Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Review: Where Angels Fear to Tread

Where Angels Fear to Tread is a gem with too many facets to appreciate fully at first inspection. E. M. Forster packed so much into his short first novel that it would be a pleasure to read several times.

When Lilia Herriton left for a year in Italy, her in-laws breathed a sigh of relief to have the impetuous, somewhat gauche, widow out of their stodgy hair. But when they discover that Lilia has gone and married the ne’er-do-well son of a provincial Italian dentist, their shocked overreaction leads to a series of misfortunes that eventually crush their prim conventions.

Forster uses the star-crossed lovers, Lilia and Gino, to illustrate the clash between star-crossed cultures and philosophies. In surviving these clashes, Lilia’s brother-in-law, Philip Harriton, and her companion, Caroline Abbott, grow to appreciate a world much bigger than their tedious hometown of Sawston.

Forster is – for the better – a stripped down version of Henry James. The beauty and big ideas are there, but are not swaddled to obscurity with a million extra words. Where Angels Fear to Tread was published in 1905. To readers used to James’s heavy hand (The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl were published in that order in the three years prior to Angels), Forster must have seemed like the breath of life itself.


If you would like your review of this or any other Forster novels listed her, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.


This book is on the Radcliffe Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century list. It counts as one of my books for the Typically British Challenge.


  1. I have read and loved other works by Forster, but not "Angels." Thanks for the review. I am looking forward to this one!

  2. Juanita -- I liked the other Forster books I've read, but this one really took my fancy. I highly recommend it.

  3. I would love to read this book, great review :-)

  4. Hmm, sounds good. I'm putting it on the to-read list.

  5. Very interesting! I find Forster a bit patchy but I haven't read this one yet and it sounds good!

  6. I loved Howards End and A Room with A View ( A Passage to India, not so much).... will add Angels to my list. Thanks for the review!

  7. Michael -- It is good! I was surprised with how much story there is in this book. He really packs in a lot of plot and character development.

    Booksnob -- I've read Forster's books over such a long period that I can't remember "patchy" parts. They've melded into a goldy, fuzzy glow like the scenery shots in the Merchant Ivory movies. :)

    JoAnn -- I liked Passage well enough. Howard's End had been my favorite, but this one may have bumped it.

  8. Hmm. This was a difficult book and a hard one to love, but I see from your review and others that it has a reputation for improving on multiple readings. I can imagine that's true. The thing is, it's not really clear what the book is really all about until you're almost at the end, and by the time you figure it out it's hard to go back and reevaluate everything. I will give it another run-through one of these years.


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