In Howards End, Forster is very much on the side of women, and unfair to male characters

Edward Morgan Forster was born in 1879 in London. His father died before he was born and subsequently it was women who brought him up, his mother and great-aunt Marianne Thornton. Foster spent his childhood largely in the female company and in their sheltering presence, who no doubt gave him knowledge of how women were perceived and where their role was in the society. It was his aunt who left Forster a legacy of eight thousand pounds, a considerable sum in those days when remembering that Margaret Schlegel lives very well on six hundred a year. The inheritance from his aunt enabled him to write in independence and security.

It is therefore unsurprising that Forster held a high opinion of women, and being brought up by them, not surprising that he would take ‘their side’. Forster exposes the constructed nature of gender and his own ambivalent relationship to traits coded ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ in his culture. However, there is substantial evidence to suggest that Forster was deeply troubled and preoccupied by his own gender identity in this period. This may be reason for Forster to side with women in the play. Forster uses Margaret as the central character in the novel and the most completely drawn.

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Through certain parts of the novel, the narration seems to vacillate between Margaret and Forster. This shows that Forster is much more inclined to take the side of women rather than men. She is the centre of consciousness in nearly every scene. In chapter two Forster sums her up and sums up the cause of her fascination; she has ‘a profound vivacity, a continual and sincere response to all that she encountered in her path through life’. Forster seems to be always able to rise to the challenge of that description. Helen has a lot in common with Margaret.

We are told that she is much more beautiful than Margaret as well as being more impulsive, idealistic and uncompromising. Helen is a character who is ‘rather apt to entice people, and, in enticing them, to be herself enticed’. Forster presents Helen as an imaginative character although she often talks without thinking. Helen’s responses to life are intense, excitable and exaggerated. The difference presented by Forster is that men view life as a conquest to gain materialistic pleasure, which although may be enjoyed presently, they are not able to take theses pleasures with them.

Women differ, as Helen states in chapter twenty-seven, that money is not an end to all means, and that life is more about emotional conquest. However this is easy for Helen to say as she is set up for life with inheritance money. Therefore, money should not be an issue to Helen, which is proved when she tries to offer Leonard five thousand pounds. Forster’s central opposition between man and woman seems to be played out by Henry and Margaret, in which it is blatantly obvious that Forster sides with Margaret. This can be seen in the conversation on the levels of houses. Margaret recognizes that ‘ours is a female house….

It must be feminine and all we can do is see that it isn’t effeminate. Just as another house I can mention, but I won’t, sound irrevocably masculine, and all its inmates can do is see that it isn’t brutal’. Through Margaret Schlegel, the traditional terms of masculinity and femininity are scrutinized and are subjected to the demands of higher integration. Margaret’s point of view is ultimately not representative of a view that might be coded as essentially female or feminine. Forster is sensitive both to the essentialist conceptions of the female and the social coding of feminism.

Margaret is much the voice of Forster when speaking and underlines Forster opinions of women and the fact that he is very much on their side throughout debate and speeches in the novel. In conclusion, in my opinion, the fact that Forster was troubled by his own sexuality and the fact he was a homosexual would incline him to take the views of women. This is also propelled by the fact that his upbringing was done only by women in the form of his mother and his aunt. Forster’s inheritance ensured he would not have to labor in order to educate himself, so in fact may never of had much contact with ‘the real world’.

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