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E. M. Forster: A Passage to India

This book is generally agreed to be Forster’s masterpiece. It was well received at the time and still enjoys a high reputation, though some Indians consider it racist (which, of course, it is), while V S Naipaul calls it utter rubbish. The book is about the confrontation between the Indians and the English in India. The plot is long and complex but basically concerns the visit to India of Mrs. Moore, who has come to see her son, Ronny Heaslop, who is a magistrate. She is accompanied by Adela Quested, who, it is assumed, will marry Ronny. Mrs. Moore meets Dr. Aziz at a local Muslim temple, though Ronny disapproves of her associating with Indians. However, a bridge party, involving English and Indians, is held to try and bring the two together. After this party, Mrs. Moore, Adela, Aziz, and Fielding, a school teacher, have tea and it is agreed that they will visit the Marabar Caves. The visit goes horribly wrong. Mrs. Moore is frightened and leaves. Adela separates from Aziz and later accuses Aziz of assaulting her. The accusation polarises the Indians and the English and, at least in part, the case proves to some of the English that it is foolish to mix with the Indians, while proving to the Indians that the English are not to be trusted. Adela famously withdraws her accusation at the trial, though it remains unclear why she made it in the first place. She claims it was a hallucination but we are unconvinced. The novel ends up in England and, at least for Aziz and Fielding, who have become the key characters, the conclusion is that the two nationalities cannot mix.

Critics have come up with many theories of what this novel is about. It can be taken as the basic incompatibility of two cultures, the failure of the Brits in India, a straightforward anti-imperialistic criticism or, as Forster himself implied, something broader, namely about dispute and reconciliation between two opposing views of the world. Whichever interpretation you choose, Forster does tell a fine tale, with many complex characters, all with their own view of the world, conflicting, as in life, with the view of others, both those close to them and others. It still lives up to its reputation and remains one of the finest English novels of the twentieth century.

Publishing history

First published 1924 by E. Arnold & Co