Steve's Reviews > Where Angels Fear to Tread

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
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Jan 20, 10

Read in January, 2010

HEADLINE: This novel may have the most pathetic portrayal of a brawl between two men in the history of English literature, a sin that can be forgiven, however, given the unintentional comicality of it.




This is E. M. Forster's first novel. It shows. It is a short novel, one that would be classified as a novella if anyone truly knew exactly what constitutes a novella. It could be classified as a melodrama were it not for the development of the characters, particularly Philip. It is in the development of the characters that Forster shows his promise of greater things to come.

All that is not to say that this is not an enjoyable story. Quite the contrary. It is a good story told with Forster's great acerbic wit. Such a very British wit wielded in great part to skewer those traits that make the British so British including wit inappropriately applied.

As his vehicle for accomplishing this and as in A Room With a View, Forster puts his British characters in opposition to implacable, ancient Italy. Forster obviously loved Italy. His passages concerning that country are lyrical. But back to Philip. . . .

Miss Abbott on Philip:

”Oh, you appreciate me!” she burst out again. “I wish you didn't. You appreciate us all—see the good in all of us. And all the time you are dead—dead—dead. . . .


Philip in response:

Miss Abbott, don't worry over me. Some people are born not to do things. I am one of them; I never did anything at school or at the Bar. . . .


Philip goes on to list his “honorable failures.” He comforts himself that any effort on his part based upon conviction will have no impact on events anyway. “Nothing hangs on it,” is his phrase.

Miss Abbott again:

I dare tell you this because I like you—and because you're without passion; you look on life as a spectacle; you don't enter it; you only find it funny or beautiful.


So in Philip we have a character who we are led to believe is in need of a bit of the old redemption thing, and therein lies the real story. I use that derivation of “redeem” in the sense of “change for the better” or “reform.” The question for me is whether Philip's preëxisting outlook on life and approach to it really were in need of reformation. Blasphemy, I am sure.

As an afterthought I must say that Forster is pathetic at portraying a brawl, a physical struggle, between two men. Thankfully, to my knowledge he never attempted it again after this novel. On the other hand all indications are that he may have been masterful at portraying a brawl between two women. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, he never attempted that at all.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Rhiannon "This novel may have the most pathetic portrayal of a brawl between two men in the history of English literature..."

Ha! Tidbit for you: In the introduction to the edition I own, the editor mentions that Forster became "sexually stirred" when writing that scene.


Steve Rhiannon wrote: ""This novel may have the most pathetic portrayal of a brawl between two men in the history of English literature..."

Ha! Tidbit for you: In the introduction to the edition I own, the editor mentio..."


Hahahahahaha. Rhiannon, I am still considering a proper reaction to this tidbit, but thank you anyway.


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