One of my New Year Resolutions was to read more classics, so I set myself a classic challenge to read at least one classic a month. Wanting a break from my current read I decided to pick up Where Angles Fear to Tread by EM Forster.
On a trip around Italy young widow Lillia meets Gino, whom she marries on a spur of the moment, much to the disapproval of her family. The consequences will pit conservative England against emotional Italy.
This was Forster’s first novel, though given its novella would be more accurate. While I enjoyed it, it is not as well developed as his later work. A number of the characters are poorly developed stereotypes. Mrs Herriton, the typical Victorian matriarch. Harriet the cold pious maiden aunt who has moments of hysteria in a manner befitting a Victorian lady. Lillia, despite being 33, is like a silly young girl who comes to regret her foolish choice. Gino a stereotypical Italian man. The only two characters who are well developed are Phillip and Caroline, who despite initial indications are the main characters. The reactions of the characters to certain events seem cold and unrealistic. Major events, such as deaths, are brushed off quickly. This may just be down to contemporary sentiments. Mortality rates were so much higher, the death of old and young alike so common, and belief in higher powers much stronger, that such things were viewed differently to how we would view them now.
Forster’s skill lies in his ability to capture the Italian landscape. The descriptions of Italy are poetic and romantic. The criticism of Victorian/Edwardian society with its conventions and repression are also clear and well expressed. Forster does not claim that Italian society is perfect but with its emotionalism it provides an interesting foil to English society with its “stiff upper lip”. There are clear indications of themes which he will explore in his later work.
Without giving too much away, I found the ending interesting. It is abrupt and not neatly tied up which is unusual for works from this period. I was left wondering what would become of Caroline and Phillip later. It is an unconventional ending.