Last week’s episode of Howards End ended with the Schlegels' vote to take Wilcox’s London house if it is suitable and he has arrived to drive Margaret there. As she leaves, Helen’s advice to her is “Don’t do anything rash.” Be warned--there is plenty of rashness ahead.
Mr. Wilcox, and I think it’s permissible for me to call him Henry now, has a snazzy new motor-car, and he’s a bundle of nerves, about to blunder into one of the worst proposal scenes in Eng. Lit. He mentions on the drive over that he’s lonely in the evenings (his daughter Edie is about to marry), which is quite sweet, but his opening statement sounds as though he’s planned an abduction.
Henry Wilcox: I’ve had you here on false pretenses. I want to speak to you on a much more serious subject than a house.
Margaret Schlegel: I know. I mean…
Henry: Miss Schlegel, could you be induced to share… um—is it probable…
And so on. In an almost incoherent exchange, Henry and Margaret somehow manage to communicate that she’ll send him her answer by mail and if she says no, of course he’ll still offer the family the house (which is a huge, chilly, Georgian beauty and quite unsuited to the Schlegel's bohemian clutter). Her final response, “Mr. Wilcox, you quite take my breath away”—really, Margaret?— took mine away too, but not in a good way.
The house tour curtailed, Margaret returns home and has to face Helen, who finds it both impossible and repulsive that her sister is in love with Henry. Margaret explains:
He’s afraid of emotion. He cares too much about success, too little about the past. I’d even say spiritually he’s not as honest as I am. Doesn’t that satisfy you? … I don’t intend for him—or any man or woman—to be all my life. There’s heaps of things in me that that he doesn’t known and never shall. And so with him: there are heaps of things he does which will always be hidden from me. He has all those public qualities that you so despise and enable all of this. More and more do I refuse to draw my income and sneer at those who guarantee it. I don’t intend to correct him or to reform him: only connect.
When we meet Henry and the Schlegels next, it’s at Aunt Juley’s house in Dorset and clearly Margaret has accepted his proposal. Henry finds that Margaret is full of surprises when they decide to hold a “business meeting” to discuss their future marriage. She suggests Kalamata in Greece where Henry has a currant business for their honeymoon; he says it’s not suitable for a lady—no hotels. She ripostes with a mention of a backpacking trip she and Helen took across the Appenines; he retorts, hilariously, that she’ll never have to do that sort of thing again. For round two, Henry tentatively brings up the issue of being fair to his children. “Oh, you mean money?” Margaret responds to his obvious shock. Then she blithely announces that she has £600 per year, and Henry is dumbfounded and struggles for words, but can’t or won’t tell her what his income is. We can only assume that neither of them thinks there is a problem here and I have to admit I almost felt sorry for Henry, so far out of his depth.
To add to these looming danger signs, Margaret asks when their wedding day is to be, and a male passerby overhears and jeers at her. Henry moves in to defend his claim, glaring at the young man, fists clenched. Margaret mostly ignores the episode but when they arrive back at Aunt Juley’s house, Henry, inspired by his recent testosterone rush, moves in for a clumsy kiss which takes her entirely by surprise; she disengages herself and kisses him back with great enthusiasm and sincerity.
I think she’s won every round so far, but will her luck hold?
But Margaret still hasn’t solved the problem of where Helen, Tibby, and Aunt Juley are going to live in London, because Wilcox's house isn’t big enough for them all. And on the subject of London life, at the other end of the social spectrum, the Basts are not doing well. He’s reduced to selling his books to make ends meet, because his new job at a bank pays a lower wage. Jacky insists that he writes to the Schlegels for help. Henry was wrong: the Porphyrion did not fail.
Helen confronts Henry about his advice that Leonard leave the Porphyrion and he can’t even remember giving the advice or briefly meeting that “queer, cross boy,” as she describes him. Margaret is concerned too, but Henry is more worried about Howards End where his tenant may be leaving. He rides roughshod over Margaret’s suggestion that they should delay a visit to Howards End, and actually tells Aunt Juley that she wants to go. Similarly, he is brutally dismissive of Helen’s conviction that they are all responsible for the Basts’ hardship. It’s becoming clear that the sisters are divided, and that Margaret is becoming more influenced by Henry: she no longer wears the strikingly vivid clothes of the first two episodes and appears in respectable white.
Finally, Margaret gets to see Howards End and falls in love. This is the real thing, not her social experiment with Henry Wilcox, and it's lovely to see. She enters the house alone while Henry drives off to fetch them a key, but she discovers the front door is magically unlocked. She wanders the house, clearly enchanted, her white dress glowing in the dim light. She suspects she may not be alone, and sure enough, a servant suddenly appears, who blurts out, “I took you for Ruth Wilcox.” And isn’t that a telling comment.
If you’re wondering what Henry’s awful children are up to, they are still simmering with resentment toward Margaret. Charles, convinced that his father’s proposal is part of a fiendish plot by Margaret to take possession of Howards End, tells his sister Edie that if he is exposed to the Schlegels’ “artistic beastliness” he’ll “put his foot down.” Edie is getting married to the beta-male fiancé we met in Episode 2, at Henry’s country property in Shropshire. Margaret and Henry arrive for the wedding together, and as they step out of their car, Henry orders a servant to take Margaret to her room to refresh herself after the journey, as a lady of the time would. She expresses a wish to explore the gardens, but acquiesces; she has decided that she’ll choose her battles. Although she is the one who finally gives the order to the servant to show her to her room, it's a very small victory.
Meanwhile things have been going disastrously for the Basts. Leonard has been laid off from his job at the bank, Jacky is sick, and they are becoming desperate. Helen visits them after receiving another letter (actually I wasn’t clear what side of the Basts’s door she was on when it was slammed shut), and decides they must go to confront Henry Wilcox. Helen pays for their train tickets, hurting Leonard’s pride once more; he refuses to let her buy them some food, and Jacky just wants to go home.
They arrive toward the end of the festivities when staff are clearing up the tent and Margaret, spotting the new arrivals, is horrified at what Helen has done. And interestingly, she turns into Henry—critical, barking orders, and taking over. She scoffs at Helen’s claim that the Basts are starving, and tells Helen to take Leonard and Jacky to the village inn. Margaret then reports to Henry, who is lurking in the woods and asks him to come talk to Leonard and find him a job. He agrees, and it’s all very civilized and cordial, if patronizing to Margaret, so far.
But Jacky, ignored by them all, has been offered champagne by one of the waiters and is well on her way to being drunk. And we realize, as Jacky, her inhibitions lowered by alcohol, addresses Henry affectionately by his first name (and by her nickname for him, “Hen”), that they once knew each other very well indeed. Margaret is confused, Henry is embarrassed, and then angry. He tries to shift the blame onto Margaret, suggesting that her interest in the Basts was a set up to destroy him, and strides away from her, secure in his entitlement and power. He even accuses Margaret of indelicacy when she asks him if Jacky was his mistress, and proceeds to slut-shame both women:
I have lived a man’s past. I have the honor now to release you from our engagement.
In the inn, Leonard tenderly tucks Jackie into bed. He asks if that was “the man she knew in Cyprus,” and she confesses she would never have come if she had known who their possible benefactor was. Leonard grows up just a little here, and agrees that neither of them should have come. For a moment, at least, their quiet declarations of love sound sincere.
Helen is full of questions. They talk intimately in a candle-lit room and Leonard opens up about his marriage to Jacky. It turns out that they are now married, but have consequently been cut off by his family, who come from a nonconformist religious background. They objected to Jacky because of her past (how did they know? Or did they just make a snap judgment?). But Leonard values the companionship of their relationship and wants to settle down. Books and music, he’s decided, are not so important any more. Helen is devastated to hear that Leonard now believes that you must have money to appreciate the arts—it goes against all she believes in.
They fall silent and Leonard reaches across her to close the shutter of the window, and that’s the end of the scene.
What did you think of this episode? Do you think Margaret and Henry will reconcile? And what will happen to the Basts?