E. M. Forster's A Passage to India

E. M. Forster's A Passage to India

E. M. Forster's A Passage to India

E. M. Forster's A Passage to India

Synopsis

The best known and most widely read of E. M. Forster's novels, A Passage to India is the literary culmination of two sustained visits made by Forster to India in the early 1900s. An impressionistic novel which shows Forster's interest in experimental technique, the book subtly presents the alien culture Great Britain had tried to dominate. In England, the novel's publication in 1924 led to widespread controversy because of Forster's implicit criticism of British imperialistic policy and evocative sympathy for Indian culture and society. Although the early critical response concentrated on the novel's political implications, in succeeding years A Passage to India has been increasingly revered as a sensitive fictional exploration of the deep contrasts, both cultural and spiritual, between East and West.

Excerpt

E. M. Forster’s canonical critic was Lionel Trilling, who might have written Forster’s novels had Forster not written them and had Trilling been English. Trilling ended his book on Forster (1924) with the tribute that forever exalts the author of Howards End and A Passage to India as one of those storytellers whose efforts “work without man’s consciousness of them, and even against his conscious will.” In Trilling’s sympathetic interpretation (or identification), Forster was the true antithesis to the world of telegrams and anger:

A world at war is necessarily a world of will; in a world at war
Forster reminds us of a world where the will is not everything,
of a world of true order, of the necessary connection of passion
and prose, and of the strange paradoxes of being human. He is
one of those who raise the shield of Achilles, which is the moral
intelligence of art, against the panic and emptiness which make
their onset when the will is tired from its own excess.

Trilling subtly echoed Forster’s own response to World War I, a response which Forster recalled as an immersion in Blake, William Morris, the early T. S. Eliot, J. K. Huysmans, Yeats: “They took me into a country where the will was not everything.” Yet one can wonder whether Forster and Trilling, prophets of the liberal imagination, did not yield to a vision where there was not quite enough conscious will. A Passage to India, Forster’s most famous work, can sustain many rereadings, so intricate is its orchestration. It is one of only a few novels of this century that is writtenthrough, in the musical sense of thorough composition. But reading it yet again, after twenty years away from it, I find it to be a narrative all of whose principal figures—Aziz, Fielding, Adela Quested, Mrs. Moore, Godbole—lack conscious will. Doubtless, this is Forster’s deliberate art . . .

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