Howards End by E.M. Forster How far do you agree that the Wilcoxes are hypocritical and emotionally dishonest?

Essay by Smell November 2008

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The Wilcoxes, with the exception of Ruth, are ‘journalism’ rather than ‘literature’. Although some of their qualities, for example their efficiency and Henry’s money-making skills, can be admired, it is almost impossible not to let their worse traits override these when forming an opinion on them.

Charles is the ‘Wilcoxes at their worst’ personified. He is materialistic, aggressive and self centred. In chapter 21, he sees his father and Margaret’s engagement as a financial threat and takes it out on his poor wife, blaming her for it in an obscure and unfair way, when in fact Margaret has no intention of interrupting their inheritance. Charles of course would never be able to see this – he is suspicious and believes they have ulterior motives for their interaction with his family, and proceeds to use Dolly to blame for being “on toast” financially. In this chapter he is also unreasonable about this Schlegel’s, he threatens them to Dolly, warning they must be “on their best behaviour” or else he’ll “put [his] foot down”.

This again illustrates this unreasonable and aggressive nature that seems to be a common factor among the family.

Chapter 22 opens with Margaret’s intentions of changing Henry, helping him build “the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion”, she wanted to “span their lives with beauty”. But, even at this early stage, she realises this is not possible, due to his ‘obtuseness’. He sees things in black and white, and this annoys Margaret, in even the simplest conversation she can see ‘the milestones, the collisions, the illimitable views’. She brings this up with Henry, but in is narrow mindedness he cannot see the sense in “frittering away [his] strength on that sort of thing”. Henrys motto is ‘Concentrate’, which he believes works well for him but inevitably by concentrating hard on only one thing at any given time he fails to see the bigger picture or the ‘poetry’ in life which Margaret cares so deeply about.

Another example of his obtuseness and complete disregard for other peoples feelings when he calmly says “Not a bad business that Porphyrion”, after the Schlegel’s have told Leonard Bast, on Henry’s advice to leave there and find another job. After he drops this bombshell on the sisters, he goes straight on to talk about a letter he’s had, and almost completely ignores Margaret’s attempts to find out what he meant by this. His own business problems and worries are always the centre of his conversations. He also completely denies all responsibility for Leonards now reduced salary, saying that this is just “part of the battle of life”. He seems to even blame the sisters for feeling sorry for him, rather than accept responsibility for Leonard now having even less money.

Bibliography: Howards End (E. M. Forster) & my own head.