Howards End - the Social Question

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E.M Forster – Howards End

Howards End expresses a powerful critique on the conception of social class and social awareness in the early Edwardian Era. After the Victorian Era, values concerning class-awareness were altering. The story, set in the first decade of the 20th century, depicts this transformation and portrays two counter movements within the upper-middle class. The Wilcoxes and the Schlegels represent these opposite points of view in class-awareness. The Wilcoxes model for the capitalist bourgeoisie, the Schlegels represent the liberal intelligentsia. At the time, these alternative ideologies conflicted, causing a division within the upper-middle class. Howards End depicts the socio-political, cultural and ideological differences between these parties, related to their class-awareness. In so doing Forster investigates which ideology ought to dominate. As David Lodge puts it: The issue it addresses (…) is whether culture (…) is an attainable ideal. If culture at the personal level depends ultimately on the possession of money (and Forster insists that it does), can it be shared equally in society? And what stance should the advocates of culture adopt towards those who make money, and towards those who have little or none? However, Forster’s answer is not unilateral. He does not advocate the predominance of one ideology, but puts forward an alternative society where these ideologies do not collide, but harmonize. I will begin this paper with a delineation of the two ideologies represented in the novel, to indicate their differences. Then I’ll move on to Forster’s conclusion: the harmony of these two, without the prevalence of one ideology.

1) The Wilcoxes
The Wilcoxes represent the capitalist bourgeoisie. A family that has founded its fortune in the colonies is deeply marked by the traditional values of Victorianism. They propagate traditional ideas about sexuality, morality, art, and class-awareness. As Helen outlines their values: Equality was nonsense, Votes for Women nonsense, Socialism nonsense, Art and Literature, except when conducive to strengthening the character, nonsense. (p. 20) The Wilcoxes tend a lot of importance to hierarchy, both within the family as in society. The relation between Mr Wilcox and his son can exemplify the former: Charles had been kind in understanding the funeral arrangements and in telling him to eat his breakfast, but the boy as he grew up was a little dictatorial, and assumed the post of chairman too readily. (p. 86) Concerning the hierarchy in society, it is clear that the Wilcoxes have no eye or empathy for the lower classes. They look down upon their servants and ‘bully porters, etc.’ (p. 3). Aunt Juley also reflects this attitude, as well as many of their values. For example, she refers to servants with the degrading term ‘the lower orders’: ‘She sat quivering while a member of the lower orders deposited a metal funnel (…)’ (p. 17). Traditional class-awareness was highly esteemed in Victorianism. Even Mr Bast, a member of the lower middle-class, accepts the constraint of social classes, as he declares: If rich people fail at one profession, they can try another. Not I. (…) It’s the whole world pulling. There always will be rich and poor.’(p. 194) Consequently, Mr Bast is entirely neglected by Mr Wilcox, who doesn’t even remember their acquaintance at Wickham Place. Later he will describe the Basts as following: ‘They aren’t our sort, and one must face the fact.’ (p. 123). The Wilcoxes are capitalists; they see class-division as natural, and something one mustn’t challenge. Another significant aspect is their attitude towards women. The Wilcoxes have a patriarchal view on society. Consequently they often tend to look down on women or reveal prejudices about the female race. ‘Margaret was to come up at once – the words were underlined, as is necessary when dealing with women.’ (p. 134) Another standard rule can be found at page 111: ‘He implied that one ought not to...
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