Howards End by E. M. Forster: "Only Connect!"

Seminar Paper, 2001

18 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Schlegels and Wilcoxes

3. London and the Country
3.1. London
3.2. Howards End

4. England and Germany

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Howards End, which was published in 1910, is considered as one of Edward Morgan Forster’s masterpieces, and as “the one which firmly established his reputation among his contemporaries as an important writer.” (Lodge ix). Howards End is often referred to as a ‘Condition-of-England-novel’, because it gives a vivid impression of England at the turn of the century. The novel examines the problems and anxieties that were prevalent at that time due to the historical changes, for example the downfall of the British Empire, the increasingly tensed relationship to the countries on the European Continent, and the need of reorientation concerning new moral standards.

Howards End became known especially for of its epigraph ‘Only connect’. The novel is built upon many antagonisms, it contrasts traditional values and modern developments. The contrasts are presented on various levels; Edward Morgan Forster describes different characters, lifestyles and values in order to show what he considered as important, the connection of past and present, but also on the personal level, the connection of people, even if from different classes. The aim was to convey to the reader the necessity of connection, the need to connect what has become disconnected, in order to attain an integral life. The Kindlers Literatur Lexikon summarizes it as follows:

Das große Thema aller Romane Forsters, die Überwindung der Schranken zwischen Menschen unterschiedlicher Herkunft und Lebensart, wird in seinem vierten Roman am Beispiel zweier wesensmäßig gegensätzlicher Familien abgehandelt . . . . Im Motto „Only connect“ drückt sich die Überzeugung des Humanisten Forster aus, dass der Kontakt von Mensch zu Mensch Gegensätze überbrücken kann. (Kindlers)

The idea of ‘only connect’ can be traced throughout Howards End. Forster employs personal relations to emphasize the importance of connection and mutual understanding, but does also, on a more abstract level, write about the connection of the past and the present.

In this research paper I will focus on some examples of connections and disconnections and interpret their meaning. I have decided to have a closer look at the connection of different families, as it is presented in the novel on the example of the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes. Further on, the juxtaposition of life in the city, in this case of London, and in the rural areas, in this research paper represented by the house Howards End, will help to show how living conditions had changed because of the influence of modernization. Moreover, the connection on a national level will be illustrated by the example of the relationship of England and Germany.

2. Schlegels and Wilcoxes

The connection of different families, namely the Schlegels, the Wilcoxes and the Basts, is the central issue of the novel. I will concentrate on the relationship of the female Schlegels and the Wilcoxes around which the whole story evolves. Edward Morgan Forster contrasts very different characters in order to show that the connection of the qualities of all these characters is necessary in order to view and to experience life in its entirety.

The sisters Margaret and Helen Schlegel are representative for the class of educated women; they “are cultured, humane, liberal and enlightened in their views; fortified by an unearned income, they pursue a life devoted to intellectual and aesthetic interests . . . ” (Norman Page 78). The heritage of their father provided them with sufficient money supply, therefore Margaret, Helen and Tibby are, though they are not wealthy, able to care for themselves and can afford an elevated lifestyle. The relationship of the sisters is intimate, although their characters are very different; while Margaret is a rational and responsible woman, Helen is dominated by her emotions, and, at first, can be easily influenced. The two sisters are clearly in the centre of action, their brother Tibby, like nearly all the other men in the novel, is not characterized as precisely as the women and does not have a strong impact on the development of the story.

The Wilcox family with their attitude to life clearly stands opposite to the Schlegels. “The Wilcoxes belong to a slightly different section of the middle class and are in human terms as different as it is possible to be from the Schlegels. Affluent, energetic, successful, and when necessary ruthless, theirs is the world of large-scale business enterprises” (Norman Page 78). They worked very hard in order to accumulate and maintain their wealth, but, as Margaret puts it, “[t]he breezy Wilcox manner, though genuine, lacked the clearness of vision that is imperative for truth” (Forster 155). Certainly, the Wilcoxes, except Ruth Wilcox, have no feeling for the spiritual aspects of life, they underestimate the importance of emotions, they have no understanding for anything that is not tangible, and they lack the ability to experience life sensuously.

First, it is Helen who wants to establish contact with the Wilcoxes and visits them at Howards End. She is so positively overwhelmed by the qualities of that family that she does not even defend the values she was brought up with:

The energy of the Wilcoxes had fascinated her, had created new images of beauty in her responsive mind . . . . 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 . . . (Forster 20).

Helen is also the first who had an emotional relation, even a love affair, with one of the Wilcoxes, with the younger son Paul Wilcox. But Paul immediately regrets his outburst of feelings and dissolves the engagement the next day. Helen, accompanied by her aunt Mrs Juley Munt, returns to London. During the further development of the story Helen clearly opposes the Wilcoxes manner. At first she was hurt and offended by Paul’s retreat, then an incorrect information of Henry Wilcox causes the downfall of her protégé Leonard Bast, and her anger turns into hate.

It is Margaret who turns out to be the mediating person between the two families. Although Margaret and Helen agree in so many points of view and share certain values, Margaret does not reject the Wilcoxes as Helen does. Margaret and Ruth Wilcox become friends, and this friendship symbolizes the first deep personal tie between the families. Even at that time when Margaret does not know Henry and the children well, she already sees the need of connection between both types of men, of the rational type to which the male Wilcoxes belong, and the emotional, intellectual type like she and her sister, in order to create a cultivated society:

[the Wilcoxes] led a life that she could not attain to – the outer life of ‘telegrams and anger’, which had detonated when Helen and Paul had touched in June, and had detonated again the other week. To Margaret this life was to remain a real force. She could not despise it, as Helen and Tibby affected to do so. It fostered such virtues as neatness, decision and obedience, virtues of the second rank, no doubt, but they have formed our civilization. They form character, too; Margaret could not doubt it: they keep the soul from being sloppy. How dare Schlegels despise Wilcoxes, when it takes all sorts to make a world? (Forster 88)


Excerpt out of 18 pages


Howards End by E. M. Forster: "Only Connect!"
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz  (Seminar für Englische Philologie: Forschungs- und Lehrbereich Anglistik)
The Edwardian Novelists
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
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383 KB
Howards, Forster, Only, Connect, Edwardian, Novelists
Quote paper
Mieke Schüller (Author), 2001, Howards End by E. M. Forster: "Only Connect!", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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