Title: Where Angels Fear to Tread
Author: E.M. Forster
Published: 2012 (originally 1905)
Where Angels Fear to Tread is the first novel by Forster that I’ve read and, unfortunately, it wasn’t a pleasant first encounter. The novel is just over 150 pages (so it could, depending on your defenition of the term, be called a novella) and is said to be a ‘witty comedy of manners that is tinged with tragedy’. I didn’t really know what to expect from that description, but I have to confess that I thought it would be more ‘witty’ than ‘tragedy’.
The back flap reads:
It tells the story of Lilia Herriton, who proves to be an embarrasment to her late husband’s family as, in the small Tuscan town of Monteriano, she begins a relationship with a much younger man – classless, uncouth and highly unsuitable. A subtle attack on decorous Edwardian values and humanely sympathetic portrayal of the clash of two cultures.
I can only say that, if it was what it said on the tin, I’m greatly disappointed.
Firstly, just a small part of the story deals with Lilia herself as she dies pretty early on. Her late husband’s family is actually the protagonist, starting with her brother-in-law Philip. He is increadably patronising, especially to Lilia’s friend Caroline, and quite insufferable as a character. The other characters, too, were inconsistent. I know it could be all part of the story, and may be Forster intended the characters to have certain flaws and be inconsistent on purpose, but if he did I think he did not do a good job in explaining its purpose.
The story was all over the place. When Lilia dies, the family of her first husband, the Herritons, wants to cover up her ‘unfortunate’ second marriage (also: why, why, can’t she marry after she is widowed? Is it just me?), even when it appears there is a child involved. Then, when Lilia’s friend Caroline (who was, by the way ‘to blame’ for helping Lilia and Gino getting married in the first place) decides to go to Italy and get the child, the Herritons sent Philip with her to make sure they don’t appear ungenerous. The hypocrisy! – I know. What happens in Italy is to weird to actually really understand: the characters change their opinion of each other and their own choices so quickly and without any apparent cause that I found it anything but natural to follow. And just as you think that Forster is trying to make up for his sloppy story by writing a cliché but at least understandable ending, he is letting you dangle …
Why then two stars? I’m not really sure, but I think I forgive Forster for writing inconsistently. I mean, he was but in his twenties when he wrote it. Besides, there were definitely parts here and there that I recognised as ‘witty’ and I hope those parts forebode well for his other novels I would like to read …
Have you read anything by Forster?