Howards End

by

E. M. Forster

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Books Symbol Icon

The symbolism of books in Howards End is far from straightforward. On one hand, the deeply-read Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen, demonstrate greater empathy and more profoundly critical thinking than most of their counterparts. The Wilcoxes, for example, are fond of sporting and little else, and lack imagination and compassion. On the other hand, Forster suggests that books can only teach one so much about the world—they often speak to a narrow experience, and fail to substantially engage with the issues and conditions faced by the masses. Leonard Bast glorifies great literature and art, and regards high culture as essential to improving his bleak life. Yet Forster critiques these “great” writers for writing in a highly romantic mode that neglects to address life’s ugly realities. Leonard turns to an author he considers to be “the greatest master of English Prose” for insight, but struggles to connect with the text: “And the voice in the gondola rolled on, piping melodiously of Effort and Self-Sacrifice, full of high purpose, full of beauty, full even of sympathy and the love of men, yet somehow eluding all that was actual and insistent in Leonard’s life. For it was the voice of one who had never been dirty or hungry, and had not guessed successfully what dirt and hunger are.”

Literature that is fundamentally estranged from real life serves less of a purpose than literature that engages with the true human condition. Likewise, reading by itself does not automatically cause one’s worldview or judgment to evolve—one must also acquire the confidence and the expertise to fully understand the text and actively consider how it applies to one’s own life. Leonard impresses the Schlegels not with his ability to repeat ideas that he has read in books, but with his spontaneous effort to think for himself and spend a night out walking the streets and roaming the woods instead of keeping to the safety of his bed: “[T]hrough the mists of his culture came a hard fact, hard as a pebble. ‘I walked all the Saturday night,’ said Leonard. ‘I walked.’ A thrill of approval ran through the sisters.” The Schlegels try to cultivate this independent streak in Leonard, but insecure as he is about his lack of higher education and worldly experience, he fails to grasp that his original thoughts could be of any real value. In the end, books cannot save Leonard from his tragic fate—he clutches at a bookshelf as he staggers under Charles Wilcox’s blows, but it topples over and flattens him, instead. His heart stops amidst an avalanche of his beloved books.

Books Quotes in Howards End

The Howards End quotes below all refer to the symbol of Books. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Thrift Editions edition of Howards End published in 2002.
Chapter 6 Quotes

And the voice in the gondola rolled on, piping melodiously of Effort and Self-Sacrifice, full of high purpose, full of beauty, full even of sympathy and the love of men, yet somehow eluding all that was actual and insistent in Leonard’s life. For it was the voice of one who had never been dirty or hungry, and had not guessed successfully what dirt and hunger are.

Related Characters: Leonard Bast
Related Symbols: Books
Page Number: 34-35
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile
Chapter 14 Quotes

…[Leonard’s] outburst ended in a swamp of books. No disrespect to these great names. The fault is ours, not theirs. They mean us to use them for sign-posts, and are not to blame if, in our weakness, we mistake the sign-post for the destination. And Leonard had reached the destination. He had visited the county of Surrey when darkness covered its amenities, and its cosy villas had re-entered ancient night. Every twelve hours this miracle happens, but he had troubled to go and see for himself. Within his cramped little mind dwelt something that was greater than Jefferies’ books—the spirit that led Jefferies to write them.

Related Symbols: Cars and Walks, Books
Page Number: 85-86
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 15 Quotes

“It is so slurred over and hushed up, there is so little clear thinking…so few of us think clearly about our own private incomes, and admit that independent thoughts are in nine cases out of ten the result of independent means. Money: give Mr. Bast money, and don’t bother about his ideals. He’ll pick up those for himself.”

Related Characters: Margaret Schlegel (speaker), Leonard Bast
Related Symbols: Books
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 26 Quotes

“I shall never get work now. If rich people fail at one profession, they can try another. Not I. I had my groove, and I’ve got out of it. I could do one particular branch of insurance in one particular office well enough to command a salary, but that’s all. Poetry’s nothing, Miss Schlegel. One’s thoughts about this and that are nothing. Your money, too, is nothing, if you’ll understand me. I mean if a man over twenty once loses his own particular job, it’s all over with him. I have seen it happen to others. Their friends gave them money for a little, but in the end they fall over the edge. It’s no good. It’s the whole world pulling. There always will be rich and poor.”

Related Characters: Leonard Bast (speaker), Margaret Schlegel
Related Symbols: Books
Page Number: 162
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire Howards End LitChart as a printable PDF.
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Books Symbol Timeline in Howards End

The timeline below shows where the symbol Books appears in Howards End. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Capitalism Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...steady, and unselfish. Henry convincingly talks Helen out of all of her beliefs learned from books—women’s suffrage, universal equality—and she laments, “Meg, shall we ever learn to talk less?” She enjoys... (full context)
Chapter 5
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Capitalism Theme Icon
...has always tried to pursue beauty, but he has very little free time to read books and contemplate the arts, and his many financial anxieties distract him from his self-education. Anxiety... (full context)
Chapter 6
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Capitalism Theme Icon
Leonard has a meager tea and then sits down with a book. He dedicates his free time to reading and attending concerts, hoping to become more cultured... (full context)
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Capitalism Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Leonard’s reading is interrupted when Jacky comes home. She is thirty-three years old, a former prostitute whom... (full context)
Chapter 14
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Capitalism Theme Icon
...roads and woods outside London, they think it even better than the adventures in great novels that first inspired him. He tries to refer back to other writers, but the Schlegels... (full context)
Chapter 27
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Capitalism Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...content with his lot. Helen is upset to hear that he has lost interest in books and adventure, but his grim financial collapse has made him cynical, and he observes, “one... (full context)
Chapter 30
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Capitalism Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
One day Tibby is interrupted from his reading by a visit from Helen, who has come from Oniton. She says she is not... (full context)
Chapter 31
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Capitalism Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...He is glad to have married Margaret after all—pleased with a wife whose interest in poetry or social issues distinguishes her from other men’s wives, but who will always drop her... (full context)
Gender Theme Icon
...large new home in the future. She stops going out as frequently, preferring to re-read books and be alone with her thoughts rather than keep up with all the latest movements... (full context)
Chapter 32
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Capitalism Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...Schlegels’ belongings being stored at Howards End. Margaret is particularly disturbed to hear that their books may have been unboxed and strewn about. (full context)
Chapter 34
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
...replies that she will return to Germany as soon as she picks up a few books from storage and asks where they are being kept. Margaret asks her sister to meet... (full context)
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Capitalism Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...she should write to Helen, pretending to be highly offended and informing her that her books are at Howards End and a neighbor will let her in while Margaret supposedly stays... (full context)
Chapter 41
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Capitalism Theme Icon
Colonialism and Imperialism Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...“I have done wrong.” Charles assaults him with a sword displayed on the wall, and books shower down upon Leonard as his heart pains him. Charles orders him brought outside and... (full context)
Chapter 42
Class and Privilege Theme Icon
Capitalism Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...off the wall and strikes Leonard with the flat of the blade. Leonard grabs the bookcase in the hall as he collapses, and it falls down on top of him. Charles... (full context)