21 October 2014
Howards End, a riveting book written by E.M. Forster, showcases the question “Who shall inherit England?,” in the post-World War 1 England era does so by putting different social classes and the different people who are representatives of the social classes on display for everyone to judge and critique such as Leonard Bast as an old representative and his son as a new representative. E.M. Forster uses one man in particular, Leonard Bast, to showcase the fact that when you are trying to climb up the social ladder through whatever means necessary, upward social mobility doesn’t always happen to you personally in your lifetime and sometimes it is the next generation that will inherit everything. In the case of Leonard Bast who was a significantly poor man, eating beef tongue and pineapple jelly for dinner, (Forster 41) and running after Miss Schlegel when she accidently took his umbrella at the concert (Forster 27), he was always trying to achieve higher social standing by associating himself with wealthy people at concerts, or reading books that the wealthy read, or trying to attain a good status job. Leonard once thought “We are not concerned with the very poor,” (Forster 35) because that is how he wanted to be able to be. Leonard wanted to be able to achieve the status of not having to worry about how he was going to pay for his next meal, or how he would take care of his eventual wife Jacky. After the initial meeting with the Schlegels, they invite Leonard over for tea, even though they know that he’s poor. Helen, Leonard’s eventual lover, and umbrella stealer, does crack jokes at his expense because they do have the money it takes not to worry about an old umbrella that has holes in it, unlike Leonard (Forster 32-33) which shows that he is of the lower class because he cannot afford an umbrella and that is what it takes to make one a gentleman (Forster 35). At least two years after this incident, the Schlegels and Leonard happen upon each other again, by way of his now wife, Jacky showing up at the Schlegels house thinking her husband was there because of Margaret’s calling card given to Leonard when Helen stole his umbrella. The day after this incident, Leonard shows up at their house and tells the Schlegels that he had left, and Jacky thought he was there, and they proceeded to talk about books like “Stevenson’s Prince Otto,” among others things, such as the walk Leonard took in the woods when he was missing from Jacky (Forster 85-87). Helen and Leonard eventually get so close in their relationship that he has an affair with her and gets her pregnant. While this is going on, Margaret has also found herself a husband, Mr. Henry Wilcox, former husband to the late Mrs. Wilcox, from an estranged family friendship. Mr. Wilcox does not really like Leonard for the fact that he is poor and thinks that he has questionable interests outside of his marriage (Forster 107). Jacky, who is found out to be an old mistress of Mr. Wilcox’s adds an embarrassment factor to Margaret and Henry’s relationship, and he tries to let her out of the engagement though she does not want out (Forster 166-167). Once Margaret and Henry are married, Helen runs away because she does not want her family to know she is pregnant. She then gets tricked into coming home and revealing that she is in fact almost ready to give birth, because Margaret is worried about her (Forster 208). When Charles Wilcox, Margaret’s step son, and Helen’s step nephew finds out that Leonard “seduced” her, thinking she had no say in the matter, Charles wanted only to “thrash him within an inch of his life,” (Forster 230) though Charles kills Leonard by an accident. With Charles saying Leonard died of a heart attack, and the police deciding differently, Charles goes to jail while Helen is left to raise the baby herself. Now that Helen’s baby boy is without a father, no matter how questionable he may be, he will grow up in the Schlegel and Wilcox household at Howards End surrounded by the family’s combined wealth. Henry Wilcox decides along with the consensus of his children, that Margaret will inherit Howards End, and when Margaret dies, Helen and Leonard’s child will inherit Howards End (Forster 242). Though Leonard tries extremely hard to raise his social standing and his class, he does not achieve it in his lifetime. In the end, he does set up the stage for his child to start off in a wealthier and in a higher class standing than he ever was. Leonard’s bastard child will inherit from both the Schlegel family and the Wilcox family, making a significantly high jump up from his father’s social class, simply because of who his mother is. Della Justice May, the subject of Tamar Lewin’s article “Up From The Holler” voiced that "If your goal is to become . . . a very important person, you can't start way back on the continuum, because you have too much to make up in one lifetime. You have to make up the distance you can in your lifetime so that your kids can then make up the distance in their lifetime,” meaning that you can do everything in power to gain wealth and class, but you yourself may not always be around to see it, but will be able to provide the base so your kids can reap the benefits and they can continue to build on to the base, such as the case in Howards End, with Leonard and Helen’s son. Della Justice May never felt comfortable, even after she was rescued from foster care by her older, lawyer, cousin Joe Justice, who gave her the bit of raise of class that changed the rest of her life. After Della Justice May graduated from high school, she got accepted and attended Berea College, a college in Kentucky that focuses on low-income families that also has a no tuition guarantee for everyone who attends, no matter where they come from. Once graduated from Berea College, Della Justice May went on to get a scholarship from the University of Kentucky Law School and along with her husband, Troy Price; who went to graduate school for family studies, moved to Lexington and went to Law School (Lewin). Though she now has a stable and well-paying job at her Cousin Joe’s law firm, she still feels left out of the upper-class spectrum. Della Justice May voices "My stomach's always in knots getting ready to go to a party, wondering if I'm wearing the right thing, if I'll know what to do," to Lewin, which is a big deal when you weren’t taught those things growing up. I know from personal experience that saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, or even wearing the wrong thing can make somebody think twice about why they invited you to the function you’re at. Della Justice May tries to make life easier for her two adopted kids who also her niece and nephew, by making sure they head to Wal-Mart for supplies when Anna has a school project, or make sure that Will has the opportunity to go to Boy Scouts and above all, she tries to make these opportunities and others like these, that weren’t available to her as a kid and previously unavailable to Will and Anna, available to them now (Lewin). Della Justice May says, in the attached audio/picture slide that is connected with Tamar Lewin’s article “Up from the Holler,” that “They [the kids] don’t have the respect for education I had. I saw my life as one I needed to get out of. They [the kids] like their life, and it’s pretty okay,” Della Justice says when talking about her adoptive children. Della Justice’s adopted children get to experience that freedom of not having to worry about making sure they don’t mess up in their school work and school life, because they are comfortable. Will and Anna don’t have to worry about not getting into college because they failed a class in high school, or necessarily how they’re going pay for it. Both of their parents have decent jobs, and they get to grow up knowing what it’s like to not have to fret about having enough money to pay the electric bill. Just one generation before them, both Della Justice and her husband Joe had to worry about those things, how they were going to go to college, and how they would be able to live, and at least for Della Justice, she worried about getting out of that situation and not going back. Going back one generation in Howards End, Leonard too, has to worry about paying his bills and even what he’s going to eat that night, though his son will never have those feelings, and just like Della Justice, Leonard wants to leave that situation behind, and these two occurrences are almost 100 apart from the other. This just furthers the fact that sometimes, social mobility can only be jumpstarted so much before the next generation has to take over and complete it. In R. A. Scott-James’s criticism from the Daily News in 1910 of Howards End he writes, “’Only connect . . . ‘is Mr. Forster’s motto,” (Scott-James 382) which in itself, is completely true. Forster gets these people to connect, but in ways where they really aren’t connecting. Leonard tries to connect with the Schlegels and is welcomed in, but he still feels like the friend that they invite to the party because they feel sorry for him. Scott-James goes on to say that “It is because they do not ‘connect’; because to write a novel near to nature on one hand, and true to the larger vision on the other requires tremendous labour of thought making perception and wisdom fruitful; the fitting of the perception of little things with the perception of universal things; consistency, totality, connection. Mr. Forster has written a connected novel,” (Scott-James 382-383) Scott-James believes that it is the perception of universal things, such as connection, that makes it look as though the people and families in Howards End are connecting, without actually connecting. Forster gives us the answer to “Who Shall Inherit England?” The answer is the new generation; the new generation of young people who grow up rich, or around rich people and in that culture, such as Leonard’s son. No matter where you are at in the world, the rich people will inherit the wealth. It is possible to move yourself up the social ladder, like Della Justice May did, and still not feel comfortable as she did, and her children will inherit her hard work and reap the benefits of growing up in a higher social class than Della Justice did in her life. Someone like Leonard has to make small steps, and eventually like Leonard’s son, they will get to a high rung on the ladder and be able to move themselves up.
Forster, E. M. Howards End: Authoritative Text, Textual Appendix, Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism. Ed. Paul B. Armstrong. Norton Critical Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. Print. Lewin, Tamar. "Up From the Holler: Living in Two Worlds, At Home in Neither." The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 May 2005. Web. 26 Oct. 2014. May, Della Justice. "Class Matters: Della's Story Interactive Feature." The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 May 2005. Web. 26 Oct. 2014. Scott-James, R.A. “[“. . . A connected novel . . .”]”. Howards End: Authoritative Text, Textual Appendix, Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism. Ed. Paul B. Armstrong. Norton Critical Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. Print.