I’ve just finished Howards End. What a stonkingly good novel! Reading it, reminded me quite why I love reading classics so much. They’re terribly good. Much of the chaff has been weeded out over the years, so that what remains, pleasingly coated in a Penguin black jacket, is pure gold.
But a strange little gold bell was ringing in my head the whole time I was reading Howards End. Something was not quite right. Something was uncannily familiar and it was only once I’d finished it, yesterday afternoon, that I realised what it was. The name Wilcox bears an uncanny resemblance to Horcrux. As in Harry Potter. Horcruxes and versus Hallows is the theme of the final Harry Potter book.
For those who have somehow managed to avoid the Harry Potter phenomenon, here is a brief gloss for this wizardspeak. A Horcrux is a means of trapping a piece of one’s soul in an object. First you need to murder someone (by means of the Avada Kedavra killing curse) – because this supreme act of evil splits the murderer’s soul. Then a bit of the soul can be fixed into an object – living or inanimate – which becomes a Horcrux. This means that if the baddie is in turn murdered, the bit of him that’s trapped inside the Horcrux will still survive. So he won’t really be dead. He’ll be immortal. This, funnily enough, counts as part of the Dark Arts and it’s Voldemort who makes use of it.
But Harry, rather painfully slowly, discovers that there is another means to immortality. The Hallows, which are three sacred objects: the Resurrection Stone, a stone which has the power to summon the dead to the living world; the Elder Wand, a wand which can’t be beaten; and an Invisibility Cloak. The bearer of all three of these Hallows is fabled to be the Master of Death, immortal.
Hallows and Horcruxes, Horcruxes and Hallows. Schlegels and Wilcoxes, Wilcoxes and Schlegels. There’s more to it than an odd, rather poetic shared rhythm and assonance.
Towards the end of Howards End, Margaret Schlegel thinks about immortality in relation to herself and Henry Wilcox:
Margaret believed in immortality for herself. An eternal future had always seemed natural to her. And Henry believed in it for himself. Yet would they meet again?
Forster ventures two types of immortality here – that of the Schlegels and that of the Wilcoxes.
Throughout Howards End, the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes are contrasted with each other. The Schlegels are originally from Germany and are endlessly discussing philosophy, poetry and music, hosting luncheon parties over which ‘Thought and Art’ are passionately discussed. In sharp contrast, the Wilcoxes are English and practical, believing that:
Equality was nonsense, Votes for Women nonsense, Socialism nonsense, Art and literature, except when conducive to strengthening the character, nonsense.
All the ‘Schlegel fetishes’ are held by the Wilcoxes in utter disdain.
The Schlegels are aware of this difference, indeed Margaret Schlegel says to Helen, near the very beginning of the book:
‘The truth is that there is a great outer life that you and I have never touched – a life in which telegrams and anger count. Personal relations, that we think supreme, are not supreme there. There love means marriage settlements; death, death duties. So far I’m clear. But here’s my difficulty. This outer life, though obviously horrid, often seems the real one – there’s grit in it. It does breed character. Do personal relations lead to sloppiness in the end?’
So the Schlegels versus the Wilcoxes is an opposition that stands for the inner life versus the outer, the passion versus the practical. While the immortality envisaged by a Schelegel would be spiritual – a nebulous memory or feeling, a sense of someone’s continued life after death; that envisaged by a Wilcox would be practical – inheritance, money, ‘death duties’.
What Margaret Schlegel yearns to do is to connect the inner life with the outer. Forster’s very famous, oft-quoted and very brilliant line, comes into play here:
Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its highest.
And so, much of the book is given over to Margaret’s struggle to truly connect the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes.
Now to return to Harry Potter. Voldemort tries to connect the Hallows and Horcruxes in that, alongside his Horcruxes, he obsessively seeks the Elder Wand. (Albeit he isn’t aware of its significance as a Hallow.) And Harry slowly grows aware that destroying all the Horcruxes won’t be enough. To defeat Voldemort, he must destroy the Horcruxes and unite the Hallows. The Battle of Hogwarts is rather a climactic connection of Hallows and Horcruxes as Harry faces Voldemort in a final showdown.
Forster manages to resolve the Schlegel/Wilcox opposition in Howards End, the titular house, itself. For what could be a more practical attitude to death than Henry Wilcox’s summoning his children and wife into the room to tell them, quite formally, that Howards’ End is to be left to Margaret after his death. He is dealing with inheritance, practical issues.
But Howards End has something of the ‘inner life’ in it. There is a spirit to the place to do with ancestors and local folklore – the wych elm in which pigs teeth are stuck, so that the bark is said to cure toothache. All the Schlegels’ furniture and carpets fit uncannily well. As Margaret says, ‘There are moments when I feel Howards End peculiarly our own.’ The Schlegels have a strange affinity with this place of the Wilcoxes.
So Howards End as a piece of inheritance, of immortality, is at once supremely practical and spiritual. The outer life and the inner. The prose and the passion. Wilcoxes and Schlegels. Horcruxes and Hallows.