Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

A Passage to India by E. M. Forster (1924,  368 pages)

A Magnificent Novel

"Fear is everywhere; the British Raj rests on it"

Where Angels Fear to Trade was my first E. M. Forster (1879 to 1970-UK) novel.   It is a wonderful read, funny, great conversations, good satire of the English upper class and brings its characters totally to life.    I liked it a lot and knew I wanted to read his other five novels.    It is a very good totally worth reading novel.    But for me it pales badly in comparison to A Passage to India which simply stunned me by its sheer brilliance, depth of wisdom, and the beauty of the writing.

Forster lived in India for a few years, working as personal secretary for a maharajah.  (He wrote a non-fiction account of this experience, The Hill of Devi,  which is on my TBR list now.)    The time spent there clearly made a deep impression  on Forster.

Before I read A Passage to India I had seen the movie based on it a couple of times on TV.   I was thus familiar with, as I think most readers will be,  the basic plot of the novel before reading it.   This did take a little from the suspense of the big trial scene in the novel but maybe that was good as it allowed me to focus on the wonderful prose and the thoughts behind them.

I won't relay any of the plot as I think most will have at least seen the movie.

Even though Forster's  (I keep wanting to spell his name wrong!)  life was as British Raj as it could be (Maharajahs were puppet rulers for the British and their British appointed advisers were often the real rulers) A Passage to India is one of the greatest novels about the colonial experience, seen from all sides.   There are many sides to be seen from in British India.   There are no simple "bad guys"-no colonial monsters with a whip (but we know they are there),  no good "natives" or "bad ones".
(Side note, yesterday I saw the old Errol Flynn movie, The Charge of the Light Brigade-might be an exciting movie with good dialogue but it is totally colonial in its attitudes toward India with good Indians helping the British and sinister Guru like figures opposing them and I thought how simple - in the bad sense-the thinking behind this movie was.)

One of the lines in the novel that really struck me was when one of the central Indian characters told him British friend Mr Fielding that the Indians supported the English in the last great war but in the next one they will use it to obtain their Independence.   Kind of a chilling line form 1924, for me at least.

There a lot in this novel on the history of Indian and its religious faith.   The sections on the caves is justifiably considered one of the great  passages in 20th century literature.  

A Passage to India is one of the books in Clifton Fadiman's Lifetime Reading Plan so it was a "check off" for me. Fadiman says perhaps Howard's End is Forster's best novel so I think that will be the next of his works I will read. Some may think the "thoughts" behind A Passage to India might at times get in the way of the narrative structure or just find it a "bit heavy" with religious theorizing and other may see it as anti-British (it is kind of hard to be proud of the British Raj!).

I just amazed by this novel. I think it should be your first Forster that way if you never get around to his other works you have at least read it!

Please share your experience with Forster with us.

Mel u


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

I prefer A Passage to India to Howard's End, for what that's worth, although I prefer the movie of Howard's End to either - it improves on the novel.

But they're pretty trivial distinctions that I'm making. I think it's the skill with which Forster manages all of the different point of view in Passage that is so impressive - not to mention what he does with them all.

ds said...

What is there to say, Mel? I agree 100% with your assessment (and also that of Mr. Fadiman):A Passage to India is indeed a great, must-read novel, but Howard's End is Forster's masterpiece, perhaps because the characters are more memorable than the themes?

Mel u said...

Amateur Reader-I have now started Howard's End-your point about multiple points of view is a very good one-

ds-I am already in love with Howard's End-thanks as always for your comments and support

JoAnn said...

Can I just copy and paste what DS commented? Yes, A Passage to India was a great novel, but I absolutely loved Howards End and have been contemplating a reread for the past year or so. I thought A Room With A View was wonderful, too. Where Angels Fear To Tread is in my tbr pile.

Teacher/Learner said...

The only Forster novel I have read is A Room With a View, which was a fantastic satire of the upper British class. The best word to describe it is folly. I have not returned to Forster (not because I don't want to), and I should try Howards End or A Passage to India next. Thanks for your review :)

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I actually didn't really like this, possibly because I had to read it for school with a bunch of other people who don't really like reading. I do want to try some more Forster though.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Ha, I hate to jump on the bandwagon, but man do I love Howards End. It's my favorite Forster, but I agree with you, A Passage to India is a beautiful book.

Arti said...

Howards End is one of my all time favourite books. I gave it 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads and 4 out of 4 Ripples on my blog. :) I admit I haven't read A Passage to India, except having seen the film. I'm sure it's on a much grander scale and scope. Thanks for you review. I think you'll enjoy Howards End too, for its fine focus on individual characters, the social nuances, and the book's implications.