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Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905)

by E. M. Forster

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2,767463,889 (3.52)178
A wonderful story of questioning, disillusionment, and conversion, "Where Angels Fear to Tread" tells the story of a prim English family's encounter with the foreign land of Italy. When attractive, impulsive English widow Lilia marries Gino, a dashing and highly unsuitable Italian twelve years her junior, her snobbish former in-laws make no attempts to hide their disapproval. But their expedition to face the uncouth foreigner takes an unexpected turn when they return to Italy under tragic circumstances intending to rescue Lilia and Gino's baby.… (more)
  1. 60
    A Passage to India by E. M. Forster (li33ieg)
    li33ieg: Same author, different setting, same core themes
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English (44)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  All languages (46)
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
The title of this novel is the second half of a well-known saying. If you think of the first half, you know what many of the characters do throughout the book. At least the English, middle-class set of characters. They break like a giant wave against the boulder of indolence that is the hallmark of the Italian set of characters, epitomized by the legend of the patron saint of the village church. Caught between the two sets is Philip, the effete younger son of the suburban Herritons, whose sympathies are easily aroused by Italy and its people, in part because their inclinations coincide with his own. There is one crucial difference: the Italians in the book somehow find a way to make their way of (not) doing things work (even if this is not enough to forestall a horrible event), whereas Philip aspires to nothing more than honorable failure. In some ways, he is a forerunner of the pair of characters in Forster’s masterpiece, Howards End, Tibby Schlegel and Leonard Bast. If there is a narrative center to Angels, it might be Philip’s perspective, although it seems to be overdoing it to call him the protagonist. That role would be too weighty for him. In a moment of insight, he describes himself as “trivial.” For a brief instant, it appears as if the tragic climax of this clash of cultures might stir him to develop into something more, but this is quickly crushed by one last plot turn, and Philip seems almost relieved that it is so.
This was Forster’s first novel, but he had already found not only themes that would preoccupy him throughout his career (the emptiness of the outwardly-successful English merchant class, the limits and ultimate futility of aesthetic interests, the contrast with other, more elemental cultures), but also his characteristic narrative voice, nominally the anonymous, omniscient story-teller, but occasionally breaking in with asides that align him with an author creating a tale rather than simply a narrator recounting one. Here is an example, from chapter two: “What follows should be prefaced with some simile—the simile of a powder-mine, a thunderbolt, an earthquake—for it blew Philip up in the air and flattened him on the ground and swallowed him up in the depth.”
I first read this some thirty years ago, but picked it up yesterday afternoon to help while away another flu-plagued afternoon; it was just what I needed. Highly recommended, a good read. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
Another unexpectedly quick read that i enjoyed beyond my expectation. Not that i had any right to an expectation.....I just reached for this thin volume out of my rather large library, and began to read.....i did not even read the cover. Of course, a title always seems to subconsciously create a brief sense in my brain as to what i may be about to read......and as is usually the case, that sense was nowhere near accurate. It was quirky and subtly humorous, although the topics were not always so......several of the characters were rather unpleasant, or tedious at the least.......some had obsessions about 'proper appearances' to guide their 'moral' compass......& others seemed to care not at all about things they should. This in essence is a struggle of expected duty vs. genuine human connection.......and all is not light and fun. Unexpected tragedy drops in several times to further stir this tale. The ending was not totally unexpected.....but what got it there was very unexpected! This particular volume had notes from the editor (which i always read after the book because they always contain spoilers!!!!), and i am always glad to learn how these works came to be from knowledgeable sources. I've only read a volume of Forster's short stories up until now, which i do not believe inspired me as much as this, but i will be looking forward to his remaining books on my shelf. ( )
1 vote jeffome | Jun 11, 2021 |
casually prejudiced about pretty much everything but okay nonetheless. ( )
  mjhunt | Jan 22, 2021 |
Even considering that a couple of E.M. Forster's books are considered to be flat-out twentieth century classics, "Where Angels Fear to Tread" is a remarkable performance, a debut novella that never seems to put a foot wrong. The book works on a number of levels. It's an acid satire of comfortable upper-class British life at Sawston -- apparently Tunbridge Wells -- transposed to an Italian setting. Skewering the manners and manias of the economically comfortable is never all that difficult, but his upper-class would-be rebels aren't necessarily heroes. They may complain about the dreadfully dull culture of the moneyed upper classes, but lack the fortitude to leave it behind entirely. Being Forster, this little book is splendidly observan about character: about what makes some people strong or weak, about which of our connections are really most meaningful to us, about and which values really help us develop. And although Forster didn't know too many Italians personally when he wrote this one, it's a not-too-unsuccessful study in the contrast between Southern European and Northern European attitudes, and, perhaps most delightfully, its a canvas on which the author can describe -- and express his own enthusiasm for -- Italy. Even if it had nothing else to recommend it, "Where Angels Fear to Tread" would be worth reading just for the author's descriptions of Italy's natural beauty, its ancient towns, and its complex social customs that, to a visiting Englishman, must have seemed delightfully novel and strange. You can't fake the sort of enthusiasm that Forster displays here.

What really struck me about "Where Angels Fear to Tread" is how well I felt I knew the characters after spending a mere one hundred and sixty pages with them. Although I've seen Forster's style described as "light," he had the rare gift of describing character: his insight into people's characters and their motivations seems, at times, nothing short of supernatural. The book itself may be brief, but -- from the clever but ineffectual Phillip to the reckless Lilia to the louche but undeniably charming Gino, each of his characters seem to breathe on the page. The changes they undergo -- their character arcs, if you'll permit me the phrase -- also seem significant and complex for such a short book. Forster, in other words, fit a lot of humanity into this little volume.

Lastly, while it's been a while since I've picked up anything by this author, "Where Angels Fear to Tread" seemed to confirm my suspicions that he serves as an important link between nineteenth and twentieth century writing. He writes exclusively in the third person and doesn't hesitate to describe a reader's character or moral precepts to his readers, which may not be to every modern reader's taste. Still, while these descriptions are often remarkably insightful and economical, I felt that something else was constantly trying to emerge here. Forster doesn't hesitate to describe the lazy, likeable, pleasure-seeking Gino in forthrightly physical, almost erotic, terms. Italy itself, with its opera performances and its food and its cafés and its warm, scented night breezes, is portrayed as a garden of sensual delights, something that often disorients our English visitors and makes them question their own values and customs. The body, in all its messy, sensual glory, keeps trying to break through here, and sometimes it does. In "Where Angels Fear to Tread," threadbare Victorian morality constantly seems as risk of toppling over once and for all, and it's sometimes thrilling to watch. I'm not sure if this one is read as often as Forster's "A Passage to India" or his "A Room with a View," but honestly, I can't see why it shouldn't be. Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote TheAmpersand | Jan 9, 2021 |
These classics are always worth a read. I listened to the version read by Edward Petheridge. He uses a certain English voice which is like Ernest in The Importance of Being Ernest. At first I was put off, but I grew to appreciate that he did a good job and it wasn't any more over the top than the overwrought story. Fun yet full of pathos. ( )
  Okies | Oct 31, 2020 |
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» Add other authors (25 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Forster, E. M.Authorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dowling, DavidAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, ZadieIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Southall, JosephCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stallybrass, OliverEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Timonen, Hanna-LiisaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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(Note) Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) was the first of several influential novels written by English author and critic Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970).
They were all at Charing Cross to see Lilia off--Philip, Harriet, Irma, Mrs. Herriton herself.
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.... in England a dentist is a troublesome creature, whom careful people find difficult to class. He hovers between the professions and the trades; he may be only a little lower than the doctors, or he may be down among the chemists, or even beneath them.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A wonderful story of questioning, disillusionment, and conversion, "Where Angels Fear to Tread" tells the story of a prim English family's encounter with the foreign land of Italy. When attractive, impulsive English widow Lilia marries Gino, a dashing and highly unsuitable Italian twelve years her junior, her snobbish former in-laws make no attempts to hide their disapproval. But their expedition to face the uncouth foreigner takes an unexpected turn when they return to Italy under tragic circumstances intending to rescue Lilia and Gino's baby.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141441453, 0141199253

 

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