I added A Passage to India by E.M. Forster to my Classics Club list even though I didn’t really enjoy either Howard’s End and Where Angels Fear to Tread. The writing in both books is beautiful and the issues raised are thought-provoking but Forster’s characters irritate me enormously.
A Passage to India follows four main characters, three who are English and one who is Indian, all of whom were living in or visiting India during the 1920s. Miss Adela Quested was visiting India with Mrs Moore to decide if she wanted to marry Mrs Moore’s son Ronny when they visited local caves with Dr Aziz, a local Indian man. While they were exploring the caves Adela had a panic attack and accused Dr Aziz of assaulting her.
In court, Adela realised she had imagined the attack and so the case against Dr Aziz was dismissed, although of course by then his personal reputation had been savaged. Adela’s accusation against Dr Aziz also damaged the relationship between the Indian and British people which had become perilously close to becoming violent. After the court case was over Adela felt unable to marry Ronny, so Mr Fielding took her in until she was able to return to England. Fielding’s kind deed to Adela ruined his friendship with Dr Aziz.
The outing to the caves came about because as newcomers to India, Mrs Moore and Adela wanted to know what they called the ‘real’ India and Indian people. The other women living in British India (or British Raj) preferred to create a replica of their lives in England and viewed Indian people with an extraordinary amount of racism considering that the English were the outsiders in India.
It seemed to me that the Indian people weren’t friends with each other either as they were divided by their religions and castes. It seemed even more impossible that the Indian and British people, represented by Fielding and Dr Aziz could be friends, as they had an even greater divide between them.
Perhaps not surprisingly I felt irritable the entire time I was reading A Passage to India, but this time, as well as feeling annoyed by characters who I didn’t like or respect, the whole idea of the British Empire being in India when they had no business there at all irritated me enormously. While I understand that if the British hadn’t been in India another empire-building, thieving country would have been there plundering India instead, I don’t think that excuses the British.
I found A Passage to India hard-going. None of the characters in this book come out of the story covered in any kind of glory. As well as feeling irritated for all of the reasons I’ve already mentioned, I also struggled with boredom and kept falling asleep while reading this story.
A Passage to India was book nineteen in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.