Passage to India (Forster)

A Passage to India
E.M. Forster, 1924
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
372 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780151711413>

A New York Times Book of the Century

Two women, Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested, her future daughter-in-law, arrive in India during the British Raj (the rule). They meet and befriend a young Indian Muslim, Dr. Aziz, to whom they express a desire to see the real India, not the one lived behind the walls of the British clubs and compounds. Aziz arranges an expedition to visit the famous Marabar caves. But a mysterious incident in one of the caves, involving Adela, leads to a drama that divides the British and Indian communities in anger, distrust, and fear.

Forsters great novel brings to life all the dangers and misunderstandings of colonialism but, as Forster himself wrote, the story is about something wider than politics, about the search of the human race for a more lasting home, about the universe as embodied in the Indian earth and the Indian sky, about the horror lurking in the Marabar Caves. (Adapted from the Oxford University Press edition.)

Among the greatest novels of the twentieth century and the basis for director David Lean’s Academy Award-winning film, A Passage to India tells of the clash of cultures in British India after the turn of the century. In exquisite prose, Forster reveals the menace that lurks just beneath the surface of ordinary life, as a common misunderstanding erupts into a devastating affair. (From the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt edition.)

Author Bio
Birth—January 1, 1879
Where—London, UK
Death—June 7, 1970
Where—Coventry, UK
Education—B. A., (two: in classics and in history); M.A.,

Edward Morgan Forster was an English novelist, short story writer, essayist and librettist. He is known best for his ironic and well-plotted novels examining class difference and hypocrisy in early 20th-century British society. Forster's humanistic impulse toward understanding and sympathy may be aptly summed up in the epigraph to his 1910 novel Howards End: "Only connect." His 1908 novel, A Room with a View, is his most optimistic work, while A Passage to India (1924) brought him his greatest success.

Early years
Forster was born into an Anglo-Irish and Welsh middle-class family at 6 Melcombe Place, Dorset Square, London NW1, in a building that no longer exists. He was the only child of Alice Clara "Lily" (nee Whichelo) and Edward Morgan Llewellyn Forster, an architect. His name was officially registered as Henry Morgan Forster, but at his baptism he was accidentally named Edward Morgan Forster. To distinguish him from his father, he was always called Morgan. His father died of tuberculosis in 1880, before Morgan's second birthday.

He inherited £8,000 (£659,300 as of 2013) from his paternal great-aunt Marianne Thornton (daughter of the abolitionist Henry Thornton), who died in 1887. The money was enough to live on and enabled him to become a writer. He attended the notable public school Tonbridge School in Kent as a day boy. The theatre at the school has been named in his honour.

At King's College, Cambridge, between 1897 and 1901, he became a member of a discussion society known as the Apostles (formally named the Cambridge Conversazione Society). Many of its members went on to constitute what came to be known as the Bloomsbury Group, of which Forster was a peripheral member in the 1910s and 1920s. There is a famous recreation of Forster's Cambridge at the beginning of The Longest Journey.

After leaving university, he travelled in continental Europe with his mother. In 1914, he visited Egypt, Germany and India with the classicist Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, by which time he had written all but one of his novels. In the First World War, as a conscientious objector, Forster volunteered for the International Red Cross, and served in Alexandria, Egypt.

Forster spent a second spell in India in the early 1920s as the private secretary to Tukojirao III, the Maharajah of Dewas. The Hill of Devi is his non-fictional account of this period. After returning to London from India, he completed his last novel, A Passage to India (1924), for which he won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction.

After A Passage to India
In the 1930s and 1940s Forster became a successful broadcaster on BBC Radio and a public figure associated with the Union of Ethical Societies. He was awarded a Benson Medal in 1937.

Forster was a closeted homosexual and lifelong bachelor. He developed a long-term, loving relationship with Bob Buckingham, a married policeman. Forster included Buckingham and his wife May in his circle, which included J. R. Ackerley, a writer and literary editor of The Listener, the psychologist W. J. H. Sprott and, for a time, the composer Benjamin Britten. Other writers with whom Forster associated included the poet Siegfried Sassoon and the Belfast-based novelist Forrest Reid.

From 1925 until his mother's death at age 90 in 1945, Forster lived with her at West Hackhurst, Abinger Hammer, finally leaving in 1946. His London base was 26 Brunswick Square from 1930 to 1939, after which he rented 9 Arlington Park Mansions in Chiswick until at least 1961.

Forster was elected an honorary fellow of King's College, Cambridge in 1946 and lived for the most part in the college, doing relatively little. He declined a knighthood in 1949 and was made a Companion of Honour in 1953. In 1969 he was made a member of the Order of Merit. Forster died of a stroke at the Buckinghams' home in Coventry on June 7, 1970. He was 91.

Forster had five novels published in his lifetime. Although Maurice was published shortly after his death, it had been written nearly sixty years earlier. He never finished a seventh novel Arctic Summer.

His first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), is the story of Lilia, a young English widow who falls in love with an Italian man, and of the efforts of her bourgeois relatives to get her back from Monteriano (based on San Gimignano). Philip Herriton's mission to retrieve her from Italy has features in common with that of Lambert Strether in Henry James's The Ambassadors. Forster discussed that work ironically and somewhat disapprovingly in his book Aspects of the Novel (1927). Where Angels Fear to Tread was adapted to film in 1991.

Next, Forster published The Longest Journey (1907), an inverted bildungsroman following the lame Rickie Elliott from Cambridge to a career as a struggling writer and then to a post as a schoolmaster, married to the unappealing Agnes Pembroke. In a series of scenes on the hills of Wiltshire, which introduce Rickie's wild half-brother Stephen Wonham, Forster attempts a kind of sublime related to those of Thomas Hardy and D. H. Lawrence.

Forster's third novel, A Room with a View (1908), is his lightest and most optimistic. It was started as early as 1901, before any of his others; its earliest versions are entitled "Lucy." The book explores the young Lucy Honeychurch's trip to Italy with her cousin, and the choice she must make between the free-thinking George Emerson and the repressed aesthete Cecil Vyse. George's father Mr Emerson quotes thinkers who influenced Forster, including Samuel Butler. A Room with a View was adapted as a film in 1985 by the Merchant-Ivory team.

Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Room with a View can be seen collectively as Forster's Italian novels. Both include references to the famous Baedeker guidebooks and concern narrow-minded middle-class English tourists abroad. The books share many themes with his short stories collected in The Celestial Omnibus and The Eternal Moment.

Howards End (1910) is an ambitious "condition-of-England" novel concerned with different groups within the Edwardian middle classes, represented by the Schlegels (bohemian intellectuals), the Wilcoxes (thoughtless plutocrats) and the Basts (struggling lower-middle-class aspirants). Critics have observed that numerous characters in Forster's novels die suddenly. This is true of Where Angels Fear to Tread, Howards End and, most particularly, The Longest Journey.

Forster achieved his greatest success with A Passage to India (1924). The novel takes as its subject the relationship between East and West, seen through the lens of India in the later days of the British Raj. Forster connects personal relationships with the politics of colonialism through the story of the Englishwoman Adela Quested, the Indian Dr. Aziz, and the question of what did or did not happen between them in the Marabar Caves. Forster makes special mention of the author Ahmed Ali and his Twilight in Delhi in his Preface to its Everyman's Library Edition.

Maurice (1971) was published posthumously. It is a homosexual love story which also returns to matters familiar from Forster's first three novels, such as the suburbs of London in the English home counties, the experience of attending Cambridge, and the wild landscape of Wiltshire. The novel was controversial, given that Forster's homosexuality had not been previously known or widely acknowledged. Today's critics continue to argue over the extent to which Forster's sexuality and personal activities influenced his writing.

Critical reception
In the United States, interest in, and appreciation for, Forster was spurred by Lionel Trilling's E. M. Forster: A Study, which began:

E. M. Forster is for me the only living novelist who can be read again and again and who, after each reading, gives me what few writers can give us after our first days of novel-reading, the sensation of having learned something. (Trilling 1943).

Key themes
Forster was President of the Cambridge Humanists from 1959 until his death and a member of the Advisory Council of the British Humanist Association from 1963 until his death. His views as a humanist are at the heart of his work, which often depicts the pursuit of personal connections in spite of the restrictions of contemporary society.

His humanist attitude is expressed in the non-fictional essay "What I Believe." When Forster’s cousin, Philip Whichelo, donated a portrait of Forster to the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GLHA), Jim Herrick, the founder, quoted Forster's words: "The humanist has four leading characteristics—curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race."

Two of Forster's best-known works, A Passage to India and Howards End, explore the irreconcilability of class differences. A Room with a View also shows how questions of propriety and class can make human connection difficult. The novel is his most widely read and accessible work, remaining popular long after its original publication. His posthumous novel Maurice explores the possibility of class reconciliation as one facet of a homosexual relationship.

Sexuality is another key theme in Forster's works. Some critics have argued that a general shift from heterosexual to homosexual love can be observed through the course of his writing career. The foreword to Maurice describes his struggle with his homosexuality, while he explored similar issues in several volumes of short stories. Forster's explicitly homosexual writings, the novel Maurice and the short story collection The Life to Come, were published shortly after his death.

Forster is noted for his use of symbolism as a technique in his novels, and he has been criticised (as by his friend Roger Fry) for his attachment to mysticism. One example of his symbolism is the wych elm tree in Howards End. The characters of Mrs. Wilcox in that novel and Mrs. Moore in A Passage to India have a mystical link with the past, and a striking ability to connect with people from beyond their own circles. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 5/25/2013.)

Book Reviews
Classic works have few, if any, mainstream press reviews online. See Amazon and Barnes & Noble for helpful customer reviews.)

A funny thing about empires: empires pack up and carry their own culture with them, then impose it on those they've conquered. It's a lovely custom...if you're in charge. So it was with the British Raj in India, which is the subject of E.M. Forster's masterpiece, A Passage to India. In another Forster work, Howards End (see Review), the mantra was "only connect." In Passage the last thing the British wish to do is connect with the Indians.
LitLovers Review - July 2011 (Read full review.)

A single reading of A Passage to India settles the question. Mr. E. M. Forster is indubitably one of the finest novelists living in England today, and A Passage to India is one of the saddest, keenest, most beautifully written ironic novels of the time.... [It] is both a challenge and an indictment. It is also a revelation.
Herbert S. Gorman - New York Times (1924)

Discussion Questions
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Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for A Passage to India:

1. What is Cyril Fielding's relationship with Indians at the beginning of the novel? How do his views of them change during and after the trial?

2. Describe Dr. Aziz—what kind of person is he? Is his fondness for Mrs. Moore, Adela Quested, Fielding and other British well placed? Is his disillusionment at the end justified? Or were his affections naive and overly trusting to begin with—

3. Fielding and Dr. Aziz become friends. On what is their friendship based—what draws the two men together? The friendship is strained in the aftermath of the trial, why? Is Aziz justified in his anger toward Fielding?

4. What do you think of Adela Quested? Why does she, along with Mrs. Moore, reject the standard British attitudes toward the Indians? What does that say about her character? Is her desire to experience the real India genuine...or does she wish merely to "taste" or skim the surface of India? Do your feelings toward Adela change during the book?

5. Adela breaks off her engagement to Ronny Heaslop. Why? What do you think of Ronny? Why does Adela change her mind after the car accident?

6. What do you think happens in the Mirabar Caves? As an author, why might Forster have purposely left the incident open-ended, never providing an answer—the truth—to what took place?

7. Talk about the caves' symbolic imagery. As an imaginative writer, why would Forster have chosen to set the incident in caves rather than than some other remote spot? What do caves suggest symbolically?

8. What about Mrs. Moore? Is her interest in India genuine? Why does she, along with Adela, refuse to support the typical British attitude toward the Indians? Why doesn't she support Adela in the aftermath of the Marabar Cave incident?

9. Why does Adela recant during the trial?

10. Why does Fielding come to respect Adela? Do you?

11. A Passage explores differences in religious beliefs, primarily Christianity and Hindu. How are those faiths expressed in the novel. Think for instance of Mrs. Moore's respect for the wasp in her bedroom? What about Professor Godbole's philosophy—what is meant by the "unity of all things"? How might that ideal offer redemption for Indians and British? How does the novel's use of imagery or descriptive prose express the unity concept?

12. The echo of the cave haunts both Mrs. Moore and Adela: no matter what one calls out, the returning echo is always "boum." The echo seems to suggest what can happen when all of life merges into one—things become indistinguishable from one another, individualism disappears. What is the echo's effect on Mrs. Moore? Does Professor Godbole (or Forster, for that matter) embrace absolutely the concept of total and complete unity? Or do they hold some reservations about the concept?

13. How do the British characters feel about—how do they treat—the Indians? How do the Indians feel about—how do they respond to—the British colonists? Locate specific passages that exemplify both sides.

14. How does Forster portray his countrymen and their values in A Passage? The author was criticized by the British for what they perceived as his biased treatment of them in the novel. Is their criticism justified, or not? Are his portrayals black and white of both British and Indians? Or does he give equal weight to each? Have you read other accounts of the British Raj (rule)? If so, how does Forster's treatment compare?

15. One of the novel's central concerns is the possibility or impossibility of friendship between Indians and the British. On which side of the issue do the various characters—Fielding, Aziz, primarily, but others as well—fall? Whose positions change by the novel's end...and why?

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

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