Sunday, March 1, 2015

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E. M. Forester

This is the first book I've read by E. M. Forster.  He's another author, like Thackeray, that I was never motivated to read, especially after seeing the movies Howard's End and A Room With a View, neither of which impressed me much.

As I said in a previous post, there are seasons to read certain books.  And this is apparently the season for me to read E.M. Forster as well as Thackeray (and Evelyn Waugh but more about him later).

Spoiler alert:  Don't read my review if you don't want to know how the story ends.

Lilia, the widow of the son of a upper crust family, the Herritons, takes it into her head to travel to Italy by herself.  Her primary objective is to escape the domination of her late husband's family.  While in Italy she meets an Italian and impulsively marries him.

Philip, the brother of Lilia's late husband, travels to Italy to retrieve her but finds that it is too late.  He meets the husband, Gino, finds him to be a working class regular fellow that is likeable, but, tragically, not English, hence the scandal.

Philip returns to England empty handed and for the first half of the novel we read about Lilia and her life free from the Herritons.

Except it isn't free.  She finds that Italian culture is not advantageous for women.  They are expected to lead largely confined lives.  Lilia finds herself stuck in a house, alone most of the time, friendless, and for the most part husbandless.  Gino, being a man, is not limited to staying at home but enjoys a robust social life with both men and women. And since he doesn't need to work having married a woman with money, his socializing is pretty much unfettered.

Half way through the book, Lilia has a child and dies in childbirth.  You feel relief for her that she finally has escaped.  

The rest of the book is about the Herritons.  They discover Lilia had a child because Gino has been sending postcards and photos of the baby to Lilia's young daughter whom she left behind with her husband's family (as a mother I will never, ever understand how anyone could do that).

The matron of the family, Mrs. Herriton determines that they must rescue Lilia's baby from the abominable fate of being raised Italian and sends Philip back, along with his sister Harriet, to negotiate terms  with Gino (aka bribe) to gain custody of the little boy who is now nine months old.

Philip and Harriet go to Italy.  Philip spends time with Gino, finds that he likes him a great deal and also realizes that Gino is never going to relinquish his baby.  He returns to the hotel to inform his sister of this.

At the hotel he finds his sister gone and frantically looks for her. He finds her in a horse and carriage on the way to the train station.  He jumps into the carriage to discover that his sister has kidnapped the baby and intends to rush back to England with it.

This never happens. The carriage runs into a ditch and overturns.  The baby is killed.

  Many observations can be made about this strange little story.  E.M. Forester, as in his Passage to India (which I've just started reading), is making a pretty scathing statement about his countrymen.  In the Herriton's effort to rescue a baby from the barbarity of a Mediterranean, Papist upbringing, they themselves commit a number of barbarities.  They attempt to buy a baby, and when that fails, one of them kidnaps the baby and commits manslaughter.

Now, not all the Herritons are presented so starkly.  Really just mother and daughter.  Philip is caught in the crossfire.  He  didn't want to rescue Lilia and neither did he want to buy Gino's baby.  But neither does he seem possess the strength to stand against the tide of his family.  

One other character of significance is included in this tale. A Miss Abbot.  Lilia meets Miss Abbot when she first arrives in Italy and is encouraged by her to marry Gino.  Later, Philip meets Miss Abbot in Italy and finds a contrite woman who regrets her part in Lilia's marriage.

When Philip returns to Italy he finds Miss Abbot there ready to fight Gino for the baby.  After meeting with Gino, she makes an about face and convinces him never to give up his baby but to never marry again either.

Philip, with his interactions with her both times in Italy finds that he has fallen in love with Miss Abbot.  They return to England together but it is not meant to be.  On the return trip, Philip realizes that Miss Abbot has fallen in love with Gino.

I suppose this novel, like A Passage to India, was E.M. Forster's call to the British to awaken their conscience to their own particular brand of racial superiority.  Today it seems rather quaint.  With our politically correct social boundaries, westerners bend over backwards to spine breaking contortions to persuade the world and themselves that they are inclusive and tolerant and pro diversity.  Which is fine as long as it's sincere and not merely for show.

E.M. Forster's writing style is fast flowing and I enjoy his dialogue and story developments.  I have since bought very nice hardcovers of A Room With a View and Howard's End.  You can expect reviews of them in the future.


  1. Great commentary as usual Sharon.

    I have not read this one. I do find that in what I have read by Foster that his tendency to want to explore and understand the diversity of people was sincere.

    I read Howard's End which I thought was good. I thought that A Passage to India was brilliant. It was a lot more then social commentary as it was full of musings about the nature of life, existence and the Universe.

  2. H Brian! I've recently finished A Passage to India. Then I watched the movie again, which was very good. I think the movie portrayed the characters in a much more sympathetic light than the book. Forster seems pessimistic about human nature.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.