Friday, March 08, 2013

Never the Twain shall Meet

A Passage to India
by E.M. Forster

“She had come to that state where the horror of the universe and its smallness are both visible at the same time—the twilight of the double vision in which so many elderly people are involved. If this world is not to 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 endeavour, and all that is known as art, assumes that there is such a background, just as all practical endeavour, when the world is to our taste, assumes that the world is all. But in the twilight of the double vision, a spiritual muddledom 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.”  ― E.M. Forster, A Passage To India

"Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet"" wrote Rudyard Kipling in his 1889-first published poem, "The Ballad of East and West". This 1924 novel of E. M. Forster clearly illustrates this belief.

This book, in an edition from the Folio Society, sat on my bookshelf unread for too many years.  Even after I had read and enjoyed both A Room With a View and Howard's End I resisted the urge to read what many consider to be Forster's masterpiece.  However, almost two years ago when I was engaged in reading another great novel about India, Vikram Seth's massive A Suitable Boy, I decided to read A Passage to India.  I found that it is a novel about the effect on a group of people of divisive differences between the East and the West. The central incident upon which the plot hangs is an expedition to the Caves of Marabar organized for a group of British visitors to India by a young Muslim doctor, Aziz. He is a passionate admirer of the British. Among the visitors is a young and earnest woman, Adela Quested, who is determined to explore and understand the 'real India' and in so doing overcome the impediments created by the snobbishness and intolerance of her countrymen. An incident in the caves results in her accusing Aziz of assaulting her. The resolution of this incident provides for the main drama in the novel. Forster's prose is impeccable and the other characters are all excellently delineated, especially the powerful and equivocal figure of Mrs. Moore who, though seemingly an ordinary old lady, seems to possess remarkably intuitive insights into the sources of conflict in India. This, along side Howard's End, is among my favorite novels of E. M. Forster.

A Passage to India by E. M. Forster. Folio Society, 1996 (1924).

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