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.
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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.