by Pericles Lewis
The last novel E.M. Forster wrote, A Passage to India (1924), ends with the question of whether two men can overcome social divisions, not of class (as in Maurice) but of race. Here, the hoped-for destruction of the barriers of prejudice is deferred. At the end of the novel, the Englishman Fielding and the Indian Dr. Aziz ride together through the Indian landscape, and, as they embrace, Fielding asks whether it is possible, despite the colonial relationship between England and India, for the two men to be friends: “Why can’t we be friends now? It’s what I want. It’s what you want.” As their horses swerve in opposite directions, the landscape itself seems to answer Fielding’s question: “No, not yet… No, not there.”
Forster began writing A Passage to India in 1913, after his first visit to India, but did not complete it until after his second visit in 1921. By this time, modernist experiments with the form of novels had made Forster’s Edwardian works appear old-fashioned. A Passage to India, though in many respects a traditional English novel, contains one central plot device that links it to the sort of “modern fiction” that Virginia Woolf championed. On a trip to visit the Marabar caves, Miss Adela Quested hears a loud echo, which causes her such confusion that the innocent Dr. Aziz winds up being arrested for assaulting her. Forster leaves the source of the echo unexplained, thus breaking with the realist conventions which would have accounted for its origins and embracing the ambiguity typical of modernist narrative. Forster wrote of the echo: “In the cave it is either a man, or the supernatural, or an illusion. If I say, it becomes whatever the answer a different book. And even if I know!” Forster’s disavowal of narratorial and even authorial omniscience bespoke the transition from the Edwardian to the modernist age.
- ↑ E. M. Forster, A Passage to India. Ed. Oliver Stallybrass. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979. p. 26.
- ↑ This page has been adapted from Pericles Lewis’s Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2007), pp.68-69.