Jan-Maat's Reviews > A Passage to India

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
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bookshelves: 20th-century, british-isles, india

In a novel with the line “a perfectly adjusted organism would be silent” it is no surprise that the centre of this cloud of writing is the idea of the difficulty, or the possible impossibility of communication and direct connection between people.

Instead understanding has to be intuitive and incommunicable, Mrs Moore knows nothing has happened but can’t convince her son, how she knows or how Professor Godbole knows about her and the wasp is unclear and if we don’t like telepathy as an answer then we are best off not asking the question, just as we are best off not asking what, if anything, happened in the Marabar caves. Miss Quested experienced something, but even E.M. Forster screwed up the draft versions that attempted to give her point of view as that something occurred. A clear statement would run counter to the intuitive direction of this novel. Nothing can make sense in the unreality of our group think, some alternative means of perception, something more (view spoiler) is required to understand.

Miss Quested speaks of wanting to experience the real India, but because she lives, as almost all the characters do, in the world of illusion, her quest will be concluded but the object missed. A failed seeker after the Holy Grail. (view spoiler)

In the beginning “they were discussing as to whether or no it is possible to be friends with an Englishman” (p33) (view spoiler) As evidence of the potential of intimacy: “he has shown me his stamp collection” (p34). I wasn’t expecting Forster to have a sense of humour (view spoiler), nor quite the brutality implicit in Dr Aziz showing the picture of wife to Fielding only for the chest of drawers to be later forced open and that photograph presented in court as evidence of his immoral and degenerate character.

The characters exist very firmly in their environments. The English, at the slightest suggestion that something is not right flip back to 1857, the dominance signalled in 1757 so provisional that everybody has to be continually on watch (view spoiler). There are no innocent conversations. No exchange of views. Every gesture has its own sub-text of resistance and opposition, if one chooses to live on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But this is also unreal or at least only an aspect of reality. Change the air and of a sudden there are “problems so totally different from those of Chandrapore. For here the cleavage was between Brahman and non-Brahman; Moslems and English were quite out of the running, and sometimes not mentioned for days” (p289). The novel doesn’t claim to completeness only to offer up a few shards to work upon the imagination (view spoiler).

Apparently the last two Viceroys of India read this novel. Pushed in conversation Dr Aziz at first looks to the Afghans, for the Mughal Empire to strike back and replace the British, only then to imagine an Indian community as a viable future (view spoiler). Nodding to Benedict Anderson then there is no divide between the realm of the imagination and the realm of tangible reality. The one flows into the other. The boats collide and overturn. Despite the different directions and tools the experience is one.
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Reading Progress

October 14, 2014 – Started Reading
October 14, 2014 – Shelved
October 15, 2014 –
page 47
12.95% ""the performance ended, & the amateur orchestra played the National Anthem. Conversation & billiards stopped, faces stiffened. It was the Anthem of the Army of Occupation""
October 15, 2014 –
page 88
24.24% ""He was even tender to the English; he knew at the bottom of his heart that they could not help being so cold & odd & circulating like an ice-stream through his land""
October 16, 2014 –
page 310
85.4% ""Whatever had happened had happened...Looking back at the great blur of the last twenty-four hours, no man could say where was the emotional centre of it, any more than he could locate the heart of a cloud""
October 16, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-24 of 24 (24 new)

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Samadrita I still haven't read this. :(


message 2: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Samadrita wrote: "I still haven't read this. :("

No one can read everything, all at once, at the age of seventeen. It will still be waiting for you on the shelf if the time is ever ripe for you to read it ;)


message 3: by Ted (new) - added it

Ted Jan, I have this book, but as far as I can tell have never read it. So I did add it, and if I do ever read it (this review certainly makes me want to), my "review" will reference this review, perhaps do nothing further. Because it's good, that's why. Thanks!


message 4: by Fionnuala (new) - added it

Fionnuala I had forgotten the humour - Mrs Turton only able to speak Urdu in the imperative! I love it.
But I haven't forgotten Mrs Moore - such an unusual character, unusual for the time and unusual for the place. And Aziz. Those two. And the happening.


message 5: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Fionnuala wrote: "I had forgotten the humour - Mrs Turton only able to speak Urdu in the imperative! I love it.
But I haven't forgotten Mrs Moore - such an unusual character, unusual for the time and unusual for the..."


Yes, Mrs Moore, less a character, more a presence in the novel, or an embodiment of a way to live.

I was surprised at there being humour, it wasn't the kind of book that I expected to be less than entirely serious


message 6: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Ted wrote: "Jan, I have this book, but as far as I can tell have never read it. So I did add it, and if I do ever read it (this review certainly makes me want to), my "review" will reference this review, perha..."

Thank you, but England (view spoiler) expects more nested spoilers from you!


message 7: by Ted (new) - added it

Ted Jan-Maat wrote: "Ted wrote: "Jan, I have this book, but as far as I can tell have never read it. So I did add it, and if I do ever read it (this review certainly makes me want to), my "review" will reference this r..."

I'll see what transpires. I have moved this book upstairs, and also onto a list of "soon to be read". (view spoiler)


message 8: by Fionnuala (new) - added it

Fionnuala Jan-Maat wrote: ".Thank you, but England (view spoiler) expects more nested spoilers from you! ."

And isn't Forster the original king of the nested spoiler?


message 9: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Fionnuala wrote: "Jan-Maat wrote: ".Thank you, but England (view spoiler) expects more nested spoilers from you! ."

And isn't Forster the original king of the nested spoiler?"


I...don't know...you make that sound vaguely ornithological!


message 10: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Ted wrote: "Jan-Maat wrote: "Ted wrote: "Jan, I have this book, but as far as I can tell have never read it. So I did add it, and if I do ever read it (this review certainly makes me want to), my "review" will..."

Ha! I know the feeling :)


Rakhi Dalal I quite enjoyed this book and even loved the movie based on it :-)


message 12: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Rakhi wrote: "I quite enjoyed this book and even loved the movie based on it :-)"

I've seen the film too, it seems quite different in my memory to the book, and having read the book I'm amazed a film was made out of it - is the whole religious/mystical element lost? (I can't recall anymore). Also I remember that there were more elephants in the film than in the book, but then, what's a film with only one elephant!


Rakhi Dalal Jan-Maat wrote: "Rakhi wrote: "I quite enjoyed this book and even loved the movie based on it :-)"

I've seen the film too, it seems quite different in my memory to the book, and having read the book I'm amazed a f..."


Well, I don't think the movie was very different. Infact, I think the character of Dr. Aziz was captured quite well. The incident of cave was done well too.


message 14: by Jan-Maat (last edited Oct 18, 2014 07:55AM) (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Rakhi wrote: "Well, I don't think the movie was very different. Infact, I think the character of Dr. Aziz was captured quite well. The incident of cave was done well too. "

It was a look time ago when I saw it, so I'll take your word for it, I won't swear to the accuracy of my memory which has probably amngled things!

ETA wasn't it a Ruth Prawer-Jhabvala adaptation?


Rakhi Dalal Jan-Maat wrote: "ETA wasn't it a Ruth Prawer-Jhabvala adaptation?"

No,I don't think so.


message 16: by Traveller (new)

Traveller Grrr, I even have the movie of this and haven't watched it yet... ouch.

..but your review is making me view it with renewed interest, especially the aspects which sound humorous and/or playful. :)


message 17: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Traveller wrote: "Grrr, I even have the movie of this and haven't watched it yet... ouch.

..but your review is making me view it with renewed interest, especially the aspects which sound humorous and/or playful. :)"


Perhaps I've over egged that aspect then, I mean there is irony in how the whites for the most part lather themselves into panic, despite the might of the Raj, particularly considering the end result.

It is there, but the other side of the coin is that the potential consequences for the non-whites are plainly neither playful nor humorous.


message 18: by Frank (new)

Frank I've seen the film. Never read the book. I wonder whether this would be the place to ask whether they are comparable? I remember coming away with an unsatisfying grasp of the characters' motivation, especially the accusation of rape. What's at work here? Is this a kind of sexual hysteria, as Forster's Victorian contemporaries would have put it? There must be feminist/post modern interpretations as well, but I'd really prefer an ideologically neutral reason.


message 19: by Frank (new)

Frank (continued from above). Again, the unexplained accusation of rape in this novel always reminded me of Ian McKewan's Atonement; although the behaviour of the young sister is certain to be differently motivated. Still, I wonder if McKewan got the idea from Forster


message 20: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Frank wrote: "(continued from above). Again, the unexplained accusation of rape in this novel always reminded me of Ian McKewan's Atonement; although the behaviour of the young sister is certain to be differentl..."

I guess so, it is a famous novel, taught in schools and universities, it would be more surprising if he had never come across it.
The thing with the accusation of rape is that it simply arises, Forster makes a point there too I suppose, people make the assumption that a crime has occurred in order to account for the young woman's state. Ideologically neutral and strict to the text we might say (view spoiler) that the case reaches court is an indictment of the besieged mindset and assumption of the colonials, though it is possible that a crime might have occurred


message 21: by Ivana (new)

Ivana Books Are Magic I think I actually started this one during my studies, but wandered off to other books. I will try to read it in immediate future, I'm feeling the desire to read more classics again.


message 22: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Ivana wrote: "I think I actually started this one during my studies, but wandered off to other books. I will try to read it in immediate future, I'm feeling the desire to read more classics again."

it is not a bad classic to desire to read, it is carefully clever


message 23: by Ivana (new)

Ivana Books Are Magic carefully clever...what a lovely way to put it.


message 24: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Ivana wrote: "carefully clever...what a lovely way to put it."

thank you


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