When considering the novels of E.M. Forster, it is natural to recall the reserved landscapes of the Merchant and Ivory cinematic versions. Gauzy images - green hills, languorous boat rides, tender embraces - these impressions, cousins, really, to Jane Austen's plots and settings, are remembered as period pieces seldom associated with the literary experimentation of Virginia Woolf or the winsome angst of the lost War poets. It seems - does it not? - the movies end happily with the appropriate pairing of couples. But Forster should not be lumped in with representative Edwardian literature or with cinematic bliss. In order to analyze the worth of Forster's literary contribution, our impressions of the films must be put aside so that the text's echo can rattle in our ears.
And once the mediums are pried apart and banished to separate corners, a novel like A Passage to India stands alone and can be admired for its complex study of people who interact in an unfamiliar landscape, a landscape that ignores humans entirely. This text is not about good breeding, dowries, or happy endings. With its multiple perspectives, fragile personal connections, and symbolic caves that house an echo of nothingness not every character can hear, A Passage to India is Forster's own quiet rendition of Modernism. He does not try, as do Woolf, Joyce, and Eliot, to break free from standard English fictive forms. Instead, Forster's text contains an innovative, urgent assertion that the core of things like love, friendship, and self-knowledge are perpetually capable of collapsing, yet are valuable in spite of their fragility. His work demonstrates the individual's need to connec...
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...nd Joyce are not directly present in A Passage to India, and while Forster's fictive structure might not be as experimental as theirs, his novel stands shoulder to shoulder with other modernists who in a little flash of light detect hidden glimmers beneath the stacks of words that comprise the universal story, the self-deception, the quiet conversation with a friend in a moonlit mosque.
Forster, E.M. A Passage to India. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1924.
---. "What I Believe." Modern British Literature. Eds. John Hollander and Frank Kermode. New York: Oxford, 1973. 624.
Rutherford, Andrew. Introduction. Twentieth Century Interpretations of A Passage to India. Ed. Andrew Rutherford. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1970.
Scherer Herz, Judith. A Passage to India: Nation and Narration. New York: Twayne, 1993.
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