Most of us connect the notion of "home" or "childhood home" with one particular place, that innocent paradise we have since had to give up and keep searching for forever after. In Ruth Wilcox's world, Howards End is that place; the countryside house where she was born, where her family often returns to spend their vacations, and which, everyone assumes, will pass on to her children when she is dead.
But will it really? Unbeknownst to Ruth's family, the issue is put into question when Ruth forms a friendship with her neighbor-to-be Margaret Schlegel, like Ruth herself from a middle class background but nevertheless separated from Ruth's world by several layers of society and politics: That of the Wilcox is epitomized by pater familias/businessman Henry – rich, conservative and without any sympathy whatsoever for those less fortunate than themselves ("It's all part of the battle of life ... The poor are poor; one is sorry for them, but there it is," Henry Wilcox once comments); while the Schlegels, on the other hand, have just enough income to lead a comfortable life, were brought up by their Aunt Juley, support suffrage (women's right to vote) and surround themselves with actors, "blue-stockings" (feminists), intellectuals and other members of the avantgarde. Further complexity is added when Margaret's sister Helen brings to the Schlegel home Leonard Bast, a poor but idealistic young clerk who loves music, literature and astronomy – and with him, his working class wife Jacky, the embarrassment of having to interact with her, and the even more embarrassing revelation which she has in store for Henry Wilcox; eventually leaving her disillusioned husband to comment that "books aren't real," and that in fact they and music "are for the rich so they don't feel bad after dinner."