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A Passage To India - What Did You Think?

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With such a long and complex book as this it's not easy to put my thoughts together but I'll have a go.

I liked the way the author made me have contradictory feelings about some of the characters. Aziz, for example: sometimes I was rooting for him and at other times he exasperated me. Again, with Adela Quested, I had mixed feelings but felt more sympathetically disposed toward her by the end than I would have thought. Regarding the women of the Raj, Forster leaves us in no doubt as to what we should feel and we shudder along with him.

I think that Forster also conveys well the complexities of India and the reactions of Indian people to the Raj. 'Only connect' is on the title page of his Howards End but it might just as well be on the title page of this novel for, in the end, it's the inability to connect that is a running theme. Only when the British leave India can there be any hope of real friendship between them, says Aziz.

As I wrote on a previous thread, when I was much younger I raced through the novel to get to the Marabar Caves incident: the re-read was more pleasurable as I'm more interested now in the social and political themes.

Yes, there are longeurs and I didn't particularly enjoy the chapter at the end in the Hindu temple etc but for me it was an excellent novel.

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You know Chuntzy, I think you have expressed exactly what I feel about this book.


In the beginning, I got really angry at the way the English were made to behave, but it was still very believable to me as a reader. In fact I was positively embarrassed to be English. Forster seems to have portrayed the English so well - from what I know of some of the types who colonized places like India. I think the heated discussion between Ronnie and his mother sets it rather well. He says 'We're not out here for the purpose of behaving pleasantly!' and then 'We're out here to do justice and keep the peace.' and Mrs. Moore responds with 'Your sentiments are those of a god.' and 'Englishment like posing as Gods.'


Like you Chuntzy, my allegiances, though never entirely with the British Raj, did swing from Adela to Aziz time and again. I thought both characters were well rounded and yet for me Aziz had the most substance. In the end I could entirely see his point of view and totally believe he was right in saying they could never be friends while the British were in India. I was never sure about Fielding, however, until the end. Then, I felt sadness for his loss of friendship but understanding at its ending.


I think the thread that I loved the most was Aziz's love of Mrs. Moore and vice versa. And then at the end when he met Ralph, the spiritual or emotional connection between them, which for me, was tangible and very beautifully written.


I have to admit I enjoyed this book far more than I expected. It did take a while to get into, but then seemed to rattle along at quite a pace until, as you say Chuntzy, we got to the Temple. And yet, although this section went into infinite and seemingly endless and unnecessary detail, it did paint a marvelous picture of time, place and people.


My copy (Penguin Classics) has a great deal of reading matter in the form of Preface, Appendices and Notes, many of which I have left unread. Not sure if that's a good thing or bad, but it is the way I chose to go.

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I loved this book. I am always interested in history and what is going on at other places in the world. Since I am not British, this part of the World history was taught, but it was probably not as important as it was for you at school. During the last couple of years, I have read quite a few books about this part of the world and have got to know both Indians who were born and raised there as well as British people whose ancestors were from India and still live in quite an Indian society in Britain.

So, it was very interesting to read about the part before India's independence.

By the way, I know exactly how you feel about being British, I get that all the time, after all, I am German. The thing is, we cannot change history, we can only try to understand how it happened and try to raise our children in a way that it will never happen again.

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I took it mainly as a description of life of the British in the colonies and how the relations between them and the local people were at the time. Of course, it is a novel, but Forster lived at the time and I'm sure it was also meant as a reflection of society. That's what I like about classic novels, they show you another time through the eyes of someone who had first-rate experience.

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I am very late posting on this topic. I've only just managed to finish watching the film.


Some key points and quotes that during reading the book I noted at the time...


Aziz expected Adela to know about his religion and beliefs and what differences the fact that he was an Indian made – and was offended when she didn't. All of the characters made assumptions about others … demonstrating their ignorance of their culture, beliefs etc. The story highlighted that the main differences were cultural.


Mosque – Chapter 2. When Aziz says that few ladies take the trouble to remove their shoes, especially if they think no-one is there to see them, Mrs Moore responds "That makes no difference. God is here."


Caves – Chapter 14. Mrs Moore felt "that though people are important the relations between them are not … centuries of carnal embracement, yet man is no nearer to understanding man."


Caves – Chapter 16. Aziz "was inaccurate because he was sensitive. He did not like to remember Miss Quested's remark … because it was unworthy of a guest , so he put it from his mind… ."


Caves – Chapter 16. "Loving them both, he expected them to love each other. They didn't want to."


Caves – Chapter 20. "Although Miss Quested had not made herself popular with the English, she brought out all that was fine in their character."


Caves – Chapter 20. "…emotion gushed forth, which the women felt more keenly than the me, if not for so long."


Caves – Chapter 24. To the suggestion that Mr Das was "more frightened of acquitting than convicting, because if he acquits he'll lose his job." "Ronny did mean that, but he cherished 'illusions' about his own subordinates."


Caves – Chapter 26. "And the girl's sacrifice – so creditable according to Western notions – was rightly rejected, because, though it came from her heart, it did not include the heart."

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I have only just finished the book (and not seen the film). As someone from an Asian background, brought up in the UK, I suppose I can understand and identify with both the Raj and the Indian side. Eg obviously the English apart from Fielding, Mrs moore and Miss Quested are all unsufferable bores and bigots (though in some ways well-meaning), but the the Indian faults are also laid bare - mainly the lack of plain speaking and an economy with the truth. It is so true of the East that losing face is the worst thing that can happen, worse than telling lies for instance. Aziz who is honest and open in many ways is also guilty of this - eg the way that he makes rodiculous excuses for not attending the garden party. When the other doctor presses him, he is angered by the other doctor's obvious "lack of breeding"! He should have accepted Aziz's excuses, weak as they were, instead of pressing him for the truth. Aziz's whole problem with the Marabar Hills incident, in fact, stems from his unwillingness to lose face. He foolishly invites the British women to his home as an expansive gesture, not realising that they would take it seriously. "When shall we come?" seems to be a question that takes him by surprise. He ends up concocting the trip to the Marabar as a way of avoiding having to invite them to his house. (The scene at the garden Party is also very amusing where two of the Indian ladies invite Mrs Moore and Miss Q to their house for tea. "When shall we come?" "Oh any time?" "Which day?" "Any day?"!)


I found the ending a bit unsatisfying. At first I though that the collision of the boats was going to end in some dreadful drowning tragedy. I would have ended the book with Miss Q also coming out with Fielding, Stella and Ralph. The boats would collide and capsize and somehow Miss Quested would save Aziz's life but lose her own. He would the be left bitterly regretting how much he had misunderstood and misjudged her. Also, I would have enlarged on Stella's character and shown her to be beautiful but empty and shallow like the Raj women (perhaps Forster is hinting at this anyway when Fielding says that she isn't walking the same path with them and wants Aziz to talk to her). Fielding would be left reflecting on his own shallowness - the fact that he had preferred Stella's beauty to Adela's good-heartednesss and depth of character.


Several people have said that they have started Howrads Enda s a result of reading this. How did you get on?

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Several people have said that they have started Howards End as a result of reading this. How did you get on?


I loved Howards End as well, but for very different reasons as it is quite a different book, but also tackling differences between people.

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An excellent novel, if not quite a great one. To me this is the least schematic of Forster's novels, although it's still pretty schematic - i.e. goodies and baddies, as you point out, Woofwoof. I got a bit bored with the temple fantasy which attempts to do justice to the Hindu position, as opposed to the Christian and Moslem ones. I never quite got clued up on 'Boom' either. Even so, I can't imagine there ever being a better novel about India, at least from a Westerner's perspective. (Though John Murray's short story 'Natural Learning' comes close).

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I read all of Forster's novels in order, and I think that this is his best written book.


In the earlier books, there's always some event (usually violent) which is important, but which Forster barely hints at; major characters can be wiped out in half a sentence. Here, we have the incident in the caves. What exactly happened? How can we be sure? Forster himself claimed not to know for sure. At least in this book, it doesn't really matter. What happens after is what concerns Forster, so I didn't mind this mystery at the heart of the book.


"Only connect" is a theme that runs through every one of his earlier books. In fact, one could argue that he wrote the same book again and again. Until this one. "Not yet" is the message of this book. How pessimistic is this? How true is it? I think Forster is soberly ammending his earlier thesis after the horrors of WWII, and now wants it to read: "Only try to connect." A ray of hope, I think.

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In fact, one could argue that he wrote the same book again and again.
Interesting that because John Le Carre has actually admitted that that is what he has done.

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Interesting that because John Le Carre has actually admitted that that is what he has done.


And on the 'Only Connect' theme, Salman Rushdie said last week on Start the Week that his over-riding 'message' is to try to connect East and West. It's a gigantic ambition, going back of course to Rudyard Kipling, appropriate for one born in Bombay and educated at an English boarding school. Forster, I think, handles it pretty adroitly in Passage to India, showing the faults and virtues of the three sides of the triangle.

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