Rhiannon's Reviews > Where Angels Fear to Tread

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
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Jul 07, 11

bookshelves: english-majory, owned, snooty-brits, read-in-2011, yr-family-is-fcked, before-you-die, i-love-this-author
Read from July 06 to 07, 2011 — I own a copy

Italy, Italy. People go there, I am told, to free themselves of the constraints of stuffy, modern life. To take part in its beauty, and really live. Ladies often go there to f*uck hot Italian guys, eat tasty treats, and possibly write a memoir all about their spiritual awakening and/or f*ucking that hot Italian guy.

Well, lady-characters in the turn of the century did the same thing! Minus the memoir part. They never got a chance to write their memoirs. No, their authors killed them off before they got the chance to reflect on eating, or praying, or loving. I'm pretty sure that they killed these "free-spirited" ladies off because these ladies preferred the sexy Italians to their stuffy British and snobby American male counterparts, and they sadly needed to learn their lessons: Italy is a fine place to visit, Ladies, as long as you have a male chaperone who wishes to bore you to death with lectures about architecture as he leads you by the elbow through the safest of Italian tourist spots.

E.M. Forster agrees, "Italy is such a delightful place to live in if you happen to be a man...In the democracy of the caffe or the street the great question of our life has been solved, and the brotherhood of man is a reality. But it is accomplished at the expense of the sisterhood of women."

In the beginning of Where Angels Fear To Tread, I was reminded of Henry James' Daisy Miller. In a sense, Lilia is described by Forster as a sort of silly woman, just as Daisy was a silly "girl." In both instances, our silly women need to be sought after, rescued from Italy, saved by men. In both instances, the men fail.

But, I had more hope for Lilia. Where James chastises, Forster seems, at first, to empathize. Daisy's character-execution is foreshadowed, but fast (malaria), and she never has to back down, submit to Winterbourne. Winterbourne never gets to mold her character to his liking. Daisy is Daisy until the end.

Lilia's character-execution is worse, in my opinion. Before he can kill Lilia off, Forster first has her undergo a character change: Lilia becomes less spirited, smaller, older, insecure, afraid of her lover, Gino. What happened to that crazy Cougar-Lilia we met in the beginning, with the money and the power? She dies giving birth to a son - an ultimate sacrifice for a patriarchal line.

Now, don't get me wrong. I did not like Lilia, as a character, for the most part. I mean, she ditches her daughter for a 21-year-old Italian guy. But, I was disturbed by her end, by the ease with which Forster killed her off. After her death, we move back to England, where we gauge the reactions from the rest of the characters. With the exception of Caroline Abbott (a family friend) and Lilia's daughter Irma, everyone else is relieved that they don't have to deal with Lilia anymore. I felt, if Lilia's death was heartless, well - the lack of grief surrounding it was even worse. I think that Forster included Lilia's downfall in a less chastising or patronizing way than James. He shows how the masculine influence can really harm the spirit or personality of the woman, but his lack of sympathy was somewhat disheartening.

The real triumph of character in Where Angels Fear To Tread is Philip, though. Philip ties in all of the the novel's central themes: idealization vs. reality, of the romanticization of one's sense of identity, voyeurism vs. participation. And of course, the satire of British superiority, and subsequent control.

In the words of Philip, "Society is invincible - to a certain degree. But your real life is your own, and nothing can touch it. There is no power on earth that can prevent your criticizing and despising mediocrity - nothing that can stop you retreating into splendour and beauty - into the thoughts and beliefs that make the real life - the real you."

I want to mention, too, that the introduction to this edition was really good. Ruth Padel, O ye of the well-phrased thesis! "All of the novels published in Forster's lifetime conjure a place, a way of looking at a place, a journey, or a passage towards it. A title beginning "Where," beginning a novel-writing career that will end with the last words of A Passage To India - "not there." From "Where" to "not there" is the Forster arc, eyes on the horizon...which [is] incomprehensible and unattainable, but which symbolizes something within him, something that matters deeply to him."

Eager to read more Forster. If I remember from reading A Room With A View, it gets better than this, for sure...
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Bondama (new)

Bondama Rhiannon - That is an extremely perceptive review. E.M. Forster is one of the most unusual writers of his time. Along with the book above and "Room With a View", the man also wrote a science fiction novel!! - To top it off, it was written before the invention of television, and Forster forsaw its' invention. - Each of the characters has a "small, rectangular screen" in their living quarters, and it is this that's used for any communication!


message 2: by Rhiannon (last edited Jul 11, 2011 09:20AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rhiannon Thanks, Bondama. I had recently read a short story by Forster ("The Other Boat," from The Life to Come), and was so impressed by his critique of imperialism and British-Snob culture, as well as the story's homosexual subject matter, that I decided I should probably just read his whole repertoire, and see what else this guy's got going on!

I am starting at the beginning of E.M. Forster's career and moving forward! Next up is The Longest Journey.

What's the name of the Sci Fi work? I'm excited to find it!


message 3: by Bondama (new)

Bondama Oh, Lord, Rhiannon - I just knew you were going to ask me that. It's been over 40 years since I read the novella - even wrote a paper on it. Let me check, and I'll get back to you, K?


message 4: by Bondama (new)

Bondama Got it!!! Rhiannon, The book (or novella, I can't remember, is called "The Machine Stops" and it's really, really good!!


Rhiannon Yay! Thanks for finding out for me, Bondama. It's collected in Selected Stories! I own that! I can't wait...


Kristen I absolutely adore your first three paragraphs (and agree; see my very short review).


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