The Relationship Between Howards End and the Class Struggles of Edwardian England
When E. M. Forster’s Howards End was published in 1910, there were three class groups in England: the
working poor, the intellectual upper class, and the new wealthy upper class. The working class, created in the
aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, struggled to survive on their small paychecks while the two latter classes
enjoyed the pleasures of aristocracy. Forster believed that these classes had much to learn from each other. In
Howards End, Forster takes his main theme of “connection” and uses it to demonstrate the class systems and social
injustices of Edwardian England. “Only Connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and
the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height” ( Forster 184).
The largest class present in Edwardian England was the poor working class. The working class was just
that - a group of workers, born in the surplus of jobs following the Industrial Revolution. “..the scholars, civil
servants, and professional classes were the successors of the landed aristocracy and were the people who ran
Britain - not the businessmen, or indeed their workers, who merely made the country rich” (Pritchett 974). They
worked long hours for very little pay. School was not an option if they wanted to eat, and therefore they were very
poorly educated. Because of their lack of education, there was little hope of ever getting over the towering wall of
poverty.
In Forster’s novel, the Basts symbolize the poor. “Poor little Leonard at the bottom of the lower - lowest! -
middle class is a mere clerk...” (Kazin xix). Leonard Bast works at the Porphyrion - a dull and unimaginative job,
but a secure one, just the same. However, once he leaves the Porphyrion (under the faulty advice of Mr. Wilcox),
Mr. Bast is quickly replaced. Thus, when he is fired from his new job, he soon finds himself unemployed - only
one of thousands of uneducated workers searching for jobs. The Basts, up until Leonard’s unemployment, live in a
tiny flat on the poor side of town. Their meals consist of soup cubes and a tiny amount of “fresh” meat. When
Helen takes Leonard’s umbrella at the symphony, she comments on its poor condition. “What about this
umbrella?...No, it’s all gone along the seams. It’s an appalling umbrella. It must be mine” (Forster 43). The
Basts did not have enough money to even afford a decent umbrella.
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The Basts’ interaction with the other characters clearly demonstrates how the two upper classes treated the
poor. Their best relationship is with Margaret and Helen Schlegel, representatives of the intellectual upper-class.
The Schlegels do not treat Leonard differently because of his lack of money, and because of this, he holds them in
the highest respect. At first, Leonard admires them from afar, romanticizing about what it must be like to have
both wealth and education. He begins memorizing classic novels and poems, to appear intellectual in
conversations. At one point, Margaret describes Mr. Bast: “His brain is filled with the husks of books, culture -
horrible; we want him to wash out his brain and go to the real thing” (Forster 152). Leonard cannot connect the
prose to his everyday life. He soon receives the opportunity to turn his romances into reality, when he has an affair
with Helen. Following the affair, however, he only feels that he has ruined her life by bringing her down to his
level. “It was as if some work of art had been broken by him, some picture in the National Gallery slashed out of
its frame. When he recalled her talents and her social position, he felt that the first passer-by had a right to shoot
him down” (Forster 332).
The Basts’ relationship with the Wilcoxes is quite different than that with the Schlegels. With the
Wilcoxes, their is no love or mutual respect between classes. In fact, it is Mr. Wilcox’s bad financial advice that
causes Leonard to lose his job. The only connection the Basts hold with the Wilcoxes is Mrs. Bast’s affair with
Mr. Wilcox. Even this really does not connect the two, for Mr. Wilcox disregards that time in his life. When the
Basts appear on his front lawn, begging for help, he simply throws them out; he does not want to be associated
with that “type” of people. It is through the