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Where Angels Fear to Tread (Forster) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions 
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Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Where Angels Fear to Tread:

1. At what is Forster taking aim in this book? To whom or what is his satire directed?

2. What kind of woman is Lilia Herriton? Why have her in-laws decided to send her to Italy—and why is Carolyn Abbot chosen as her companion (chaperone?), a woman more than 10 years Lilia's junior?

3. Talk about the quotation from the opening lines of Dante's Inferno, which Lilia includes in a letter back to England: "one does really feel in the heart of things, and off the beaten path." What does Lilia mean...and what does it portend?

4. Describe each of the Herritons—Mrs. Herriton, Harriet and Philip? How are they alike...and how do they differ? Why are they opposed to Lilia's marriage to Gino Carella?

5. Why does Gino marry Lilia? Is he honorable? Does he love her? Does Gino change by the end of the novel...or does your view of him change?

6. Philip is sent to Italy to try to stop the marriage. He says to Gino: She is English, you are Italian; she are accustomed to one thing, you to another." How does that dichotomy play itself out, over and over, in the novel?

7. Why does Carolyn Abbot take it upon herself to bring the Lilia and Gino's baby back to England? She becomes a spy in Italy because she suspects that the Herritons' desire to recover the baby is insincere. Is she correct?

8. What are Mrs. Herriton and Harriet primarily concerned about? Why do they want the baby? What right—legally or morally—do they have to the child?

9. Why is Philip attracted to Italy? What is it meant to suggest about him...and his commitment to English gentility?

10. What is the symbolic significance of Lucia de Lammermoor—why might Forster have selected that particular opera as part of the story? (You might want to do a little research.)

11.. Why do Philip and Carolyn soften toward Gino?

12. Carolyn puts the dilemma of the baby succinctly when she asks Philip...

Do you want the child to stop with his father, who loves him and will bring him up badly, or do you want him to come to Sawston, where no one loves him, but where he will be brought up well?

Is Carolyn's assessment of the situation correct—e.g., would Gino bring the baby up badly? Where do you think the solution lies?

13. What do you make of Philip's remark to Carolyn:

Miss Abbott, don’t worry over me. Some people are born not to do things. I’m one of them.... I never expect anything to happen now, and so I am never disappointed.... I seem fated to pass through the world without colliding with it or moving it.

14. Twice in the novel mirrors are mentioned in connection with Philip—once as a school boy, and again on the train returning to Sawston. What is the symbolic significance of Philip and the mirrors?

15. In what way is Philip at the center of the novel? Is he the story's hero? Or is Carolyn?

16. Philip says to Carolyn:

Society is invincible—to a certain degree. But your real life is your own, and nothing can touch it. There is no power on earth that can prevent your criticizing and despising mediocrity—nothing that can stop you retreating into splendour and beauty—into the thoughts and beliefs that make the real life—the real you.

Does Philip, himself, have a "real you"? Does he live up to his own pronouncements? Does Philip have a future as an independent, deliberate being?

17. Do Carolyn and Philip have a future together as a couple?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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