A Passage to India

A Passage to India

4 June 1924

A young British schoolmistress, Adela Quested, and her elderly friend, Mrs. Moore, visit the fictional city of Chandrapore, British India. Adela is to decide if she wants to marry Mrs. Moore's son, Ronny Heaslop, the city magistrate....

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NovelPolitical fiction

242 Pages
3.8

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A young British schoolmistress, Adela Quested, and her elderly friend, Mrs. Moore, visit the fictional city of Chandrapore, British India. Adela is to decide if she wants to marry Mrs. Moore's son, Ronny Heaslop, the city magistrate.

A Passage to India (1924) is a novel by English author E. M. Forster set against the backdrop of the British Raj and the Indian independence movement in the 1920s. It was selected as one of the 100 great works of 20th century English literature by the Modern Library and won the 1924 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Time magazine included the novel in its "All Time 100 Novels" list. The novel is based on Forster's experiences in India, deriving the title from Walt Whitman's 1870 poem "Passage to India" in Leaves of Grass.

The story revolves around four characters: Dr. Aziz, his British friend Mr. Cyril Fielding, Mrs. Moore, and Miss Adela Quested. During a trip to the fictitious Marabar Caves (modeled on the Barabar Caves of Bihar), Adela thinks she finds herself alone with Dr. Aziz in one of the caves (when in fact he is in an entirely different cave), and subsequently panics and flees; it is assumed that Dr. Aziz has attempted to assault her. Aziz's trial, and its run-up and aftermath, bring to a boil the common racial tensions and prejudices between Indians and the British who rule India.

Edward Morgan Forster OM CH (1 January 1879 – 7 June 1970) was an English novelist, short story writer, essayist and librettist. Many of his novels examined class difference and hypocrisy, including A Room with a View (1908), Howards End (1910) and A Passage to India (1924). The last brought him his greatest success. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 16 different years.

 

Review:

theguardian.com

 

 

The first duty of any reviewer is to welcome Mr. E. M. Forster's reappearance as a novelist and to express the hope that the general public as well as the critics will recognise his merits and their good fortune; the second is to congratulate him upon the tone and temper of his new novel. To speak of its "fairness" would convey the wrong impression, because that suggests a conscious virtue. This is the involuntary fairness of the man who sees.

 

We have had novels about India from the British point of view and from the native point of view, and in each case with sympathy for the other side; but the sympathy has been intended, and in this novel there is not the slightest suggestion of anything but a personal impression, with the prejudices and limitations of the writer frankly exposed. Mr. Forster, in fact, has reached the stage in his development as an artist when, in his own words about Miss Quested, he is "no longer examining life, but being examined by it." He has been examined by India, and this is his confession.

There can be no doubt about the principal faculties which have contributed to its quality: imagination and humour. It is imagination in the strictest sense of the world as the power of seeing and hearing internally, without any obligation to fancy - though Mr. Forster has fancy at his command to heighten the impression, as in his treatment of the echoes in the Marabar Caves. "Even the striking of a match starts a little worm coiling, which is too small to complete a circle but is eternally watchful." To speak of his characters as being "well drawn," would be crude; they draw themselves, and mainly in their conversation. More remarkable even than his vision is Mr. Forster's power of inner hearing; he seems incapable of allowing a person to speak out of character, and Dr. Aziz strikes one as less invented than overheard. Equally pure is Mr. Forster's humour. His people, British or native, are not satirised or caricatured or made the targets of wit; they are simply enjoyed.

The story is, essentially, that of the close contact of East and West in the persons of Dr. Aziz, a Moslem, assistant medical officers of the Chandrapore Hospital, and Mr. Fielding, principal of the College. In all the other characters the contact is governed by conventions - official or would-be sympathetic - but in them it is as close as blood itself allows. So far as affection is concerned they are friends, so that the interplay of East and West is along the very finest channels of human intercourse - suggesting the comparison of the blood and air vessels in the lungs; but the friendship is always at the mercy of the feelings which rise from the deeps of racial personality.

 

The action of the story is provided by outsiders; two travelling Englishwomen, one elderly, the mother of the city magistrate, and one, Miss Quested, comparatively young, who becomes for a time engaged to him. The one has a natural and the other a theoretical sympathy for the country and its people.

 

As the guests of Dr. Aziz they make an excursion to the Marabar Caves, where Miss Quested loses her head and accuses Aziz of having insulted her - a series of minor accidents lending plausibility to what was, in effect, an hallucination. Aziz is arrested, and East and West rally round their prejudices and conventions, though Fielding believes Aziz to be innocent, and breaks with his own order to support him.

 

At the trial, before a native magistrate, Miss Quested withdraws her accusations and Aziz is acquitted; but in the following turmoil Fielding, against his will, is true to his blood in sheltering Miss Quested, and he and Aziz drift apart. "Why can't we be friends now?" he says at the end. "It's what I want. It's what you want." But India answers: "No, not yet...No, not there."

 

Thus we are left with the feeling that the blending of races is a four-dimensional problem. In his presentation of the problem Mr. Forster leans, if anywhere, towards his own race in his acute sense of their difficulties, but not more than by the weight of blood; and, again, fairness is not the word for his sensitive presentation. It is something much less conscious; not so much a virtue as a fatality of his genius. Whether he presents Englishman or Moslem or Hindu or Eurasian he is no longer examining life, but being examined by it" in the deeps of his personality as an artist.

 

 

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James Tait Black Memorial Prize

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