In this passage from Chapter 4 of Howards End, Helen Schlegel's character undergoes a brief, situationally ironic transformation. This is described as a metaphorical “toppling” of her personal values:
She had liked giving in to Mr. Wilcox, or Evie, or Charles; she had liked being told that her notions of life were sheltered or academic; that Equality was nonsense, Votes for Women nonsense, Socialism nonsense, Art and Literature, except when conducive to strengthening the character, nonsense. One by one the Schlegel fetiches had been overthrown, and, though professing to defend them, she had rejoiced.
The metaphor describes some central Schlegel values like “Equality,” “Votes for Women,” and “Art and Literature” as "fetiches,” meaning in this context “sacred and venerated objects.” These “fetiches” are destabilized by the Wilcox way of life, as “idols” that can be easily toppled. Helen’s brief and intense love for Paul makes her—to the reader’s surprise— able to abandon her deeply-held beliefs and be open to the conservative and unromantic Wilcox perspective. She even enjoys the novelty of being contradicted. The “fetiches” metaphor emphasizes the silliness and superficiality of Helen’s beliefs to the Wilcox family. They don’t prioritize the “inner life” of emotions and intellect, and so they dismiss them.
Of course, this abandonment of “Art and Literature” is temporary, and Helen quickly reasserts her true personality. However, the situational irony of this moment is further amplified by the fact that Helen is, in general, a bohemian rebel who had previously championed her causes even more fiercely than the other Schlegels. The reader finds it odd and funny that she would enjoy being told that her ideas are “nonsense.” This rapid turn of events is evidence of both Helen’s own desire to “connect,” and the seductive power of the Schlegels' wealth and pragmatism.
Her wavering back and forth also adds a layer of complexity to her character. Forster raises questions about the authenticity of Helen’s intellectual beliefs and the extent to which she is willing to compromise her values for the sake of “connecting.”
In this passage from Chapter 15, Forster employs romantic visual imagery to describe the Chelsea Embankment, a landscaped walkway along the Thames river. As the Schlegel sisters walk along it, the author conveys a situationally ironic moment where the Schlegels' English and European identities clash:
The lamps and the plane-trees, following the line of the embankment, struck a note of dignity that is rare in English cities. The seats, almost deserted, were here and there occupied by gentlefolk in evening dress, who had strolled out from the houses behind to enjoy fresh air and the whisper of the rising tide. There is something Continental about Chelsea Embankment. It is an open space used rightly, a blessing more frequent in Germany than here.
The narrator, as they describe the Schlegel sisters (who are both "English" and "European"), is struck by the “dignity” of the scene. The “plane-trees and lamps” lend a note of “dignity” that they mention is rare in English cities. This is situationally ironic because the Chelsea Embankment is one of the oldest walkways in London, and its “plane trees and lamps” form a quintessentially English scene. The idea that Germany has a monopoly on the “blessing” of the “open space used rightly,” especially in a novel full of elegant public places and rolling green landscapes, is arch and ironic.
The imagery in this passage is vivid, using visual, auditory, and tactile cues to bring the reader into the scene. It evokes the feel of the damp air and the “whispering” of the ocean, painting a picture of a pleasant night in London with all its sights and sounds. The peacefulness of the scene is emphasized by the “gentlefolk in evening dress” who move calmly, strolling through the twilight. This imagery also invokes detachment from the usual noise and bustle of the city, which Margaret often says she dislikes.