Books: Howards End (Part IV)

I am very nearly finished with this book now, having just entered Chapter 33. Margaret is now married to Henry Wilcox, though the security and stability she was seeking in the match is somewhat elusive.

Let's look at it this way: Margaret agreed to marry Henry at a time in which she was also looking for a permanent residence because the house she and her siblings had lived in was to be demolished. In marrying Henry, Margaret had the expectation of a permanent home (or maybe more than one) as part of the deal. However, Henry refuses to live at Howards End, and he sells the other house Margaret likes (Oniton), and they end up in a house in London that neither of them seems to see as a "forever" kind of residence, so . . .

Anyway, it gets mentioned in passing that they decide to build a house. Is that a metaphor for marriage? Building something new rather than inhabiting something old?

Well, then the metaphor surely extends to the fact that Margaret's old furniture ends up in storage at Howards End. Here is the young bride already forfeiting what is hers in favor of what is Henry's, and supposedly what will become "theirs" at some point.

And Margaret must necessarily change as well. If Helen is idealism and Henry is practicality, Margaret, who started more on the side of Helen, now shuttles between the two, working to find a balance that will serve not only her needs but the needs of those around her. She now filters her high ideals through Henry's practical, rational sieve. In some ways this is obvious manipulation—Margaret has not changed the way she thinks so much as the way she behaves because she instinctively knows how to "handle" Henry. And this is not a mean thing; she actively works to preserve what she sees as Henry's fragile personality. For all his bombast, he has definite chinks in his armor.

Helen, of course, sees Margaret's marriage to Henry as a defection. And to add to that, poor Mr. Bast is dragged into things when he loses his job after having followed advice from Helen and Margaret—advice they received from Henry and duly passed on, thinking they were doing Mr. Bast some good. Helen is determined that Henry should make things right because he is directly (in her view) responsible for Mr. Bast's situation. Alas, Mrs. Bast comes along for this encounter and it is discovered that she was, some ten years before, Henry's mistress.

It might all be very soap operatic except somehow Forster prevents that from happening. He is too busy talking about England and ideals to suds up the story much. While Margaret and Helen are drawn with much detail, the other characters are such a sketch that it is difficult to get inside them. Margaret and Helen might as well live in a world of ghosts, the way they walk dreamily through things happening around them.

And as for the titular location, well, as I've said I've just started Chapter 33, and Margaret is just now returning to check on her things that have been stored there. So I guess we'll see . . .

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