Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Passage to India (1924)

E. M. Forster
A Passage to India (1924)


Miss Quested and Aziz and a guide continued the slightly tedious expedition. They did not talk much, for the sun was getting high. The air felt like a warm bath into which hotter water is trickling constantly, the temperature rose and rose, the boulders said, 'I am alive: the small stones answered, 'I am almost alive.' Between the chinks lay the ashes of little plants. They meant to climb to the rocking-stone on the summit, but it was too far, and they contented themselves with the big group of caves. En route for these, they encountered several isolated caves, which the guide persuaded them to visit, but really there was nothing to see; they lit a match, admired its reflection in the polish, tested the echo and came out again. Aziz was 'pretty sure they should come on some interesting old carvings soon', but only meant he wished there were some carvings. His deeper thoughts were about breakfast. Symptoms of disorganization had appeared as he left the camp. He ran over the menu: an English breakfast, porridge and mutton chops, but some Indian dishes to cause conversation, and pan afterwards. He had never liked Miss Quested as much as Mrs Moore, and had little to say to her, less than ever now that she would marry a English official.

– E. M. Forster, A Passage to India, Part II, chapter XV.

Critical Responses:

A Passage to India By E. M. Forster. London: Edward Arnold. Pp.325. 7s. 6d. net.

'The first duty of any reviewer is to welcome Mr. E. M. Forster's reappearance as a novelist and to express the hope that the general public as well as the critics will recognise his merits and their good fortune; the second is to congratulate him upon the tone and temper of his new novel. To speak of its "fairness" would convey the wrong impression, because that suggests a conscious virtue. This is the involuntary fairness of the man who sees.

We have had novels about India from the British point of view and from the native point of view, and in each case with sympathy for the other side; but the sympathy has been intended, and in this novel there is not the slightest suggestion of anything but a personal impression, with the prejudices and limitations of the writer frankly exposed. Mr. Forster, in fact, has reached the stage in his development as an artist when, in his own words about Miss Quested, he is "no longer examining life, but being examined by it." He has been examined by India, and this is his confession.

There can be no doubt about the principal faculties which have contributed to its quality: imagination and humour. It is imagination in the strictest sense of the world as the power of seeing and hearing internally, without any obligation to fancy - though Mr. Forster has fancy at his command to heighten the impression, as in his treatment of the echoes in the Marabar Caves. "Even the striking of a match starts a little worm coiling, which is too small to complete a circle but is eternally watchful." To speak of his characters as being "well drawn," would be crude; they draw themselves, and mainly in their conversation. More remarkable even than his vision is Mr. Forster's power of inner hearing; he seems incapable of allowing a person to speak out of character, and Dr. Aziz strikes one as less invented than overheard. Equally pure is Mr. Forster's humour. His people, British or native, are not satirised or caricatured or made the targets of wit; they are simply enjoyed.

The story is, essentially, that of the close contact of East and West in the persons of Dr. Aziz, a Moslem, assistant medical officers of the Chandrapore Hospital, and Mr. Fielding, principal of the College. In all the other characters the contact is governed by conventions - official or would-be sympathetic - but in them it is as close as blood itself allows. So far as affection is concerned they are friends, so that the interplay of East and West is along the very finest channels of human intercourse - suggesting the comparison of the blood and air vessels in the lungs; but the friendship is always at the mercy of the feelings which rise from the deeps of racial personality.

The action of the story is provided by outsiders; two travelling Englishwomen, one elderly, the mother of the city magistrate, and one, Miss Quested, comparatively young, who becomes for a time engaged to him. The one has a natural and the other a theoretical sympathy for the country and its people.

As the guests of Dr. Aziz they make an excursion to the Marabar Caves, where Miss Quested loses her head and accuses Aziz of having insulted her - a series of minor accidents lending plausibility to what was, in effect, an hallucination. Aziz is arrested, and East and West rally round their prejudices and conventions, though Fielding believes Aziz to be innocent, and breaks with his own order to support him.

At the trial, before a native magistrate, Miss Quested withdraws her accusations and Aziz is acquitted; but in the following turmoil Fielding, against his will, is true to his blood in sheltering Miss Quested, and he and Aziz drift apart. "Why can't we be friends now?" he says at the end. "It's what I want. It's what you want." But India answers: "No, not yet...No, not there."

Thus we are left with the feeling that the blending of races is a four-dimensional problem. In his presentation of the problem Mr. Forster leans, if anywhere, towards his own race in his acute sense of their difficulties, but not more than by the weight of blood; and, again, fairness is not the word for his sensitive presentation. It is something much less conscious; not so much a virtue as a fatality of his genius. Whether he presents Englishman or Moslem or Hindu or Eurasian he is no longer examining life, but being examined by it" in the deeps of his personality as an artist.'

- "C. M." The Guardian (Friday, June 20 1924).

The BBC Talks of E.M. Forster, 1929–1960. Ed. Mary Lago, Linda K. Hughes, and Elizabeth MacLeod Walls, with a foreword by P.N. Furbank. University of Missouri Press, 2008. Pp.477. $59.95.

'In the taxonomy of English writing, E.M. Forster is not an exotic creature. We file him under Notable English Novelist, common or garden variety. Still, there is a sense in which Forster was something of a rare bird. He was free of many vices commonly found in novelists of his generation — what's unusual about Forster is what he didn't do. He didn't lean rightward with the years, or allow nostalgia to morph into misanthropy; he never knelt for the Pope or the Queen, nor did he flirt (ideologically speaking) with Hitler, Stalin, or Mao; he never believed the novel was dead or the hills alive, continued to read contemporary fiction after the age of fifty, harbored no special hatred for the generation below or above him, did not come to feel that England had gone to hell in a hand-basket, that its language was doomed, that lunatics were running the asylum, or foreigners swamping the cities.

Still, like all notable English novelists, he was a tricky bugger. He made a faith of personal sincerity and a career of disingenuousness. He was an Edwardian among Modernists, and yet—in matters of pacifism, class, education, and race—a progressive among conservatives. Suburban and parochial, his vistas stretched far into the East. A passionate defender of "Love, the beloved republic," he nevertheless persisted in keeping his own loves secret, long after the laws that had prohibited honesty were gone. Between the bold and the tame, the brave and the cowardly, the engaged and the complacent, Forster walked the middling line.

At times—when defending his liberal humanism against fundamentalists of the right and left—that middle line was, in its quiet, Forsterish way, the most radical place to be. At other times—in the laissez-faire coziness of his literary ideas—it seemed merely the most comfortable. In a letter to Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, Forster lays out his casual aesthetics, casually:
All I write is, to me, sentimental. A book which doesn't leave people either happier or better than it found them, which doesn't add some permanent treasure to the world, isn't worth doing.... This is my "theory," and I maintain it's sentimental—at all events it isn't Flaubert's. How can he fag himself to write "Un Coeur Simple"

To his detractors, the small, mild oeuvre of E.M. Forster is proof that when it comes to aesthetics, one had really better be fagged: the zeal of the fanatic is what's required. "E.M. Forster never gets any further than warming the teapot," thought Katherine Mansfield, a fanatic if ever there was one. "He's a rare fine hand at that. Feel this teapot. Is it not beautifully warm? Yes, but there ain't going to be no tea." There's something middling about Forster, he is halfway to where people want him to be. Even the compilers of The BBC Talks of E.M. Forster, an exhaustive collection of broadcasts between 1929 and 1960, find it necessary to address the middlebrow elephant in the room:
Forster, though recognized as a central player in his literary milieu, has been classed by most cultural historians of this period as secondary to Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, or T.S. Eliot...relegated not quite to the lesser lights of modernism, but perhaps to the "middle lights," if we might invent this term.

Conscientious editors, they defend their subject fiercely and at length. It feels incongruous—never was there a notable English novelist who wore his status more lightly. To love Forster is to reconcile oneself to the admixture of banality and brilliance that was his, as he had done himself. In this book that blend is perhaps more perfectly represented than ever before. Whether that's a good thing or not is difficult to say. ...

- Zadie Smith The New York Review of Books (August 14, 2008).

A Passage to India (1984)
directed by David Lean
screenplay by Santha Rama Rau & David Lean
starring Judy Davis, James Fox, Alec Guinness & Peggy Ashcroft


Mrs. Moore: My dear, life rarely gives us what we want at the moment we consider appropriate. Adventures do occur, but not punctually.

Mrs. Moore: God has put us on earth to love and help our fellow men.
Ronny: Yes, mother.

Fielding: [on the glasses found on Aziz after the latter's arrest] If Adela had hit him with it, he'd hardly take it with him.
McBryde: I'm not surprised.
Fielding: I don't follow.
McBryde: When you think of crime, you think of English crime. The psychology's different out here.

McBryde: [at the trial] Before we begin, I'd like to state what I believe to be a universal truth: the darker races are attracted to the fairer, but not vice-versa.
Advocate Amrit Rao: Even when the lady is LESS attractive than the gentleman?
[court breaks out in laughter]

Das: [Ali is carrying on during the trial] Please, this is no way to defend your case!
Ali: I am not defending a case - and YOU are not trying one! We are both slaves!
Das: Mr. Mahmoud Ali, if you don't calm down, I will have to exercise my authority.
Ali: Do so! This trial is a farce!
[throws papers off the desk]
Ali: I'm going! I've ruined my career!
[to Aziz]
Ali: Farewell my friend!
Dr Aziz: Mrs. Moore! Where are you, Mrs. Moore?

Ali: How is Britain justified in holding India?
Dr. Aziz: Unfair political question!
Fielding: No, no! Well, personally, I'm here because I need a job.
Ali: Qualified Indians also need jobs!
Fielding: I got here first.
Fielding: Well, I like it here and that's my excuse.
Advocate Hamidullah: And those Englishmen who do not like it here?
Fielding: Chuck 'em out.
Ali: Indians are also saying that.

Turton: [in a club meeting] There is a certain member here present who is known to be in contact with the defense. One can't run with the hare and hunt with the hounds - at least not in this country!
Fielding: I'd like to say something.
Turton: Please do.
Fielding: I believe Dr. Aziz is innocent. I will await the verdict of the jury. If he is found guilty, I will resign my post and leave India. I resign from the Club now!

Ronny: [on Aziz] He was dressed in his Sunday best, and his back collar stud was out. And there you have the Indian all over.

Dr. Aziz: You shouldn't walk alone, Mrs. Moore. There are bad characters about, and leopards may come down from the Marabar Hills - snakes also!
Mrs. Moore: You walk alone.
Dr. Aziz: I am used to it.
Mrs. Moore: Used to snakes?
Dr. Aziz: I'm a doctor - they dare not bite me!

Critical Responses:
"A dream. A nightmare. A new world. A battle with one's demons. A work of art!." - Internet Movie Database.

"David Lean wasn't an especially likable guy. When Guiness arrived on the set, Lean told him he'd been hoping for another actor for the part of Godbole. He was so sadistic to Sessue Hayakawa on "The Bridge on the River Quai," blaming Hayakaway's flawed English for all the delays that Hayakawa's breakdown scene was real. He was impatient with crews too, snapping at them because he was losing the light." - Internet Movie Database.

"My interest in caves led me to watch this film. A small, but pivotal, part of the film's plot centers on what happens at the Marabar Caves. While the cave segment was a disappointment to me, I was pleasantly surprised by the film as a whole. It was not the grandiose, pretentious cinematic epic I had feared ... My main complaint is the film's length. It's a two-hour story stretched to fill almost three hours. I would have cut out most, or all, of the crowd and mob scenes because they are not needed ..." - Internet Movie Database.

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