Author: E.M. Forster, a British writer of the twentieth century.
This is a tale of three families in the early twentieth century, — the Schlegels of German extraction, the English Wilcoxes, and the lower-class Basts. The affluent and cultured Schlegel siblings had previously met the commercially successful Wilcoxes traveling in Europe. Margaret, the oldest of the Schlegel siblings takes care of her impulsive sister Helen and young brother Tibby. They rent a house at Wickham Place in London. Helen visits Howards End, the country home of the Wilcoxes. She has a brief hapless affair with the younger son Paul, and relations between the two families become strained and awkward. Paul then goes off to Africa where Wilcox has business interests.
At a concert, the Schlegels meet Leonard Bast, a young man of limited means but aspirations to gentility, whose umbrella is taken absent-mindedly by Helen. Helen goes abroad with her German cousin Frieda and Margaret hears from her English aunt Juley that the Wilcoxes had come to stay in London and are staying near the Schlegels. With Helen and Paul away, Margaret ventures to renew their acquaintance. The youngest Evie is on a motoring trip with her father, while her older brother Charles, just married to Dolly, is touring Italy. Margaret finds the matriarch, Ruth Wilcox nèe Howard alone, and soon they become greatly attached, in spite of their vastly different interests.
When Ruth passes away after weeks of illness, during which Margaret keeps her company, she leaves a note for her family wishing Margaret to have Howards End, without further explanation. Ruth had grown up in Howards End and felt that Margaret would look after it best. The note is not legally binding. Ruth’s husband, Henry Wilcox and his children decide not to tell Margaret, considering it only an ailing woman’s whim.
The Schlegels have an unexpected visitor two years later — Leonard Bast’s wife Jacky. Bast had kept Margaret’s card and Jacky suspected Bast of visiting her when he didn’t return home one night. The Schlegels had never asked his name and cannot remember meeting him. Bast comes later and explains that he was taking a walk till dawn in the country. The sisters like talking to him. They realize he is in straitened circumstances and try to help him. When they discuss his situation with Henry Wilcox during a chance meeting, Henry says that Bast’s employers were liable to go out of business. They convey this to Bast, who takes offense questioning their motive.
Henry visits them with Evie and realizes that Tibby being at Oxford, the sisters have no one to look after them. Margaret and Henry meet again at Evie’s engagement. He offers his house on Ducie Street in London for rent when their lease on Wickham Place expires. While showing her the property, Wilcox suddenly proposes and Margaret agrees to marry him. Evie marries Cahill, Dolly’s uncle, at Oniton Grange. Helen arrives at Oniton with the Basts, agitated because acting on Wilcox’s information regarding his insurance company, Bast had taken and subsequently lost another job, while his earlier company remained stable. Helen had never liked the practical and materialistic Wilcox. She demands that Margaret gets Wilcox to give Bast a job, but Margaret declines.
When Jacky meets Henry, Margaret learns that he was one of her callers when she was a sex worker in Cyprus. Margaret chooses to overlook this as she had not known Wilcox at that time. Helen and the Basts spend the night at a hotel in Oniton, and the next morning Helen visits Tibby at Oxford. She then goes abroad while Margaret marries Wilcox and starts living at Ducie Street. Their books and furniture are sent to Howards End merely to be stored since nobody lives there, but the housekeeper unpacks them unwarrantedly. Margaret goes to Howards End to stop this but leaves when Aunt Juley falls ill. Helen returns to see her aunt and writes to Margaret for her books. She was avoiding Margaret since Oniton, and Wilcox suggests Margaret visits Howards End at the same time as Helen to confront her. Accordingly, Wilcox and Margaret drive down to Hilton and stay with Charles.
Margaret discovers that Helen is in an advanced stage of pregnancy, caused by the night at Oniton. Wilcox forbids Helen to stay at Howards End as she is carrying a child out of wedlock. Margaret finds this hypocritical as he had been unfaithful himself with Jacky and they quarrel. Charles goes to Ducie Street to tell Tibby about Helen, and Tibby surmises that Bast is the father. Charles is dismayed with the Schlegels, — their artistic pretensions, Paul’s affair, mother’s bequeathing of Howards End, father’s remarriage, unpacking their furniture, and now Helen’s dishonor. Margaret does not return at night and Charles hears of the quarrel from Henry. Father and son are enraged at the idea of the sisters spending the night at Howards End steeped with Ruth’s memory.
When Charles goes to Howards End the next morning, he finds Bast there, who has come to apologize. The Basts had been managing with intermittent help from his family. Profoundly distressed over what happened at Oniton, Bast diligently tracked down Margaret to Howards End. Charles wrongly presumes Bast had stayed overnight. Outraged, he hits Bast with the blunt edge of Margaret’s father’s sword, hanging over the bookcase. Bast falls and pulls down the bookcase over him, being in the throes of a heart attack. Though death is caused by heart disease, Charles is sentenced to three years in prison for manslaughter. Henry Wilcox is devastated and seeks solace in Margaret’s company again. All three of them move to Howards End.
Helen gives birth to a son, and more than a year after that, Wilcox calls his children and discloses his will. He leaves them all his money but leaves Howards End exclusively to Margaret, who in turn, would leave it to her nephew. Dolly remarks that Margaret got hold of Howards End after all, and when they are alone, Wilcox explains to Margaret that Ruth had intended her to have it all those years ago.