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Jenn Dodwell's picture

Howard's End and the Essence of Friendship

I think my favorite passage from Howard's End so far is:

"Brother and sister were not callous.  They spoke thus, partly because they desired to keep Chalkeley up to the mark--a healthy desire in its way--partly becuse they did not seem to them of supreme importance.  Or it may be as Helen supposed: they realized its importance, but were afraid of it.  Panic and emptiness, one could glance behind.  They were not callous, and they left the breakfast table with aching hearts."

 I especially love the line, "Or it may be as Helen supposed; they realized its importance but they were afraid of it."  I think it reinforces so beautifully how important it is to put our prejudices of people aside, and to try to see past the outer image that they project.  At the beginning of the story, the very rich Wilcoxes appear austere, intimidating, and unreachable to Helen and Margaret.  They project this air of indifference and shallowness, as a result of the high society culture in which they were brought up.  True, the Wilcoxes might feel more constrained in their expressions of their feelings, and therefore might be "afraid of it," because of the image of composure their social class demands that they project--but at the end of the day, just like the Schlegels, they are just people, who have the same feelings, desires, joys, and pains.  I see this as a significant moment of growth for Helen's character in the story.

 What also struck me about Howard's End is the traces of novels like Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice that found their way into this story.  The way the two houses, Howard's End and Wickham place are intimately tied to the two families and their stories, reminds me of the way in which the neat, tidy, grand and glorious Thrushcross Grange and the wild, ominous, haunting, and dark Wuthering Heights each mirror the lives and  personalities of the families that inhabit them. 

What also reminded me of Wuthering Heights was the way in which Mrs. Wilcox and Margaret slowly but surely come to love each other.  Here are these two people, who come from very different backgrounds, who find a soulmate in each other, despite the many constraints of their lives that would keep them apart were it not for their mutual desire to break free of these constraints.  It is the same exact situation with Heathcliff and Catherine.  Granted, although Heathcliff and Catherine originally come from the same house, Catherine's stay at the Lintons' transforms her into a representative of Thrushcross Grange for most of the story.  What is so poignant about both these stories of love and frienship is the way in which they prove that the human desire for companionship, understanding, and acceptance is truly stronger and deeper than any loyalty one could feel towards the images that his/her society promotes.

 Additionally, I thought it was interesting how, in Howard's end, the homes of the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes physically come together, when the Wilcoxes move right into the flat across from the Schlegels.  This phyisical coming together of the two homes is symbolic of the way in which Margaret and Mrs. Wilcox become good friends shortly after.

 Howard's end also reminded me of Pride and Prejudice, because of the way in which each of the main characters in Howard's End must eventually confront his/her prejudices and assumptions about the members of the other family in order to see what really lies beyond all the facades and assumptions which revolve around class. 

 Finally, I was struck by the way in which Howard's End is simultaneously a story that is very much about social class, and very much not about social class.  I have only read 100 pages in so far, but as I continue reading I will be interested to see how these two ideas play out/develop.


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