence in the charming Howards End goes a long way towards disguising their critical emotional flaws. Only Ruth Wilcox can recognize and respect the emotional nuances that influence people. Her husband and children deny their own emotions, and thus are swayed by them without understanding or controlling them.
Helen and Margaret despair that such a simple, natural thing as human relations, however messy, should cause such horrible “telegrams and anger” in the hands of people like Charles and Paul Wilcox. They question whether this life, “a life in which telegrams and anger count,” is “the real one” compared to their life, in which personal relations are supreme. They suggest that the Wilcoxes’ way of life “breed[s] character,” and instills impressive competence. Nonetheless, Helen concludes from her experiences that “personal relations are the real life, for ever and ever.”
The Schlegel sisters believe that problems in human relations can be readily resolved with empathy and honest communication. The Wilcoxes, on the other hand, are only equipped to respond to personal issues with shame or anger. Rather than endure shame, they would rather channel anger or no emotion at all. They thus tend to address their problems with impersonal, pragmatic language, like telegrams. Their stoic composure allows them to take decisive action without being overly delayed by many doubts or concerns, but this attitude has its costs, and a horrified Helen wholeheartedly rejects it.
Margaret and Helen resume the life of “personal relations,” hosting many agreeable people and promoting temperance, tolerance, and sexual equality. The narrator reflects on their origin: their father was a German intellectual who fought in the Franco-Prussian War but opposed German imperialism. He moved to England and married an English girl, Emily. Margaret grew up listening to his intellectual discussions. He criticized imperialists, saying, “It is the vice of a vulgar mind to … think that a thousand square miles are a thousand times more wonderful than one square mile, and that a million square miles are almost the same as heaven.” Margaret also listened to various relatives on different sides of her family each claim that their homeland, Germany or England, had been appointed by God to govern the world. When the German and the English sides of the family finally meet, she asks them all which country God truly prefers. They cannot answer her, so Margaret concludes that the “unseen” natural commonalities that all humans share are more important in life than any contrived association.
Margaret and Helen reject the allure of the conservative Wilcoxes and return to their liberal fundamentals. They believe in equality and welcome a more diverse company of guests than the Wilcoxes would ever entertain. The Schlegel sisters’ heterogeneous, half-German background supposedly gives them different views than the strictly homogenous English. Their father taught them to be independent thinkers rather than blind supporters of popular beliefs, and their willingness to entertain the Wilcoxes’ ideas and question their own opinions speaks to their genuine intellectual engagement. Both England and Germany practice imperialism, which the Schlegels’ father denounces as vulgar. Margaret decides that labels like “English” and “German” shouldn’t matter as much as the invisible essence of all human relationships.
Helen mostly agrees with Margaret about the importance of the “unseen,” although her character is less steady and responsible than her sister’s. She is also prettier than Margaret and tends to enjoy more attention from the people they encounter. At sixteen, their brother, Tibby, is an intelligent but unsociable young man.
Helen is younger and more careless than Margaret, never having had to bear the same responsibilities as her sister. She also pursues more fun and flirtation. The youngest Schlegel, Tibby, is more self-absorbed and uninterested in company than his sisters.