Review: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

Updated: Feb 18

Definitely a peculiar and sometimes hard-to-catch story, A Passage To India delves into the social struggle betwixt the Indians and the British during British rule in India. Through the narrative, Forster is able to show the great difficulty of bringing nations together. He shows that, even with good intentions, you can seldom improve anyone’s condition of life. This is made clear when at the end of the book Aziz and Fielding part forever due to their nationalities. Miss Adela Quested tries to become close with the Indians, but it ends in disaster. This book is in almost no sense a "romantic" or "poetic" narrative, and so, most readers can and do lose the real meaning of it. The characters are not awe-inspiring, but they are real. This book has a feeling of almost being dull and unimpressive. Do not read it and expect to be taken aback. But we can read it and appreciate it for what it is. Some quotes from the book:


“All invitations must proceed from heaven perhaps; perhaps it is futile for men to initiate their own unity, they do but widen the gulfs between them by the attempt.” (Forster 37)


“They were overwhelmed by its pathos; pathos, they agreed, is the highest quality in art; a poem should touch the hearer with a sense of its own weakness, and should institute between mankind and flowers.” (Forster 113)


“Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it, and the books and talk would describe it as interesting are obliged to exaggerate, in hope of justifying their own existence. Inside its cocoon of work or social obligation, the human spirit slumbers for the most part, registering the distinction between pleasure and pain, but not nearly as alert as we pretend. There are periods in the most thrilling day in which nothing happens, and though we continue to exclaim, “I do enjoy myself,” or, “I am horrified,” we are insincere. “As far as I feel anything it is enjoyment, horror” - it is no more than that really, and a perfectly adjusted organism should be silent.” (Forster 146)


“When evil occurs it expresses the whole universe. Similarly when good occurs.” (Forster 197)


“Great is information and she shall prevail.” (Forster 211)


“If this world is not our taste, well, at all events there is Heaven, Hell, Annihilation - one or other of those large things, that huge scenic background of stars, fires, blue or black air. All heroic endeavor, and all that is known as art, assumes that there is such a background, just as all practical endeavor, when the world is our taste, assumes that the world is all. But in the twilight of double vision, a spiritual muddle is set up for which no high-sounding words can be found; we can neither act nor refrain from action, we can neither ignore nor respect Infinity.” (Forster 230-231)


“But it has made me remember that we all must die: all these personal relations we try to live by are temporary. I used to feel death selected people, it is a notion one gets from novels because some of the characters are usually left talking at the end. Now ‘death spares no one’ begins to be real.” (Adela Quested quoted, Forster 293)


You can get lost in this book, but most of the important things are clear. This is a good book to read to be able to see the deeper failures of good intentions. “Nothing comes together by our will,” the narrative seemed to say, “we are all subject to constraints by our condition.” I give this book a rating of 61/100.


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