Leonard Bast and the Chalk Pit: A passage from Howards End

Howards End, E. M. Forster. Chapter 41, ten paragraphs from the end:

”At the chalk pit a motor passed him. In it was another type, whom Nature favours—the Imperial. Healthy, ever in motion, it hopes to inherit the earth. It breeds as quickly as the yeoman, and as soundly; strong is the temptation to acclaim it as a super-yeoman, who carries his country’s virtue overseas. But the Imperialist is not what he thinks or seems. He is a destroyer. He prepares the way for cosmopolitanism, and though his ambitions may be fulfilled, the earth that he inherits will be grey.”


  Ancient chalk pit Ringmer , 1987, Don Faulkner

Ancient chalk pit Ringmer, 1987, Don Faulkner

We find Leonard on his walk to Howards End, near a chalk pit. The chalk pit itself is intriguing: Leonard is standing next to a barren open space (a quarry) which might represent his impoverished character origin. The pit is a sign of industrialism—mining literally strips the earth of its value—and the passing motorist only serves to further signal the normalization of industrialism (and to figuratively and literally leave Leonard behind). Forster describes that the driver of the vehicle, ”...whom Nature favours...,” as an Imperial, ”...(h)ealthy, ever in motion, it hopes to inherit the earth.” We’ve grown to know the Wilcoxes as the Imperials of Howards End: they purchase and resell property without sentimentality (which resulted in Mrs. Wilcox leaving Howards end to the Schlegels). These Imperials, dehumanized by Forster’s use of the word ”it,” are misguided settlers; in the passage, they are described as ”[breeding] as quickly as the yeoman,” and as a ”super-yeoman, [carrying] his country’s virtue overseas” implying their strength in constructing their international estates.

As we delve further into the characterization of the Imperial, Forster’s tone changes as he states that ”...the Imperial is not what he thinks or seems. he is a destroyer.” Such negativity becomes more under- standable when Forster explains that the Imperial ”prepares the way for cosmopolitanism” and that ”the earth he inherits will be grey:” Although the Imperial’s ultimate goal is to colonize, Forster clearly believes that cosmopolitanism—a belief in a worldwide community that Charles evoked when describing (and dis- paraging) Margaret’s ideology—is a negative. His love for the idyllic farm life that Mrs. Wilcox embraced is obvious, but the passage suggests that the only contenders to inherit the earth are the Imperials and the cosmopolitans – the Wilcoxes and the Schlegels, the former to raze existing cultures to make way for a global community and the latter to actually create it.