Sunday, February 05, 2006

 

“Only connect!… Live in fragments no longer”

The final pages of Howard’s End seem to satisfy the reader that Margaret’s ideal is possible. Her ideal, she claims, is not difficult to understand or follow. “Only connect. That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its highest. Live in fragments no longer,” (159). Mrs. Wilcox’s ancestral home, Howard’s End, personifies the connection of all things to the Schlegel sisters. It connects the magical and rational, since both Mrs. and Mr. Wilcox have lived there. It connects the city and the country, because it is between the two. It connects man and woman, because it is where Margaret, Helen and Mr. Wilcox reconciled their differences. Finally, it connects the past and the future, because it is where Helen had her baby.

If this were the only result of the novel’s events, Howard’s End would have truly achieved a happy ending. However, there is a cost to this connection. The fact that Mr. Wilcox, Margaret, Helen and her baby all live together signifies the connection of the three families in Howard’s End: the Wilcoxes, the Basts and the Schlegels. However, these three families have lost some of their distinctness and identity in this union. Margaret gets Howard’s End and in her words, “had charged straight through these Wilcoxes and broken up their lives,” (291). Yet she made many sacrifices of her identity in order to triumph. Because of Mr. Wilcox’s influence she both failed to help Leonard Bast and deceived her sister. Mr. Wilcox has also lost some of his identity as a result of his contact with the Schlegels. By the end of the novel, he who had previously been characterized as an independent businessman and rational capitalist no longer works. The knowledge of his son’s fate was a huge blow to his mind and health. “I’m broken- I’m ended,” he tells Margaret (285). It is a blow that he never fully recovers from. Though he exclaims happily when Helen comes up to the house at the end, in the preceding scene he is described as a “weary” old man. “He used the old phrases, but their effect was unexpected and shadowy” (291).

Leonard Bast certainly cannot be said to have a happy ending. Leonard always sought to improve himself and grow into a better life by reading and adventure. Ironically, every point of contact with the upper class he admired brought him more misery. Unwillingly, the Schlegels caused him to lose his job, his house and finally his life. If anything, this would be an argument against trying to connect with other people, because it appears to bring Leonard only misery. Margaret’s assertion on page 289 that an adventure may have been enough for Leonard to get out of life seems unsatisfying. This is particularly true when Leonard’s reaction to his adventure in the woods is taken into account. “Looking back, it wasn’t what you may call enjoyment…You ought to see once in a way what’s going on outside, if it’s only nothing particular after all,” (102). He had an adventure, but he never got the enjoyment that he wanted. The only solace may be found in the fact that his spirit lives on through the child he had with Helen. The child will inherit Howard’s End and have a much happier life than his father.

Comments:
Lisa,
You make some great points in your post. Particularly interesting to me is the loss of identity of both Margaret and Henry. Margaret "must remain herself for...[Henry's]... sake as well as her own," but desperately hopes to change Henry into a more emotional/less business-like man. She also tells Helen that she "must alter herself, or we shan't have happy lives." With Margaret so obsessed with changing the people around her, she fails to recognize that she is also changing. She becomes a more subservient woman through her marriage to Henry, transforming from the caretaker of the Schlegels to taking orders from Henry. To Margaret's credit, we do see her stand up to Henry in the end as she receives ownership of Howard's End. I think it's an interesting point of discussion that in using "love to make...[Henry]...a better man," Margaret unknowingly becomes a changed woman that is strikingly reminiscent of the former Mrs. Wilcox in her connection to home. Great job in this blog!
 
I agree that Margaret's ideal of "Only connect!" seems to be attained at the end of the novel. Not only do the three families connect in the purest sense of the word- they are joined together into one family- but, as you pointed out, they also bring together man and woman, past and present, and Howard's end connects city and country as well. The end of the novel seems to be a happy ending, especially for the Schlegel sisters; however, the ending is anything but happy for Leonard and Charles. Like you said, "there is a cost to this connection": Leonard's life and Charles's freedom are sacrificed, and only then can Henry, Margaret, and Helen live their lives together and in peace. Helen and Leonard's baby represents all the things that had to happen so that these three families could "only connect." Good post, Lisa- it ties together many of the themes of the book.
 
I agree with you completely that Leonard did not get a happy ending at all. However, I think it is very interesting that you feel there was a happy ending as Howards End with the three combined families. Although the families were united, nothing really turned-out happily. I was left expecting the death of Mr. Wilcox. This would leave Margaret without a husband and no children (even though she didn’t want kids). Also, I can’t see the hope for Helen’s child growing up with a “much happier life than his father.” There is still a major emphasis placed on society in Howards End. This child will permanently be an outcast of society with his bastard status. This leaves me wondering how Helen will explain her child, and if she herself will be a social outcast. Overall, you illustrate the positive outcomes of the novel; I simply focused on the negative ones. I did not see Howards End as having a happy ending. I felt that every character could have reached a higher potential. You explain your perspective well, and I buy into the fact that some characters could have had it as rough as poor Leonard.
 
I agree with your comments regarding Leonard. Having an adveturous spirit he seeked something out of life in ways different from others. I feel he was kind of a real person versus the fake type someo thers played. I guess in some not as stuck up as some. I felt it tragic his ending, but as you stated, his child will continue to live on and lead a more enjoyable life. However, in some ways, Leonard's life was enoyable, at least he was doing something he sort of liked, being adventurous. While he may have been disapointed in the results of such adventures, he still got to take them so to speak. One quick note on Margaret, I feel she almost had to sort of water down her identity to make peace between all. As a peace maker she has got to be able to find and make connections.
 
I also believe that Howard's End demonstrates that there is a cost of connection- but this cost is one of the defining elements of the concept of connection. One cannot remain alone, unique, and still share a true emotional connection with someone. If Margaret were to remain the extremely independent, snooty woman that she was throughout most of the book, she would not be in the vulnerable position of being open to the idea of connecting with Mr. Wilcox. It is precisely the change in her character that allowed her to form a bond with Mr. Wilcox. Connecting is all about melting down various "things", or people, mixing them together, and forming one complex unit.
On another note, even though Margaret's ending may not be a "happy ending" in terms of feminist achievements, maybe it was a happy ending for Margaret. Maybe this change of identity is what she wanted and therefor she was able to find her happy ending in a different role.
 
I think most of us would agree that Leonard Bast did not have a happy ending. While some may be saddened by or dissatisfied with his fate, Leonard simply could not enjoy the same good fortune of the Schlegels or Wilcoxes for Forster’s novel to be effective. Throughout Howard’s End, Forster was trying to create a class-conscious world with obvious discrepancies between rich and poor. Leonard wishes he could “acquire culture” and “be well-informed” like Helen and Margaret, but “it would take years…how was it possible to catch up” (34)? I see Leonard as a classic underdog figure trying to survive in a place where his social status – or lack thereof – prevents him from succeeding. Leonard loses his job, his pride and his life (directly or indirectly) because of actions committed by members of the upper class. After the father of her child has died, Helen confesses, “I ought to remember Leonard as my lover…But I cannot. It is no good pretending. I am forgetting him,” to which Margaret replies, “I cannot have you worrying about Leonard…Forget him” (288). Even in death, Leonard remains distinctly separate from his lover and his friends, and is denied admittance into the social class that society prevents him from entering. Perhaps Forster was not only criticizing how the people of Howard’s End treat the less affluent, but was also calling into question the inequalities that exist in the unjust world in which we live.
 
I think Lisa's insight into the ending of Howards End is great at addressing the complex issues that come with this ending. I had conflicting feelings at the ending of Howards End, but ultimately saw it fit. The connection between the Wilcoxes and the Schlegels definately came at a price, but it seems satisfying in the end. Margaret may have suffered some loss of her free spirit that we see at the beginning of the novel, but she takes on characteristics of Mrs. Wilcox exuding a wise, rational presence that was missing at the beginning. Henry Wilcox is not the corporate powerhouse he was, but his character is softer and he gains the emotion he previously lacked. Ultimately, I think Margaret and Henry reached a compromise in character which is overall beneficial. Leonard seems to still be a problem in that his cost of connection came at the price of his life. In the end, it seems problematic that any other solution would be satisfying, though. If he remained alived, his connection with his son would be minimal being that he was still married to another woman. He would be poor and hopeless for the remainder of his life. Unfortunately, no happy ending seems possible in Leonard's case and I agree with Lisa that he suffered in his desire to be part of the upper class.
 
I think that Lisa makes some excellent points in her post centered around Margaret's idea of to "only connect." True enough, Howards End, the very home that the Schlegel's, Basts, and Wilcoxes were fighting over is where the families were finally joined together in reconciliation. Ironically, who would have thought that at least one person from each family would be living together, amongst one another and their different ideals. On the other hand, Lisa mentions that the fate of Leonard could possibly warn readers from attempting to connect to other people. While that could be true, I've theorized that Leonards misery and death could possibly symbolize the reality that it is important to know yourself, and be comfortable with yourself before trying to connect with other people. In other words, connect to yourself before connecting with someone else. Leonard, he didn't just try to make a connection with the upperclass but, if it was up to him, he would have been categorized in the same loop as the wealthy. Hopefully, as Lisa said, the spirit of Leonard would live on through his child. But the only difference is that this child's spirit would not be contaminated as Leonards was with the desire to fit and be something that it is not. He will grow up underneath a roof in which all 3 families live, as one.
 
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