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Monday, January 25, 2010

Where Angels Fear To Tread by E.M. Forster


Where Angels Fear To Tread by E.M. Forster
Read my prior posting on E.M. Forster's A Room With A View for the basic facts of Forster's life and his friends in the Bloomsbury Group.
Caroline Abbott and widowed Lilia Theobald Herriton go for a vacation to Italy leaving Lilia's daughter, Irma, with her in-laws. Lilia had never been thought good enough by her mother-in-law, sister-in-law and brother-in-law. And, now they are just glad to have her off their hands. But Lilia meets a a handsome unemployed Italian much younger than herself, named Gino Carella, son of a dentist. This young man thinks Lilia is rich and he wants to marry her for her money. He doesn't really love her and has no intention of staying faithful to her. He just wants a comfortable, care-free life. Lilia had an entirely different view. She had been wearing rose colored glasses while she was in Italy and the romance of being desired by a young, goodlooking man turned her head. She had highly romanticized Italy in her mind. Her in-laws were shocked and her brother-in-law, Philip, was immediately sent to Italy to do what he could. But once he is there, he learns that they have eloped and are already married. There is nothing he can do but go home and tell his mother. He escorts Caroline Abbott home and leaves Lilia with her new husband. Lilia doesn't seem to have a problem abandoning her daughter to her in-laws care. She soon finds out that reality is very different from the romantic dream she had been living in. She purchases a home in Gino's small village only to find that living in it isn't so dreamy. The little town, her new in-laws, his friends...are not at all like she had imagined and the culture shock is jarring. She barely keeps all her in-laws from moving in the house with them to be supported by her. Her husband wants to stay out all day at the cafes, square, bars with his friends. His friends clap him on the back and make male talk about how wonderful he's got it with an English wife with money and he postures and preens. Basically he is proud of himself for living off his wife's money. As far as he's concerned he's made a good business deal, all to his advantage. Meanwhile Lilia becomes lonely, homesick and depressed. Her husband pretty much keeps her prisoner in the house. She's not allowed to walk alone, he ignores her and his cousin is the housekeeper and his informant. She writes a letter to her young daughter about how unhappy she is but it is confiscated by her former mother-in-law and they read it instead. Lilia has been humbled and realizes what a foolish mistake she's made but there is nothing she can do about it. Her in-laws cannot help her so she is stuck in Italy. Then she finds out that he is unfaithful to her and considers it his right to have any woman he wants. She's suppose to suck it up. She falls into a deep depression. She dies in childbirth, leaving her infant son to be raised by his Italian father. Caroline Abbott and Lilia's former in-laws find that thought too shocking and want to take the baby back to England to be raised in England. Caroline, Philip and Philip's sister, Harriett, go to Italy to try and get the baby boy. Gino refuses and announces that he's already engaged to another woman. Another "business deal" of a marriage as he openly admits. There seems to be nothing they can do. Harriett, by herself, kidnaps the baby and shocks Philip when she shows up with the baby just before they leave the village for the train station. They have a carriage accident and the baby is killed. Philip goes back to Gino's house and tells him what happened and Gino nearly kills him until Caroline Abbott stops him. Finally, on their way back home, Philip realizes how he loves Caroline Abbott and, just as he's about to declare himself to her, she reveals that she is in love with Gino but had enough commonsense to know it was wrong. Philip cannot have Caroline, for she loves Gino; and Caroline cannot have Gino, for he is betrothed to the other woman. And that's it.

It seems that there are a lot of "Gino's" in America who strut like cocks on the walk, proud to be little more than studs for hire. Women are still foolish enough to fall for worthless men like this who live off their women. These men think it's enough for them just to exist, look good and spread their seed around. It doesn't say much for the women's self esteem that they would accept that kind of relationship. Reality is a bitch (excuse my language) so many live in denial rather than face the truth. Nobody wants to face hard truths and see how pathetic they are so it's easier to deny. Lilia was really a pathetic character in this book. She was never accepted by her first husband's family. Once she was married they decided that they would have to try to train Lilia to be acceptable. When she finally cuts loose from them, she falls for a worthless Italian and makes a very bad marriage. She thinks she's finally free and living the high life only to find out she's more imprisoned now than she was in England with the Herritons. She suffers severe depression and loneliness and finally dies in childbirth. Irma is also a pathetic character. She obviously wasn't loved by her mother, she's foisted upon her grandmother, aunt and uncle who treat her as a burden they have to bear. Everything is tightly controlled and she's abused by her Aunt Harriett. She's finally completely abandoned by her mother and she doesn't find out about her mother's death until she gets a postcard from Gino introducing her half-brother. She feels decieved.

Forster present the difference between English and Italian culture where you see the rigid lifestyle of the English, versus the passionate way of life in Italy. When the cultures come together conflicts will rise. Culture shock is one thing but there is common ground with all humanity. We are all sinners. There are cads in Italy and England, there is love and hatred any where you go. There is pride and meanness in any society, etc. Forster is contrasting Italy and England, one character from another, etc. You see Caroline Abbott contrasted with Lilia Herriton, Harriett with Perfetta, Philip with Gino, Mrs. Herriton with Mrs. Theobald, etc.

I still don't understand Forster's look into the inner workings of his character's mind. In this paragraph Lilia had taken a walk by herself against her husband's wishes. She just missed a chance to leave Gino and she ends up fainting in the road. When she woke up and got home, Gino was in a rage. But, his cousin, the maid, has it out with him, not Lilia!?

Perfetta screamed for she told him everything-all she knew and all she thought. He stood with open mouth, all the anger gone out of him, feeling ashamed, and an utter fool. He was fairly and rightfully cornered. When had a husband so given himself away before" She finished; and he was dumb, for she had spoken truly. Then, alas! the absurdity of his own position grew upon him, and he laughed-as he would have laughed at the same situation on the stage.
"You laugh?" stammered Lilia.
"Ah!" he cried, "who could help it? I, who thought you knew and saw nothing-I am tricked-I am conquered. I give in. Let us talk of it no more."
He touched her on the shoulder like a good comrade, half amused and half penitent, and then, murmuring and smiling to himself, ran quietly out of the room.
Perfetta burst into congratulations. "What courage you have?" she cried; "and what good fortune! He is angry no longer! He has forgiven you!"

Why is Perfetta fighting with him and not Lilia? Gino is embarrassed that he has been found out. He sees it as a game. And "He has forgiven you" !?! Why is Perfetta, who was doing the fighting, congratulating Lilia? The whole scene was unnatural, surreal.

So far, I've read 2 of Forsters books and have one more to go, Howard's End. Personally I'm not impressed but some people really love him.

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