In this passage from Chapter 12 the author depicts Tibby Schlegel’s reaction to Oxford University, where he is going to take a scholarship exam. Forster makes use of allusion, visual and tactile imagery, and personification to give a sense of place for the reader:
The august and mellow university, soaked with the richness of the western counties that it has served for a thousand years, appealed at once to the boy’s taste: it was the kind of thing he could understand, and he understood it all the better because it was empty. Oxford is—Oxford: not a mere receptacle for youth, like Cambridge. Perhaps it wants its inmates to love it rather than to love one another: such at all events was to be its effect on Tibby.
Oxford and Cambridge are two of England’s “ancient universities,” the oldest and most august seats of learning in the country. This allusion emphasizes the national importance of Oxford as a symbol of intellectual and class privilege. The narrator also repeats a common British stereotype of the time in this description. They imply that Oxford is better than Cambridge in a way that can’t be easily explained, saying that “Oxford is—Oxford.” It’s worth noting here that this is sarcasm on the part of the author, as Forster himself went to Cambridge.
The imagery of Oxford is rich and appealing, invoking the golden stone and ancient quadrangles of the Oxford Colleges. Its lushness and warmth is almost something Tibby and the reader can taste. The visual and the tactile are combined as the university is described as being "soaked" with the wealth and effort of the “western counties,” like a sugary fruitcake.
In addition to this voluptuous sweetness, Forster also personifies the University. Oxford is described as a living thing that enfolds its students, and that wants its "inmates" to "love it." Tibby feels that he can “understand” Oxford’s personality on his own terms. This personification suggests that Oxford is more than just a collection of buildings, books, and traditions; it has a character and a spirit of its own.
Helen's musings about England in Chapter 19 weave a rich tapestry of imagery and metaphor. Forster evokes the country’s natural majesty and personifies its geography:
England was alive, throbbing through all her estuaries, crying for joy through the mouths of all her gulls [...] For what end are her fair complexities, her changes of soil, her sinuous coast? Does she belong to those who have moulded her and made her feared by other lands, or to those who have added nothing to her power, but have somehow seen her, seen the whole island at once, lying as a jewel in a silver sea, sailing as a ship of souls, with all the brave world’s fleet accompanying her towards eternity?
The passage is full of vivid visual and auditory details of the ocean. It conjures an intense sense of place, from its “gull sounds” to the "throbbing," vein-like pulses of rivers through estuaries to the sea. England itself is depicted as a "ship of souls," a common phrase at this time of the height of British colonialism.
Forster’s narrator here asks the reader to whom England belongs. They suggest there are two options: it might belong to the people who want to use her power to make her “feared by other lands,” or to those who “have seen her” as a “jewel in a silver sea,” setting a cultural and spiritual example without international menace. The first option seems to be aligned with people like the Wilcoxes, and the second with families like the Schlegels.
Personification also comes into play in this passage, as England is given a gender, emotions, and “complexities.” It is characterized as a living being which can “cry for joy,” and with a multifaceted personality which can be “feared,” admired, or loved. This personification complicates the novel’s narrative of the future “ownership” of England, as the Wilcoxes treat it like inanimate land, but Margaret sees it as a person with emotions and feelings.
In Chapter 23 of Howards End, the wych-elm tree on the estate is personified and described with intense and paradoxical visual language. Through this, it seems to embody the English life Margaret Schlegel desires, as it makes the tree seem friendly and the house welcoming:
It was neither warrior, nor lover, nor god; in none of these rôles do the English excel. It was a comrade, bending over the house, strength and adventure in its roots, but in its utmost fingers tenderness, and the girth, that a dozen men could not have spanned, became in the end evanescent, till pale bud clusters seemed to float in the air. It was a comrade. House and tree transcended any similes of sex. [...] [T]o compare either to man, to woman, always dwarfed the vision. Yet they kept within limits of the human.
The enormous tree is described as if it is an ordinary English person: a “comrade,” not a “god.” The repetition of the word "comrade" creates an inviting atmosphere, as it implies that the tree (and the house it stands over) are not just inanimate objects but are friendly to Margaret. This personification of the tree suggests that it isn’t separate from the lives of the people who live in Howards End, but rather has a positive and active influence over them.
The description of the wych-elm also uses nationalistic language. Stating that the English do not excel in the roles of "warrior, nor lover, nor god” implies that they do excel at being “comrades.” This seems more desirable here, as the reader knows that Margaret is discontented with the grandiose imperialist ambitions of those around her. She wants to live a simpler, warmer life. Howards End and its surroundings seem to suggest that this is a possibility. This description of the tree invokes a different aspect of English life for Margaret, one that is focused on home and not concerned with colonizing other countries.
The wych-elm is described as being both old and young, strong and soft, presenting the reader with a series of paradoxes. The tactile and visual imagery in Forster’s language presents the tree as “bending over” the house as a “comrade,” while having "strength and adventure in its roots.” The reader gets a sense of its enormity and its fragility through this juxtaposition. Although it is huge, with "girth, that a dozen men could not have spanned," it also has "tenderness" in its "utmost fingers.” Even its roots, which hold it to the ground, have “adventure” in them. Like the idealized England Margaret imagines, it is both ancient and full of new life, rooted to history and able to grow and change.
In this passage from Chapter 31, Forster personifies the Schlegels' house, Wickham Place, as a living entity, describing its death as if it were a human being. He also uses the metaphor of a corpse to describe the “death” of the Schlegels' childhood home:
Houses have their own ways of dying, falling as variously as the generations of men, some with a tragic roar, some quietly, but to an after-life in the city of ghosts, while from others—and thus was the death of Wickham Place—the spirit slips before the body perishes. [...] By September it was a corpse, void of emotion, and scarcely hallowed by the memories of thirty years of happiness.
By this point in the novel the house's demolition is imminent, and everyone knows it. Because of this, Forster makes it clear to the reader that its "death" has already begun, as it is described as "dying" before its physical destruction begins. The house is described like a person in their last days of life. As people begin to detach themselves from it, its “spirit slips” out before its “body perishes.” By saying that houses have “their own ways of dying,” Forster furthers this personification, implying that they can “fall as variously” as people can. Houses in Howards End all have a unique character and history. This influences the manner in which they meet their end, whether it’s a “tragic roar” or “an after-life in the city of ghosts.” This comparison to the various ways in which people die highlights the idea that houses, like people, have individuality, history, and personalities.
The metaphor of the house as a corpse further emphasizes the emptiness and lifelessness of the building in its last days. It is hollow inside, “void of emotion” with its spirit already gone. Even the memories of “thirty years of happiness” within it are scarcely accessible to the Schlegels. In this passage Forster’s narrator conveys a deep sense of melancholy and regret for the loss of the Schlegels' home. The language used suggests that the house is not just a physical structure, but a vital part of the family's identity and history.