Where Angels Fear to Tread by EM Forster

An English society family is thrown into turmoil when one of their own marries a shifty Italian, and they’ll do anything to see that their child is raised properly–that is, in England.

EM Forster has been my latest classic discovery. I’d never read anything of his before last year, and I’m completely in love. Where Angels Fear to Tread is a short book that made me linger over every word, to my tremendous delight.

Lilia is a widow, chafing under the rule of her husband’s family. Her husband has been gone for quite some time, yet she’s not free. The matriarch of the family can’t let Lilia do as she pleases for fear of how that may reflect on the family name. So when Lilia impulsively marries an untitled Italian–the son of a dentist, no less–and subsequently dies in childbirth, the family pools its resources to make sure that Lilia’s child is brought safely back to England. They can’t fathom allowing the baby to be raised as an Italian by an Italian, not when he has good English blood in his veins.

Forster isn’t interrogating racism as much as he’s satirizing a certain kind of meddlesomeness that can’t leave anything alone, not even after a change of heart. There’s no repentance for these interveners, just blundering and regret. None of the characters is very likable, and some are downright despicable, but several, Philip in particular, are lovable despite their blindness and error. This might be my favorite Forster thus far, though Howard’s End comes pretty close.

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