The City and the Country in Howards End

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

26 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The City
2.1. London Town Houses
2.1.1 Ducie Street House
2.1.2 Wickham Place
2.1.3 Wickham Mansion
2.2. Urban Slum

3. The Countryside
3.1. The Country Houses
3.1.1. Howards End
3.1.2. Oniton

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

K.W. Gransden has noted the significance of Ruth Wilcox’s answer to Margaret’s comment that a house “cannot stand by bricks and mortar alone”[1]. The first Mrs. Wilcox replies, “It cannot stand without them.” According to Gransden, there is a persistent note of misgiving on Forster’s part about this. It is more than nostalgia. The opening description of the house at Howards End begins the statement of a large and complex architectural metaphor, which is extended throughout the novel. Hardy states that buildings, and the design of them, the architectural character of a civilization, would seem to be in Foster’s mind fundamentally related to its character of manners and morals[2]. From my point of view, it is important to look at the houses in Forster’s Howards End more closely. In this term paper I will show in what way Forster associates certain housing conditions with special types of characters, and to what extent he thinks housing conditions influence the way people behave and what inference he draws as to where to live. I will focus on the three main parties namely the Wilcoxes, the Schlegels and the Basts and I will show where the characters live and in which way their economic status is reflected in their housing conditions. Furthermore, I will try to emphasize Forster’s position towards housing at the beginning of the 20th century. It can be said that there are portrayed three different types of houses in Howards End. Firstly the country houses, secondly the houses of the urban lower middle class and finally the London town houses. My aim is to show that there are fundamental differences between these types of houses.

Furthermore, I want to prove that the narrator distinguishes the houses’ quality(ies?) among themselves. After that, I will talk about the standpoint Forster takes towards the houses’ quality when he shows whether they possess life, spirit or souls.

Additionally, I will illustrate some of the popular concepts and current views of Forster’s time concerning the people’s various housing conditions. I will exemplify the narrator’s preferences where one should live by taking a closer look at a couple of statements about living in the countryside versus living in the city as well as living in houses versus living in flats.

In the end, I will examine the author’s choice about the ideal place to live for Margaret Schlegel – his heroine – and I will try to explain to what degree this solution is realistic within the logic of the Forster’s Howards End.

2. The City

In Howards End, Forster has a specific picture in his mind of London. The capital is mainly described as a city attributed with dullness, monotony and boredom. One can get a depressing image of the city, because the London weather seems to be thoroughly grey and sorrowful. Whenever it is mentioned, it is described as cheerless and foggy – even the sun is not able to reach the earth. Most of the time, people are in need of umbrellas. This is certainly part of the image of a typical London gentleman which we bear in mind. The atmosphere is “pitiless”[3] and the city is presented to be unlikable and dirty. The city’s entire atmosphere seems to hinder people from breathing freely. The London city life is connected with hard and joyless labour combined with a burdensome climate where nothing gorgeous can possibly develop and flourish.

The author portrays London as a Moloch. It is a man-eating city which is associated with hard and inhumane labour as well as terrible housing conditions. The colour grey dominates the Moloch from where is no escape. The deterioration of London is depicted to be a process:

“And month by month the roads smelt more strongly of petrol, and were more difficult to cross and human beings heard each other speak with greater difficulty, breathed less of the air, and saw less of the sky. Nature withdrew: the leaves were falling by midsummer; the sun shone through dirt with an admired obscurity.”[4]

This shows us how more and more houses are torn down so that faceless houses could be built in order to house faceless masses. Nevertheless, Forster writes that London is a fascinating city:

“One visualizes it as a tract of quivering grey, intelligent without purpose, and excitable without love; as a spirit that has altered before it can be chronicled; as a heart that certainly beats, but with no pulsation of humanity. It lies beyond everything: Nature, with all her cruelty, comes nearer to us than do these crowds of men.”[5]

One can claim that people are dehumanized so to speak – by virtue of bad living and working conditions and the loss of direct contact with nature. People lose their individuality; they become a bunch of faceless people and are easy to replace. Forster describes the metamorphosis of Leonard Bast who becomes colourless and toneless after a while because he lives in London.[6] The author goes on and describes Leonard’s mournful eyes and his drooping moustache. All of these attributes are caused by the capital, too. The city breaks the people’s spirit and thus they change and become gloomy shadows. More sensitive people such as Mrs. Wilcox are even killed by the capital: “London has done the mischief.”[7]

It becomes clear that the country life’s quietness, peacefulness and stability are missing in the city life. Helen and Margaret Schlegel are portrayed as peaceful and stable characters who have not entirely lost the contact with the nature and the environment. The girls are able to recognize the illness which increases in the city of London. They still can be thankful for the beauty of the English countryside. Margaret Schlegel hates the “continual flux of London. It is an epitome of us at our worst – eternal formlessness; all the qualities, good, bad, and indifferent, streaming away – streaming, streaming for ever.”[8] Margaret notices that London is anything but peaceful and stable and that places, events and even people become replaceable.

Despite the fact that London is getting more and more dirty, dangerous and unhealthy, there is recognizable a certain fascination about it. However, the Schlegel sisters realize that they have to look for a life far away from the city since living in London is noisy, stinking and injurious.

2.1. London Town Houses

In Howards End, the town houses of London are portrayed to be more wholesome compared to the mass production of flats where the proletarian Bast family lives in. Due to their positive financial situation, their occupants are able to afford such a town house; there is no need to inhabit a mass produced flat. In the novel, the London town houses have one quality in common: either they belong to the Wilcox or the Schlegel family or they are rented for an extended period of time. It can be argued as follows: on the one hand the danger of the London flux is reduced because it is difficult to throw people out of their town houses; on the other hand stability can be attributed to the town houses. In other words, people who inhabit a town house can feel safer than Leonard and Jacky Bast who represent the lower class and who inhabit a flat with simply two rooms.

2.1.1 Ducie Street House

The town house of the Wilcox family at Ducie Street is characteristic for a London town house at that time. It is located near King’s Road and Sloane Street. According to Simon Thompson[9], only people in possession of a royal permit were allowed to enter Kings Road until the 19th century. This means that the house is actually situated in a wealthy neighbourhood. It is recently constructed to house rich people as the Wilcox family. Forster portrays Mr. Wilcox as a man who considers the town house and the neighbourhood around Ducie Street a decline(? to be in decline) because of the flood of opera and concert loving people who move to this area. Mr. Wilcox does not want to be associated with the artistic and musical people. He wants to own this town house in order to fulfill his representational needs. By purchasing it, Henry Wilcox inevitably helps to promote the neighbourhood’s decay. Thus, he is one of the causes of urban flux which makes stability impossible.

After Evie’s wedding, Henry has no use for Ducie Street House anymore, so he offers it to Margaret Schlegel.

Born states that “[...] the Ducie Street house [...] is imbued with the imperialist character of its inhabitants on account of the furnishings.”[10] Seen through Margaret's eyes, a room can tell us everything we need to know about its owners:

“The room suggested men, and Margaret, keen to derive the modern capitalist from the warriors [...] of the past, saw it as an ancient guest-hall, where the lord sat at meat among his thanes. Even the Bible-the Dutch Bible that Charles had brought back from the Boer War-fell into position. Such a room admitted loot.”[11]

For Margaret Schlegel, Ducie Street House has a certain flair which awakens an aversion in her at the very first moment. Later on, Margaret wants to inhabit the town house, but Henry refuses to leave it to her since the surrounding neighbourhood is decaying more and more. Similar to Wickham Mansion, the house is of minor importance in Howards End even though it sets a good example for a London town house. Ducie Street House is another place where Margaret Schlegel is not able to reside forever. The house is infected by the flux of London and the social structure of the neighbourhood has changed which results in the fact that also lower-class people move to Ducie Street. When the heroine comes to inhabit Ducie Street House, it is only a facade similar to Wickham Mansion. It is not the peaceful and stable place which Forster wants for her.

2.1.2 Wickham Place

“Wickham Place is the city house, the urban home of the Schlegels, which along with its traditions and family memories is levelled by the bulldozer of ‘progress’ to make room for the flats required by the ‘civilization of luggage’.”[12] It is located close to the Houses of Parliament.

Compared to the Wilcoxes’ Ducie Street House, the Schlegel sisters inhabit a slightly older house. The reader finds out that their dwelling was rented by their father and that it consists of a dining room, a drawing room (“Light flooded the drawing-room and the drawing-room furniture from Wickham Place”[13] ), a library and an entrance hall. It can be assumed that their town house was a standard town house of that time. Further on, “their house was […] fairly quiet, for a lofty promontory of buildings separated it from the main thoroughfare.”[14] The house is surrounded by a lovely and quiet setting and the hurry and stress of the city life are not present. The Schlegels live in comfort and enjoy the opportunities, which London provides them. Nevertheless, they are not completely influenced(?) by the city life. Furthermore, we can notice that the Schlegels’ social status is reflected in their behavior and their habits at Wickham Place. They employ servants and maids, possess business cards, and their house is equipped with valuable objects as for instance a majolica plate or all the apostle spoons[15].

The Schlegels are thoroughly Bloomsbury: “they entertain musicians, artists, and even an actress; they believe in literature, art, and personal relations; they are moralists and anti-utilitarians; they have a snobbish faith in the rightness of their own sensibilities.”[16] However, this kind of emancipation is only possible, because their income is quite good. Their income is the only reason why the pastime with art is feasible for them, too. Margaret Schlegel’s meeting with Mrs. Wilcox provides ample food for Margaret’s thoughts. She realizes that there is not only an artistic atmosphere, but also different values: “In the streets of the city [Margaret] noted for the first time the architecture of hurry, and heard the language of hurry on the mouths of its inhabitants – clipped words, formless sentences, potted expressions of approval or disgust.”[17]


[1] Gransden, K. E.M. Forster. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1962: 55.

[2] Hardy, J. “Howards End: The Sacred Center”. In: Critical Essays on E.M. Forster. Ed. Alan Wilde. Boston:G.K. Hall & Co., 1985: 117.

[3] Forster, E. Howards End. New York: Bantam Books, 1985:63.

[4] Forster 84.

[5] Forster 85.

[6] Forster 90.

[7] Forster 69.

[8] Forster 143.

[9] (26.08.2008).

[10] Born 155.

[11] Forster 128.

[12] Stone 238.

[13] Forster chapter 33 in the middle.

[14] Forster 4.

[15] Forster 32.

[16] Stone 239.

[17] Forster 85.

Excerpt out of 26 pages


The City and the Country in Howards End
University of Freiburg
Country Houses
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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City, Country, Howards, Country, Houses
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Dominik Lorenz (Author), 2008, The City and the Country in Howards End, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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