Howards End

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Howards End
Cover of first UK edition
AuthorE. M. Forster
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherEdward Arnold (London)
Publication date
18 October 1910
Media typeHardback

Howards End is a novel by E. M. Forster, first published in 1910, about social conventions, codes of conduct and relationships in turn-of-the-century England. Howards End is considered by many to be Forster's masterpiece.[1] The book was conceived in June 1908 and worked on throughout the following year; it was completed in July 1910.[2]


The story revolves around three families in England at the beginning of the 20th century: the Wilcoxes, rich capitalists with a fortune made in the colonies; the half-German Schlegel siblings (Margaret, Helen, and Tibby), whose cultural pursuits have much in common with the Bloomsbury Group; and the Basts, an impoverished young couple from a lower-class background. The idealistic, intelligent Schlegel sisters seek to help the struggling Basts and to rid the Wilcoxes of some of their deep-seated social and economic prejudices.

Plot summary[edit]

The Schlegels, a family of intellectual and idealistic sisters, once befriended the Wilcoxes, a wealthy and conventional family, during their time in Germany. Helen Schlegel visits the Wilcoxes' country house, Howards End, where she becomes engaged to Paul Wilcox but soon regrets the hasty decision and they break off the engagement. At a concert, Helen takes Leonard Bast's umbrella by mistake and leaves him her sister Margaret's card to retrieve it.

Later, the Wilcoxes move to London and become neighbours with the Schlegels. Margaret befriends Ruth Wilcox, the matriarch of the family, who feels a deep connection to Howards End. Ruth, on her deathbed, writes a note leaving the house to Margaret, but her widowed husband Henry and his children conceal the inheritance and burn the note.

Leonard Bast, an impoverished clerk, lives with a woman named Jacky. When Jacky shows up at the Schlegels' house looking for her "husband", Helen is mystified. Leonard explains the situation, and the Schlegels meet Henry Wilcox, who advises Leonard to quit his job due to the impending collapse of the company. Margaret and Henry's friendship turns into a romance, and they become engaged despite opposition from Henry's children, who fear Margaret's claim to Howards End.

Helen attends the wedding of Evie Wilcox with Leonard and Jacky, who are now married and in dire financial straits. Henry recognizes Jacky as his former mistress and accuses the Schlegels and Basts of plotting against him. Margaret, disturbed by the revelation, forgives Henry and wishes to salvage their relationship.

Helen strongly disapproves of Henry's mistreatment of the Basts and spends the night with Leonard discussing their plight. Helen later confides in her brother Tibby and decides to send financial help to the Basts, but Leonard returns the first check and declines further assistance.

After their wedding, Margaret becomes concerned about Helen's restless travels. When their Aunt Juley falls ill, Margaret asks Helen to return home, but Helen refuses to see the family. Margaret and Henry visit Howards End, hoping to surprise Helen, and discover her secret pregnancy. Margaret stands by her sister and urges Henry to forgive her as she has forgiven him, but he remains unconvinced.

Leonard arrives at Howards End the next day, tormented by his affair with Helen and unaware of her presence. Charles Wilcox attacks Leonard, causing him to grab a bookcase that collapses and fatally injures him due to undiagnosed heart disease. Margaret decides to leave Henry, but he reveals that Charles will be charged with manslaughter. Charles is found guilty and sentenced to prison.

Henry, overwhelmed by shame, agrees to honor Ruth's wish and leave Howards End to Margaret. He also stipulates that, after Margaret's death, the property will pass to the son of Helen and Leonard. Helen returns to Howards End, and the family warmly welcomes her and her son.


In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Howards End 38th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.

A Manchester Guardian review written in the year of novel's publication praised it as "a novel of high quality written with what appears to be a feminine brilliance of perception."[3]

Critics have described Howards End as a "Condition-of-England novel" for its depiction of the poverty and precarity of the Bast family as well as the rapid changes in the social and economic structure of England in the Edwardian period.[4] The Wilcox family represent "new money" as well as global capitalism with their ownership of the Imperial and West African Rubber Company, while the German Schlegel sisters represent the educated, cosmopolitan "New Woman" and raise questions of women's suffrage. The Wilcoxes were possibly inspired by the harsh landlords of Forster's childhood home,[5] while the Schlegels were loosely based on Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell, who were Forster's contemporaries in the liberal and humanist-minded Bloomsbury Group.[6]

The house of the title, Howards End, "is a mystical symbol of the beauty and gentility of that fast-disappearing world. The question of who will own it – for which read England's social future – dominates the book."[7] It sits in the countryside, away from London, holding immense sentimental value to Mrs Ruth Wilcox, who threatens the male line of inheritance when she attempts to leave the house to newly-befriended Margaret Schlegel upon her death. The core message of the novel is its epigraph, "Only connect", a similar theme to that of Forster's novel Maurice, which also features cross-class relationships. In the end, the three families are forced into a form of uneasy reconciliation; critic Barbara Morden argues:

"Ultimately, it is Leonard Bast, the uprooted and dispossessed peasant, who proves to be the key to the novel's pattern of connection and theme of inheritance. It is his and Helen's illegitimate baby, a child of nature rather than a 'Son of Empire', born at the heart of the old house into a newly constituted family, who will inherit Howards End, perhaps England."[8]

Several critics have also assessed the influence of Forster's closeted homosexuality on the novel. Critic Vivian Gornick argued that Forster's lack of romantic or sexual experience at the time of writing "haunts" the book: "Unable to achieve emotional experience himself, yet impelled to write about it, he here adopts the intellectually intelligent voice of a writer who senses the import of what lies behind the tragedy of life but doesn't really know what he's talking about."[9]

Rooks Nest House[edit]

Rooks Nest House, Stevenage

Forster based his description of Howards End on a house in the hamlet of Rooks Nest in Hertfordshire, his childhood home from 1883 to 1893. The house, known in Forster's childhood as "Rooksnest" had, as in the novel, been owned by a family named Howard, and the house itself had been called "Howards" in their day.[10] According to his description in an appendix to the novel, Rooks Nest was a hamlet with a farm on the Weston Road just outside Stevenage.[11] The house is marked on modern Ordnance Survey maps at grid reference TL244267.[citation needed]

Plaque at Rooks Nest, the former home which was the inspiration for Howards End in E M Forster's novel.

The area to the north-west and west of Rooks Nest House is the only farmland remaining in Stevenage (the area to the east of the house now comprises the St Nicholas neighbourhood of the town). The landscape was termed "Forster country" in a letter to The Times signed by a number of literary figures, published on 29 December 1960. The letter was written in response to two compulsory purchase orders made by the Stevenage Development Corporation; it expressed the hope that 200 acres of the countryside around the house could be preserved both as one of the last beauty spots within 30 miles of London and "because it is the Forster country of Howards End."[12] In 1979, the centenary of the author's birth, the area was officially named the Forster Country by local planners after efforts by a campaign group, the Friends of the Forster Country, which aimed to preserve for future generations the landscape that Forster knew.[13][14] In 1997, a sculpture marking Forster's connection with the area was unveiled beside St Nicholas churchyard by the MP for Stevenage, Barbara Follett.[15] In September 2017 Rooks Nest house was put up for sale.[16][17]

Wickham Place, the London home of the Schlegel sisters, was demolished to make way for a block of flats; it did not have a direct real-world counterpart. Forster's conception of it owed a great deal to number 1 All Souls Place, where the sisters of Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson lived.[18][19]



On Beauty, a 2005 novel by Zadie Smith, is loosely based on Howards End and was written as a homage to Forster.[20]


A stage adaptation by Lance Sieveking and Cottrell, was performed in 1967 on tour and at the New Theatre in London, with Gwen Watford, Gemma Jones, Michael Goodliffe, Joyce Carey and Andrew Ray in the cast. Forster co-operated in the production.

The Inheritance is a play in two parts by Matthew Lopez, which gets inspiration from the Forster novel to portray instead the generation that came after the height of the AIDS crisis, addressing the life of a young gay man in New York.[21] The play opened on 2 March 2018, at Young Vic and later transferred to the West End at the Noël Coward Theatre.[22] The production won four Olivier Awards including Best Play.[23] The play opened on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in September 2019.[24]


A British television adaptation of the novel in the BBC's Play of the Month series was broadcast in 1970, and starred Leo Genn, Sarah-Jane Gwillim, and Glenda Jackson.

In November 2017, a four-part adaptation by Kenneth Lonergan was broadcast by the BBC. It was a co-production with US broadcaster Starz.[25][26]


A film version made in 1992 stars Emma Thompson, Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter, Anthony Hopkins, and Samuel West. The film was named Best Picture by BAFTA in 1992 and won the 45th Anniversary Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. At the 65th Academy Awards the film won three Academy Awards for films released in 1992: Thompson for Best Actress, Luciana Arrighi for Best Art Direction, and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala for Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.[citation needed]


In 1949, an adaptation by Horton Heath aired on NBC University Theatre, with Alma Lawton as Margaret Schlegel, Eileen Erskine as Helen Schlegel, Tom Dillon as Henry Wilcox, Ben Wright as Charles Wilcox, Terry Kilburn as Leonard Bast, and Queenie Leonard as Jacky Bast.[27]

In 2009, a two-part adaptation by Amanda Dalton was broadcast on BBC Radio 4, with John Hurt as the narrator, Lisa Dillon as Margaret Schlegel, Jill Cardo as Helen Schlegel, Tom Ferguson as Tibby Schlegel, Alexandra Mathie as Aunt Juley, Malcolm Raeburn as Henry Wilcox, Ann Rye as Ruth Wilcox, and Joseph Kloska as Charles Wilcox.[28]


Allen Shearer's opera Howards End, America (2016), with a libretto by Claudia Stevens, moves the action to 1950s Boston.[29] The adaptation is discussed in Stevens' article "Page to Stage: A New Opera, Howards End, America" in the Polish Journal of English Studies.[30]


  1. ^ Trilling, Lionel (1965). E. M. Forster. New York, NY: New Directions. p. 114. ISBN 0811202100.
  2. ^ Moffat, Wendy E. M. Forster: A New Life, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010
  3. ^ "An excellent beginning". The Guardian. 15 June 2002. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 8 August 2023.
  4. ^ "British Library". Retrieved 8 August 2023.
  5. ^ Ashby, Margaret (1995). Stevenage Past. Phillimore & Co. ISBN 978-0-85033-970-3
  6. ^ Sellers, Susan, ed. (2010). The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf. England: Cambridge University Press. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-521-89694-8
  7. ^ "Song of Inexperience (Published 2016)". 8 February 2016. Retrieved 8 August 2023.
  8. ^ "British Library". Retrieved 8 August 2023.
  9. ^ "Song of Inexperience (Published 2016)". 8 February 2016. Retrieved 8 August 2023.
  10. ^ Editor's Introduction, in Howards End, Penguin Books. This information was passed to Forster many years after the publication of the novel by a family friend, the composer Elizabeth Poston, who by that point lived at the house; this came as a surprise to Forster, who concluded that having known and then forgotten these facts like a child, he had unwittingly used them when writing the novel.
  11. ^ "Appendix: Rooknest" in Howards End, Penguin Books.
  12. ^ The letter says, "Literate people the world over feel that it [Forster country] should be preserved in its original setting as one of our greatest literary landmarks." It was signed by W. H. Auden, John Betjeman, Sir Arthur Bryant, Lord David Cecil, Graham Greene, John G. Murray, Harold Nicolson, Max Reinhardt, Dr C. V. Wedgwood, and Vita Sackville-West. Authors Fear Threat To 'Forster Country'. The Times [London, England] 28 Dec. 1960: 10. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 29 Nov. 2017.
  13. ^ Cooper, Samuel. Forster Country—Its recognition on the centenary of E. M. Forster's birth.
  14. ^ "The Forster Country—The Fame of Forster Country". The Friends of the Forster Country., accessed 2 January 2022
  15. ^ The sculpture is marked with the words "Only Connect" with a fuller text: "THE RAINBOW BRIDGE THAT SHOULD CONNECT THE PROSE IN US WITH THE PASSION." Maryan, Pauline. ONLY CONNECT, BY ANGELA GODFREY – St Nicholas' churchyard.
  16. ^ McEvoy, Louise (21 September 2017). "Stevenage childhood home of author E M Forster goes on the market for £1.5 million". The Comet. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  17. ^ "The childhood home of novelist E. M. Forster goes up for sale – Country Life". Country Life. 20 October 2017. Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  18. ^ "'HOWARDS END'; Forster's Sisters". The New York Times. 12 April 1992. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 28 November 2017. The two Miss Schlegels are a sort of blending of the three Miss Lowes Dickinson (G. L. D.'s sisters) whom I saw in passing when we were all young. Wickham Place is their house, 1 All Souls' Place, since destroyed, not far from Queens Hall.
  19. ^ 1 All Souls Place was built by G.L. Dickinson's portraitist father Lowes Cato Dickinson in 1877–9. Forster writes of the building as 'a tall dark red wedge-shaped house all windows and hospitality, and it was there that I saw him once or twice towards the end of his life. He was then nearly ninety and he walked around the rooms with a candle to show me some pictures which he thought would give me pleasure.' Forster, E. M. (1934). Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson. Edward Arnold. p. 3.
  20. ^ Moo, Jessica Murphy (16 September 2005). "Zadie, Take Three". The Atlantic. Retrieved 19 October 2023.
  21. ^ "Spanning generations and interlinking lives, The Inheritance is 'an exquisitely truthful and funny modern classic' (Telegraph) that brilliantly transposes E.M. Forster's novel 'Howards End' to 21st century New York" - part of the production's description, taken from The Inheritance official website, retrieved 5 December 2018
  22. ^ "The Inheritance (West End)". Young Vic website. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  23. ^ "The Inheritance and Company triumph at the 2019 Olivier Awards". Evening Standard. 7 April 2019. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  24. ^ Brantley, Ben (17 November 2019). "'The Inheritance' Review: So Many Men, So Much Time". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  25. ^ "BBC – All-star cast announced for Kenneth Lonergan's adaptation of Howards End for BBC One – Media Centre".
  26. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (15 February 2017). "Starz Boards 'Howards End' BBC Limited Series; Hayley Atwell, Matthew Macfadyen & Tracey Ullman To Star". Deadline. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  27. ^ Palmer, Zuma (25 March 1950). "Sunday Programs". Los Angeles Evening News. p. 18. Retrieved 6 April 2024.
  28. ^ "EM Forster – Howard's End – BBC Radio 4 Extra". BBC.
  29. ^ "Claudia Stevens Papers, 1967– ongoing".
  30. ^ Stevens, Claudia, 2 March 2017 Journal of the Polish Association for the Study of English (PASE) No. 3.2 (including, at p.37, Page to Stage: A New Opera Howards End, America) accessed 2 January 2022

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