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E. M. Forster–James Ivory: Howards End

Glorious Bastards: The Praise of Impurity in E.M. Forster’s Howards End

Les glorieux bâtards : éloge de l’impureté dans Howards End d’E.M. Forster
Christian Gutleben


E.M. Forster’s Howards End is constructed so as to highlight a coda in which the future of the quintessentially English estate seems to rely on Helen Schlegel and Leonard Bast’s son, a bastard by name and condition, whose essential importance can be traced in the centrality of his place of birth right in the middle of the symmetrical house. Such a teleological enhancement of the figure of the bastard invites a reconsideration of the novel’s axiological and aesthetic choices. The irony with which the purity of Englishness is treated in the course of the narrative but also the heterogeneity of its generic components become thus unmistakable. It is then an aesthetics of impurity which is being carried out and pointed out in Forster’s condition-of-England novel in which the figure of the bastard allows a reconciliation of Edwardian England’s paradoxes and contradictions. If Howards End can be deemed a modern novel it is then because of its celebration of bastardy both as an ideological principle and a novelistic modus operandi, a celebration which emphatically marks a rupture with Forster’s Victorian heritage.

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1By choosing Howard as a patronymic eponym E.M. Forster at once seems to plunge his work in the context of an exploration of national history and English tradition. The Howards indeed represent a lineage of famous English characters including Dukes, writers, thinkers and a renowned general who fulfilled a leading role in defeating the Spanish Armada and whom Tennyson, in a poem called ‘The Revenge’ (1878), celebrated for his claim: ‘Fore God I am no coward’. Besides, the title of the novel tallying with the name of a country house it inscribes the work in a long tradition and in the continuity of the English novel such as it is illustrated by Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814), Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847), Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (1852–1853), George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871–1872) or John Galsworthy’s The Country House (1907). The importance of the country house cannot be overstressed for, as Malcolm Kelsall states, ‘it is as much part of England as the rocks and stones and trees’ (Kelsall 6). Naturally, if the country house is ‘part of England’, then it becomes emphatically metonymic and the relation between the part and the whole is one of contiguity and analogy: what characterises the one affects the other, the axiology of the one becomes the axiology of the other and the country house, an example standing for the rule, can then be equated with the house of a country. The metonymic relation between the habitation and the nation is clearly underlined when the narrator, accounting for Margaret’s quest, records: ‘starting from Howards End, she attempted to realize England’ (174). It seems as if a geometric and geographic line of continuity between the house and the country, the estate and the state were here established. This visual and mental translation from the part to the whole is the most convincing instance of a contiguous logic uniting the place to a system, the unique to the universal. Howards End is thus the novel of a house and the novel of a nation. So right from its paratextual threshold, Forster’s work announces, almost proclaims, its preoccupation with English history and English fiction, a concern for topographical and literary spaces, a combination in which Elsa Cavalié rightly detects the centrality of Englishness as such (see Cavalié 72–73). Because of its implications of essentialism, the concept of Englishness inevitably sounds ideologically suspicious and the apparent foregrounding of such a concept places then Forster’s novel in a problematic debate about nationalism.

Purity Undone

2The suspicion of jingoistic essentialism might seem confirmed by the narrative voice’s tendency to appropriate the generalising discourse about England and the English. Thus, when the narrator evokes the ‘Englishman’ and the ‘insular’ reaction to emotion (21), what appears noteworthy is the passage from the general scope of the utterances to the personal nature of the enunciation with the repetitive use of the pronoun ‘we’, as if the addresser were the spokesperson of a whole nation, as if the specific speaker were indistinguishable from the general crowd, as if a national ethos were self-evident. Similarly, when the heterodiegetic instance speaks of ‘our national morality’ (91) and particularly when he glorifies ‘our island’ (142) and underscores ‘the Island’s purity till the end of time’ (143), the sense of celebration verges on chauvinism and undue generalisation. However, considered in the context of the whole novel and its subtle and pervasive sense of irony, such apparent praise of purity might well turn against itself, the notion of purity being anathema to the novel’s ethics and aesthetics of variegation—as this paper will endeavour to demonstrate. In matters of national characteristics, for example, the narrator might well ape Mrs Munt’s discourse of patriotic pride, just as he mimics and mocks Henry Wilcox’s sexual prejudices when dealing with sexual differences. As soon as the narrative instance specifies that ‘most slight looks escaped Mrs Munt’s attention’ (14) and that ‘[t]o history, to tragedy, to the past, to the future, Mrs Munt remained equally indifferent’ (12), her incomprehension of subtlety and her severance from historical relativity discredit her as an axiological model so much so that her commonplaces about Germans, ‘one knows what foreigners are’, or about ‘continental hotels’, ‘one knows what they are too’ (12), riddled as they are with antiquated understatement and sexual inuendoes, are humorously derided and invalidated. Quite logically, if this character’s nationalist generalisations are being discarded and laughed at in the course of the novel, then the very ideas of purity and essentialism are undermined and have to be replaced by a set of opposed ideas. Naturally, such an argument in favour of impurity in the diegetic sphere, especially since it concerns a minor character, cannot be thoroughly convincing and to establish a link between a claim for impurity and an aesthetics of impurity one has to scrutinise the novel’s overall structure, the construction and its function, the design and its design, the τυπος and the τελος.

3The three explicit ellipses structuring the novel, the first one at the beginning of chapter XIII (‘Over two years passed’, 91), the second one in chapter XXXII (‘after Evie’s wedding. It would be eight months’, 225) and the last one in the final chapter (‘Fourteen months had passed’, 286), distinctly divide the novel into three main parts or stages and a coda. In each of the three main sections three narrative courses, the Schlegels’, the Wilcoxes’ and the Basts’, are progressively developed. If one combines the three parts and the three narrative courses, one reaches number nine, the central and symbolical number of the novel since Howards End’s nine windows are mentioned in the first chapter (3) and repeated in the last (290). Number nine thus frames the novel and links the structure of the novel and the structure of the house, the design of the diegetic house and the design of the extradiegetic work as if the conception of the house reflected en abyme the conception of the novel or as if the architecture of the novel reproduced and magnified the architecture of the house. Nine, of course, is essentially the number of gestation, of pregnancy, of parturition, and Howards End is thus presented as a place of gestation just as Howards End becomes a novel of gestation. The whole novel is conceived so as to highlight the centrality of a birth, a beginning, a new life. It is not only Helen who expects a child, it is the whole narrative that awaits a delivery, a nativity, and this nativity thus seems to constitute the very goal of the work, its sacred goal, one is tempted to assert.

A Teleological Queerness

4If one examines the evolution of the three narrative strands, one cannot fail to notice that the first narrative block is dedicated to drawing the first intersections between the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes and between the Schlegels and the Basts and that the second part transforms the intersections into a crisscrossing pattern which suggests both the inevitable interactions between different social classes and the hybridising of sundry narrative modes—of which more anon. In the third section, after a centrifugal movement according to which the various members of the three families drift apart from one another, a final centripetal force brings the main actors of the drama together at Howards End. The eponymous property appears therefore as the point of convergence, the place towards which all the narrative courses gather; it is then the final meeting point, the spatial, structural and symbolical telos of the novel. The structural principle of confluence can be related to and confirmed by one of the novel’s crucial syllepses, that of the estuary. The estuary is first mentioned in chapter II and immediately associated to ‘a certain measure of peace’ (7), a sense of peacefulness which cannot but recall Howards End where ‘[t]he air was tranquil’ (286). When ‘estuaries’ are evoked again they are related to England’s ‘fair complexities’ (150) and it becomes clear then that the estuary is figurative, a metaphor for a principle of convergence, of unity in plurality, a schematic mise en abyme reflecting the structural convergence of the novel and its celebration of complexities.

5In the circular pattern drawn by the narrative might be seen another structural device used to draw attention to the teleological function of the pregnant house. Indeed, Howards End is manifestly the frame and the main topic of the first chapter just as it is the setting and the main subject of the last chapter, the core of the opening and the core of the closing, the key element which allows the narrative to loop the loop. And since the eponymous abode is repeatedly mentioned, discussed or visited, it appears to constitute the centre and the circumference of the narrative, the end all and the be all of a work which combines the house of a novel and the novel of a house. Besides, the fact that the name of the house should be both the title of the novel and the first words of the first letter of the epistolary opening chapter, thus working as a paratextual and a textual threshold, shows that it is meant to be the nucleus of both the extradiegetic and the diegetic spheres, the main theme of the novel and the main concern of the characters, the central referent of the narrative discourse and the central motif of the fictional world. Now, why is Howards End granted such emphatic importance, and constitute the distinct goal of the chronological and teleological narrative, the pivotal element of the circular pattern? The answer lies in the structural and symbolical conception of the final chapter in which the pregnant house gives birth to ‘Helen’s child . . . in the central room of the nine’ (290). This birth at the very centre of the geometrical structure of Howards End is then conceived so as to represent the sylleptic heart of the novel and this birth is that of a bastard, a bastard highlighted as the pinnacle of the whole architectural building.

  • 1 That Henry Wilcox is characterised by his obsolete, Victorian vision of the world is obvious in man (...)
  • 2 For the numerous allusions or references to the oncoming war, see Bradshaw 162–163.

6According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a bastard is etymologically ‘le fils de bast’, so Helen and Leonard’s son is trebly a bastard, onomastically being the son of Bast, genetically being of mixed English and German blood and literally being the offspring of an illegitimate union. Put in the limelight as it is, this figure of a bastard embodies an ideology of fusion which counteracts the nationalist stereotypes voiced by Mrs Munt and Henry Wilcox, the novel’s manifestly conservative and reactionary characters.1 Such an Anglo-German alloy deconstructs and obliterates the oppositions between clear-cut national categories and therefore invalidates the grounds for a war between England and Germany, a war whose premises are repeatedly alluded to in the course of the narrative.2 It is mainly in the social field, though, that the heir to Howards End incarnates impurity being the offspring as he is both from the leisured class and the struggling class. This social bastardy by itself marks a rupture with the social determinism voiced with self-assurance by Henry Wilcox: ‘The poor are poor . . . there it is. . . . It’s just the shoe pinching—no one can help it’ (163). Such selfish fatalism and such an inhuman and reifying metaphor are then dismissed and gainsaid by the happy advent of Leonard Bast’s son. So, the highlighting of the bastard first and foremost marks a social evolution, almost a social revolution, as if the strict class divisions inherited from the Victorians were meant to appear obsolete.

7The new social contract suggested by the novel’s coda and its celebration of impurity is confirmed by the presence of Tom whose importance is stressed both by his thematisation, the final chapter opening with his name, and by the anaphoras of the first paragraph (‘Tom’, ‘He’, ‘Tom’) clearly signifying that he is now not only a recurring subject (also in the grammatical sense) but a major actor. Tom’s role is given prominence at the beginning and at the end of the circular final chapter for not only is he the focus of the initial sentence but he also features in the final evocation when Helen is described ‘holding Tom by one hand and carrying her baby on the other’ (293). This strategically ultimate image suggests that Tom and the baby are related and symmetrical figures like two brothers just as it almost visualises Tom’s inclusion in the new heterodox family circle. When Helen exclaims, ‘[t]hey are going to be lifelong friends’ (286), she confirms this idea of a new brotherhood inscribed in a timeless perspective in sharp contrast with the provisionality distinguishing the ‘civilization of luggage’ (128 et passim) wreaking havoc outside Howards End. Through this image of social fraternity in which the son of a farmer and the son of an independent lady form a new kinship generating ‘infectious joy’ (293), Howards End shatters any idea of social hierarchy and leans towards a form of social utopia emphatically opposed to any cult of tradition or heritage.

8Considering the family living at Howards End in the coda, one cannot fail to notice the absence of a father, Henry Wilcox, like Casaubon, appearing as ‘a winter-worn husband’ (Eliot, 296), and the strong presence of two mother figures, Helen and Margaret, who besides are presented as a mongrelised pair in the guise of ‘a composite Indian god’ (120). Two mothers then, an ‘[e]ternally tired’ surrogate grandfather (287), a son born out of wedlock and a friend who is also a brother, such is the heterogeneous family which is meant to give life to Howards End ‘year after year’ (286). Manifestly, then, this household is singled out by its queerness, a queerness which Annamarie Jagose has defined as anything that bypasses, transgresses or subverts orthodox models of sexual or family relations (Jagose 32–33) and which represents the antithesis of the Victorian model, ‘a way out of heteronormative conventions’ (Lanone and Mellet 116). By giving emphasis to such a queer community Forster also criticises and condemns traditional families and indeed the appearance of Helen and Leonard’s son, who has no connection whatsoever with the Wilcoxes or the Howards, literally signifies the Howards’ end—and consequently the beginning of a new cycle. So, the title of the novel is wonderfully ambiguous revealing both an inscription in a literary and historical heritage and the demise of this heritage, both the continuation and the termination of tradition, both the weight of the past and the announcement of change. And since the baby of the future is unrelated to the Wilcoxes, the implications are that the novel order might be devoid of male chauvinism, social determinism, moral hypocrisy and emotional emptiness. The bastard represents then a new page, a new chapter, a new genre. Keeping in mind that Howards End stands for a metonymy of England, the heir to Howards End also appears as the heir to his country and Forster’s 1910 proposition that the future of England may reside in an Anglo-German association, that the messiah may be a bastard, sounds extraordinarily daring.

A Poetics of Impurity

9If Howards End’s legatee appears as a glorious bastard, it is not only because he occupies the front stage in Forster’s utopian dwelling, it is also because he is the son of Leonard Bast, a character who undergoes a formidable evolution, the epitome of a round character, i.e., a character ‘who is capable of surprising in a convincing way’ (Forster 1990, 81). Initially presented as socially clumsy and intellectually wanting insofar as he does not understand the Schlegels’ humour, Mr Lanoline does not seem to be taken seriously either by the witty sisters or by the playful narrator. Besides, his dwelling place in ‘a cellar’ (40) associated to ‘the abyss’ (38) suggests that he is bogged down in a darkness and a squalor which appear also metaphorical as if Leonard were the focus of the novel’s intersection with the condition-of-England novel, as if Leonard were a mere illustration of London labour and the London poor—to quote the title of Henry Mayhew’s famous work. However, the final chapter entirely dedicated to Leonard Bast, that is, chapter XLI, draws an entirely different portrait of a character depicted as ‘a monumental person after all’ (218). His first action in the final day of his life is to look through the window at the moon and its lyrical ‘Sea of Serenity, Sea of Tranquillity’ (275), an upward glance and an aerial perspective which immediately contrast with the lowly nether land of his point of origin. The humorous mode of his initial depiction is thus superseded by a poetic mode and his explicit ‘nobility’ (272) becomes the object of a euphonious eulogy: ‘The anodyne of muddledom, by which most men blend and blur their mistakes, never passed Leonard’s lips’ (272). The rich and smooth alliterations on ‘d’, the unexpected association of a concrete medical term and an abstract notion, the choice of a rare signifier ‘muddledom’ and the second alliteration on ‘b’ all contribute to making the sentence melodious and to setting it apart, and this all the more so since it is followed by a couplet in iambic pentameters, an instance of canonical poetry written by a canonical poet (Meredith). When a poetic quote concludes a fragment of poetic prose it is as if the lyrical effect were squared and the poetic parenthesis sacralised: clearly then, the lofty nature of Leonard’s nobility is magnified by the lofty language of the narrative instance. What is also extolled here is Leonard’s vision when he perceives the ‘Ocean of the Lunar Storms . . . merged into one lucent drop’ (275), in other words when he sees the immensity condensed in a sparkle of light as if his entire life, or even life in general, were contained in a glimmer of hope. That this bright star which he yearns for should be called a Keatsean ‘lucent drop’ is of course not accidental: this liquid metonymy signals the possibility for the submerged to escape drowning or even to be redeemed. His poetic epiphany is enhanced by his understanding of ‘a gracious error’ (275), an oxymoron which may well describe his own idealistic lapse, his own tragically fruitful misdemeanour. His celestial vision lifts him out of the abyss into the higher sphere of conceptual or metaphysical considerations and his quest for forgiveness, his journey of atonement (the term ‘confession’ being used several times to stress the religious dimension of his undertaking), becomes then a spiritual quest. Crucially, this is precisely the journey which Henry Wilcox never undertakes since he never acknowledges nor atones for his own ungracious error. The creature from the abyss thus rises above the industrial tycoon, the denizen of below soars to the status of tragic hero and paves the way for his bastard son, the concrete fruit of his gracious error, to embody regeneration or reenchantment.

10The oxymoron just mentioned shows that the principle of bastardy does not only affect the novel’s social and ideological dimensions but also its rhetorical strategy. As early as chapter II, the narrative voice calls attention to ‘the voiceless language of sympathy’ (8) and in this linguistic muteness one may at once detect a narrative art that refuses to limit itself to a single medium and insists on combining various modes of expression. When, later, the narrator celebrates ‘an admired obscurity’ (92), what seems confirmed is his hostility towards and deconstruction of binary oppositions such as light and darkness, knowledge and ignorance, illumination and obscurantism. Similarly, the ‘felicity detested by Margaret’ (168) underscores a plurality of perspectives and aspirations, that is, once again, the antithesis of a monological vision. These oxymoronic devices testify to Forster’s taste for unexpected amalgamations in the stylistic field and naturally such a predilection for unlike combinations, for bastardly mixtures, extends to the generic field. Just as the bastard as such exemplifies a new species in the social realm, just so in the literary realm Forster crosses different genres and traditions to produce new hybrids, hybridity, as Vanessa Guignery has stressed, being a concept alien to ‘partisans of racial purity’ (Guignery 1). What has been most often commented upon in relation to Forster’s literary method in Howards End is his ‘comic seriousness’ (Trilling 71), a playful oxymoron which aptly conveys the inextricable mixture of comedy and tragedy, but also, as Malcolm Bradbury has observed and analysed, a mixture of comedy and poetry and of comedy and visionary writing (Bradbury 128–129). According to Paul Peppis ‘this formal hybridity’ concerns ‘especially the fusion of realism and fantasy’ and the association of romance and satire (Peppis 57 and 53) whereas J. B. Beer insists on the odd blend between the comic and the sublime (Beer 120–21). Considering the ending in two stages with the tragic death of the sacrificial victim first and the presentation of the ensuing utopia second, and to illustrate the novel’s generic bastardy one could also mention the tragic utopia or the utopian tragedy.

  • 3 The parallels are numerous starting with first-person comments about the characters like ‘I hope th (...)

11It could be argued that it is not only genres that Forster yokes together but also whole traditions and, in particular, realism and modernism. That Howards End at least partially pursues the realist tradition is evident in its chronological evolution, its principle of causality, its pivotal use of metonymic places, its emphasis on social concerns and its narrative generalisations in the manner of Middlemarch’s narrative instance.3 However, the novel’s structure is not only chronological, it relies also on a system of repetitions and variations generated by the patent and persistent use of leitmotivs, Forster’s own endeavour to create the ‘repetition plus variation’ which he so admired in Proust (Forster 1990, 149). These iterative paradigms might consist in a unique idea or concept like the ‘goblins’, the ‘abyss’, the ‘muddle’ or ‘the civilization of luggage’ or else in two coordinated nouns like ‘panic and emptiness’, ‘telegrams and anger’ or ‘the seen and the unseen’. To take the latter example, it is first introduced to account for Margaret’s sense of an opposition or even a clash between the spiritual and the material worlds, the ‘seen’ being associated to the vulgarity of Christmas commodities: she ‘felt the grotesque impact of the unseen upon the seen’ (69). When the unseen resurfaces in the course of the narrative it is to designate Helen’s conception of the ‘purely spiritual’, ‘the absolute of metaphysics’ (166), again in opposition to the factual phenomenology of the seen. The narrator, initially, seems to corroborate this relation of divergence between the concrete and the abstract, the visible and the invisible, when he evokes ‘the figures, seen and unseen, wandering by coppice and meadow’ (243; emphasis added). And yet, another occurrence of the phrase advances an entirely different type of relation since it implies the rejection of ‘the superiority of the unseen to the seen’ and the necessity ‘to reconcile them’ (89). In this suggestion to reconcile the actual and the conceptual lie fundamental metafictional implications: if the seen can be equated with the real and the unseen with emotions, perceptions, speculations and what the novel calls ‘[the characters’] inner life’ (167), then the seen and the unseen may also designate realism and modernism, and the novel’s central message to connect the seen and the unseen concerns also the imperative to combine realism and modernism. In these leitmotivs which produce repetitions and variations, rhythm and modulations, one can then also perceive the distinct attempt to implement a structural principle based not, or not only, on narrative chronology but on modulated echoes and qualified scansion, i.e., what Catherine Lanone and Laurent Mellet call ‘a beat, a Deleuzian refrain or “ritournelle” [which] contributes to the becoming-music of the text’ (Lanone and Mellet 91). Since Forster adopts both a chronological progression and a symbolic and rhythmic structure, this two-fold architectural principle shows that Howards End strives to interbreed realism and modernism, an aesthetics inherited from the past and an aesthetics turned towards the future. In this literary mongrelisation can be seen an aesthetic correspondence with the theme and symbolism of bastardy, the combination between the two resulting in a novelistic poetics of impurity.


  • 4 See Catherine Lanone, E. M. Forster: Odyssée d’une écriture, Toulouse : PU du Mirail, 1998, 157.
  • 5 For the critique of imperialism, see Bradshaw 163.

12Synthetically then, Howards End can be read as a venturesome effort to generate the novel of a bastard and the bastard of a novel. Forster deserves all the credit for having perceived that the dream of purity was sterile both in the field of national politics and in the field of literature. Consequently, the structural pre-eminence he grants to the bastard heir, the composite family, the androgynous house ‘transcend[ing] any simile of sex’ (176) and the similarly androgynous sororal cell,4 reveal his ideological strategy in highlighting impurity and hybridity because hybridity, as Jean-Michel Ganteau has observed, ‘problematises the very idea of a dominant culture’ and ‘makes room for the foreign, the foreign that is no longer situated outside the system but is part of it’ (Ganteau 49 and 57). The cross-bred family of the coda is then meant to embody the future of England and constitutes also an oblique way of challenging the concepts of Englishness and Imperialism5 suggesting a new conception of the nation based on social, sexual and ethnic interbreeding. From an aesthetic point of view, the cult of rhetorical and generic bastardy allows the novel to amalgamate tradition and modernity and to combine the emphasis put on social considerations and the emphasis put on emotions and the inner life. In this poetic hybridity Forster can be said to ‘anticipate the modernist generic hybridity and “mythic method” that achieve their most elaborate and spectacular realisation in Eliot’s The Waste Land and Joyce’s Ulysses’ (Peppis 57). As an advocate of aesthetic and ideological bastardy, Forster undeniably presents himself as a man of the twentieth century, who, like Salman Rushdie, ‘celebrates hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics . . . He rejoices in mongrelisation and fears the absolutism of the Pure’ (Rushdie 394).

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Beer, J. B., The Achievement of E. M. Forster, London: Chatto & Windus, 1962.

Bradbury, Malcolm, ‘Howards End’, Forster: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Malcolm Bradbury, Englewood Cliffs (N.J.): Prentice-Hall, 1966, 128–43.

Bradshaw, David, ‘Howards End’, The Cambridge Companion to E. M. Forster, ed. David Bradshaw, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007, 151–72.

Cavalié, Elsa. Réécrire l’Angleterre : L’anglicité dans la littérature britannique contemporaine, Montpellier: PU de la Méditerranée, 2015.

Eliot, George, Middlemarch (1871–1872), London: Wordsworth Classics, 2000.

Forster, E. M., Howards End (1910), London: Penguin Classics, 2000.

Forster, E. M., Aspects of the Novel (1927), Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990.

Ganteau, Jean-Michel, ‘Mongrelization and Assimilation: Peter Ackroyd and the Persistence of Englishness as Hybridity’, Hybridity: Forms and Figures in Literature and the Visual Arts, eds. Vanessa Guignery, Catherine Pesso-Miquel and François Specq, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011, 49–58.

Guignery, Vanessa, ‘Introduction: Hybridity, Why it Still Matters’, Hybridity: Forms and Figures in Literature and the Visual Arts, eds. Vanessa Guignery, Catherine Pesso-Miquel and François Specq, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011, 1–8.

Jagose, Annamarie, Queer Theory: An Introduction, New York: New York UP, 1996.

Kelsall, Malcolm. The Great Good Places: The Country House and English Literature, New York: Columbia UP, 1993.

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Trilling, Lionel, ‘Forster and the Liberal Imagination’, Forster: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Malcolm Bradubry, Englewood Cliffs (N.J.): Prentice-Hall, 1966, 71–78.

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1 That Henry Wilcox is characterised by his obsolete, Victorian vision of the world is obvious in many instances in which his social and sexual hypocrisy stands out, but it is most blatant in the narrator’s intertextually sarcastic comment, ‘[h]ard facts were enough for him’ (152), an aphoristic verdict which inevitably recalls Dickens’s satirical presentation of Mr Gradgrind and his obsession with facts in Hard Times.

2 For the numerous allusions or references to the oncoming war, see Bradshaw 162–163.

3 The parallels are numerous starting with first-person comments about the characters like ‘I hope this will not set the reader against her [Margaret]’ in Howards End (10) and ‘I fear [Darcy’s] aristocratic vices would not have horrified her’ in Middlemarch (49), continuing with general observations in the first-person plural like ‘our impulse to sneer, to forget is at root a good one’ in Howards End (21) and ‘our contemporaries might look at [her hat] with conjectural curiosity’ in Middlemarch (22) and finishing with metatextual remarks like the famous incipit in Howards End, ‘One may as well begin with Helen’s letters to her sister’ (3) and ‘we all of us get our thoughts entangled in metaphors, and act fatally on the strength of them’ in Middlemarch (70).

4 See Catherine Lanone, E. M. Forster: Odyssée d’une écriture, Toulouse : PU du Mirail, 1998, 157.

5 For the critique of imperialism, see Bradshaw 163.

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Electronic reference

Christian Gutleben, « Glorious Bastards: The Praise of Impurity in E.M. Forster’s Howards End »Études britanniques contemporaines [Online], 58 | 2020, Online since 01 March 2020, connection on 25 October 2020. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Christian Gutleben

Christian Gutleben is Professor of British and Commonwealth literature at the University of Nice (Université Côte d’Azur) where he is also head of the English department and chief editor of the scholarly journal Cycnos. He has published three monographs (one on the English campus novel, one on Graham Greene and one on the nostalgia of postmodernism) and has become specialised in the field of neo-Victorianism. In this sphere he is Series Co-Editor of Brill/Rodopi’s Neo-Victorian Series and has published five volumes with Marie-Luise Kohlke, the sixth and last volume being due for 2020.

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