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A Passage to India

Cover of A Passage to India

A Passage to India

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E. M. Forster's 1924 masterpiece, A Passage to India, is a novel that tackles the thorny notions of preconceptions and misconceptions through characters' desire to overcome the barrier that divides...More
E. M. Forster's 1924 masterpiece, A Passage to India, is a novel that tackles the thorny notions of preconceptions and misconceptions through characters' desire to overcome the barrier that divides...More
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Description-
  • E. M. Forster's 1924 masterpiece, A Passage to India, is a novel that tackles the thorny notions of preconceptions and misconceptions through characters' desire to overcome the barrier that divides East and West in colonial India. Here we see the limits of liberal tolerance, good intentions, and good will as we try to sort through the common problems that exist between two very different cultures. But Forster's India is a country where the English and Indians stare at each other across a cultural divide and a history of imbalanced power relations, mutual suspicion, and ill will. A fresh reader must wonder whether connection is possible at all.

    A Passage to India begins simply enough: with people genuinely desiring to connect and to overcome the stereotypes and biases that have divided the two cultures. Mrs. Moore accompanies her future daughter-in-law, Adela Quested, to India where both are to meet Mrs. Moore's son Ronny, the City Magistrate. From the outset, Adela makes it clear that she wishes to see the "real India" and Mrs. Moore soon befriends and Indian doctor named Aziz. Cyril Fielding, an Englishman and the principal of a local government college, soon becomes acquainted with everyone and it is his tenuous friendship with the Indian Dr. Aziz that really constitutes the backbone of this novel.

    While it is true that the primary characters take great pains to accept and embrace difference, their misunderstanding, fear and ignorance made that connection far more difficult than they expected. Getting to know the "real" India proves to be a daunting and challenging task. The bulk of this perhaps falls to Dr. Aziz, who soon learns that the indignities of life under British rule and the insults—unintentional and intentional—of his English acquaintances make him suspect that although genuine friendship may be desired, the two cultures are not yet ready.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    E. M. Forster published his first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread, in 1905, which was quickly followed in 1907 by The Longest Journey and then in 1908 with A Room with a View. However, Forster's major breakthrough came in 1910 with the book Howard's End, which is often still regarded as his greatest work. Forster was associated with the Bloomsbury Group: a collective of intellectuals and peers, among them Virginia Woolf, Benjamin Britten, Roger Fry, and John Maynard Keynes. The 1924 publication of A Passage to India firmly cemented Forster in the literary firmament as one of the most important writers of the twentieth century with this being one of the most important novels of the twentieth century. It was, however, the last novel Forster ever completed.

    Forster seems to have harbored a growing disillusionment with traditional liberalism and instead turned his attention to teaching and criticism, beginning with the Clark Lectures he delivered at Cambridge in 1927, which were gathered into a much-admired collection of essays published as Aspects of the Novel. In 1946, Forster accepted a fellowship at Cambridge where he remained until his death in 1970.

    SERIES DESCRIPTIONS

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Excerpts-
  • From the book
    Chapter 1

    EXCEPT for the Marabar Caves -- and they are twenty miles off -- the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary. Edged rather than washed by the river Ganges, it trails for a couple of miles along the bank, scarcely distinguishable from the rubbish it deposits so freely. There are no bathing-steps on the river front, as the Ganges happens not to be holy here; indeed there is no river front, and bazaars shut out the wide and shifting panorama of the stream. The streets are mean, the temples ineffective, and though a few fine houses exist they are hidden away in gardens or down alleys whose filth deters all but the invited guest. Chandrapore was never large or beautiful, but two hundred years ago it lay on the road between Upper India, then imperial, and the sea, and the fine houses date from that period. The zest for decoration stopped in the eighteenth century, nor was it ever democratic. There is no painting and scarcely any carving in the bazaars. The very wood seems made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving. So abased, so monotonous is everything that meets the eye, that when the Ganges comes down it might be expected to wash the excrescence back into the soil. Houses do fall, people are drowned and left rotting, but the general outline of the town persists, swelling here, shrinking there, like some low but indestructible form of life.

    Inland, the prospect alters. There is an oval Maidan, and a long sallow hospital. Houses belonging to Eurasians stand on the high ground by the railway station. Beyond the railway -- which runs parallel to the river -- the land sinks, then rises again rather steeply. On the second rise is laid out the little civil station, and viewed hence Chandrapore appears to be a totally different place. It is a city of gardens. It is no city, but a forest sparsely scattered with huts. It is a tropical pleasaunce washed by a noble river. The toddy palms and neem trees and mangoes and pepul that were hidden behind the bazaars now become visible and in their turn hide the bazaars. They rise from the gardens where ancient tanks nourish them, they burst out of stifling purlieus and unconsidered temples. Seeking light and air, and endowed with more strength than man or his works, they soar above the lower deposit to greet one another with branches and beckoning leaves, and to build a city for the birds. Especially after the rains do they screen what passes below, but at all times, even when scorched or leafless, they glorify the city to the English people who inhabit the rise, so that new-comers cannot believe it to be as meagre as it is described, and have to be driven down to acquire disillusionment. As for the civil station itself, it provokes no emotion. It charms not; neither does it repel. It is sensibly planned, with a red-brick club on its brow, and farther back a grocer's and a cemetery, and the bungalows are disposed along roads that intersect at right angles. It has nothing hideous in it, and only the view is beautiful; it shares nothing with the city except the overarching sky.

    The sky too has its changes, but they are less marked than those of the vegetation and the river. Clouds map it up at times, but it is normally a dome of blending tints, and the main tint blue. By day the blue will pale down into white where it touches the white of the land, after sunset it has a new circumference -- orange, melting upwards into tenderest purple. But the core of blue persists, and so it is by night.

About the Author-
  • Born on New Year's Day in 1879 in London, Edmund Morgan Forster was raised by his mother and great aunt. He graduated from Cambridge University in 1901 and spent the next ten years living abroad in India, Italy and elsewhere. His experiences abroad would provide Forster with material for his novels, particularly A Room with a View and A Passage to India.

    In 1905 Forster published his first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread, and then followed it with The Longest Journey in 1907 and A Room with a View in 1908. He achieved his first breakthrough success with the publication of Howard's End in 1910, which many people still regard as his greatest work. During this time, Forster was associated with a group of writers, artists and intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group. Including such luminaries as Virginia Woolf, Benjamin Britten, Roger Fry and John Maynard Keynes, the Bloomsbury Group was a source of intellectual and cultural stimulation for the young novelist.
    In 1924, Forster published A Passage to India, widely regarded as one of the most important English novels of the twentieth century. In the opinion of many critics, A Passage to India signals Forster's growing disillusionment with the solutions offered by traditional liberalism. This disillusionment, perhaps not surprisingly, coincides with the author's waning interest in the novel; in fact, A Passage to India was the last novel Forster finished.
    Instead, he turned his attention to teaching and criticism, beginning with the Clark Lectures he delivered at Cambridge 1927. Those lectures would form the basis of his widely-admired book of essays, Aspects of the Novel, published the following year. In 1946, he accepted a fellowship at Cambridge University, where he remained until his death in 1970.
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