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Forster's A Passage to India © 2002-2004
On January 21, 1924, E. M. Forster wrote in his diary—the sole entry for that day: "Finished A Passage to India and mark the fact with Mohammed's pencil." Mohammed el Adl, a Moslem Egyptian, was Forster's major inspiration when he began the last phase of writing the novel in 1922. At that time the young man lay dying from tuberculosis. Forster had begun working on the novel nearly a decade earlier, before he had ever known el Adl. He traveled to India in 1912-13 at the invitation of another Moslem, Syed Ross Masood, an Indian he had known for six years in England, and with whom he was also in love. During that trip Forster finally realized that Masood did not share his feelings, and the theme of the novel he began after returning is the difficulty of friendship across racial and cultural divides. Soon, however, he lay aside the nascent Indian novel to write Maurice, in which he imagined the kind of homosexual success he had not achieved in life. Then came the war and Forster's affair with Mohammed el Adl. When he resumed work on Passage in 1922 he had considerable new experience to draw on, including a second trip to India in 1921-22. In the end the novel is the result of a complex interweaving of Forster's experience on his two trips to India and the transformative years in Alexandria that came in between. Furthermore, the various literary influences operating throughout the period—the books he was reading and reviewing—contributed to Forster's final portrayal of a central Indian character. As Leonard Woolf wrote in his June 1924 review of the novel, Aziz was "the only living Indian whom I have met in a book."
just as the Punkah Wallah in the courtroom scene stands out as a god among the people who are the moving mud of Chandrapore." "Natives. and where I still hope to die. 152) Although the image of "mud moving. Forster's feelings about the city and its inhabitants were negative. it is partly to describe their skin color. . after some reluctance. and like all theories it has broken down" (Selected Letters 174). But what I have seen seems vastly inferior to India. and only out for what they can get. (Selected Letters. incapable of fineness. the inhabitants are of mud moving. When Forster applies the image to Egyptians early in his stay in Egypt. for Alexandria is cosmopolitan. Not long after his arrival he wrote to Masood (29 Dec 1915): I do not like Egypt much—or rather. I had fully subscribed. during World War I. for which I am always longing in the most persistent way. and godless—the soil is mud. I do not see it. are dirty in body and mind. unmysterious. and unto dust shalt thou return" of Genesis or the "earth to earth. The image functions differently in the manuscripts and the novel. As he wrote in "Shakespeare and Egypt." used in his letter to Masood to disparage Egyptians. its association with Indians actually predates Forster's stay in Egypt. That is the theory to which. occurs later in A Passage to India. .When he first arrived in Alexandria in 1915. dust to dust" of the Book of Common Prayer. and but for Egypt would not have been in it. a literal figuring of the "for dust thou art. appearing in the 1913 manuscript drafts. but more importantly. an attitude that persisted well into his second year there. but also implies a cosmic continuity between the earth and the inhabitants on it. he had known Mohammed el Adl." On the two trips to India . but also to indicate--with no cosmic implications--that they are "dirty. unromantic. his attitude towards Alexandria and Egypt changed as his friendship with el Adl prospered and deepened . where it is applied by Forster to the Indian inhabitants of Chandrapore. It is only at sunset that Egypt surpasses India—at all other hours it is flat. Forster had made a second trip to India. especially of the lower city class. where it is neither disparaging nor merely visually descriptive. who emerged from the Nile mud as a passionate presence in his life. and exasperating in the extreme: I feel as instinctively not at home among them as I feel instinctively at home among Indians. As he saw himself." an essay he published while he was in Alexandria: "Yet perhaps this mud of Egypt was working in his mind. . By the time he was finishing A Passage to India.
indeed. It is clear that Forster originally modeled the main character after Masood. the hero even. Fielding. The process of the writing of A Passage to India is well documented. however. the friendship opened Forster up to a much wider experience of the world. A strong tradition in Forster studies. Egypt was part of his literal passage to India. Although he was frustrated in his love for Masood. . The emergence in recent decades of cultural. It seems obvious nowadays that the central character. He has also visited England and corresponds with an English friend. and it was also to be a part of his philosophical. Forster finally portrays Aziz as poorer and lessWesternized.that provide the foundation for the book Forster went through the Suez Canal. He ultimately arrived in India literally and figuratively via Egypt. living in conditions comparable to el Adl's in Egypt. and queer studies. The Aziz of the pre-World War I manuscripts is an educated. to whom the book is dedicated. Maurice and The Life to Come and Other Stories. have all helped many modern readers to realize that the novel is about an Indian whose life is profoundly influenced by his interaction with English colonizers or visitors. he recites poetry in German. Manuscripts exist and have been analyzed and published. The publication of Forster's homosexual works. have made it clear that the principal impetus and theme for the book was Forster's emotional involvement with first Masood and later el Adl. is often worked into the center. and in the end many of Aziz's personal qualities are drawn from el Adl. of A Passage to India is Aziz. along with the emergence of biographical information after his death. and Masood and his Indian friends were a major inspiration and source for the novel. middle class Indian who had been at medical school in Germany. On the return from India in 1922 at Suez Forster rendezvoused with el Adl for the last time and for but a few hours. and Masood's friend Abu Saeed Mirza provided many details for scenes and settings involving Aziz. subaltern. with the insights provided by the critiques of orientalism and colonialism. but Aziz always remains in a supporting role. emotional. construes the novel as quite the opposite: it is the story of two English women who confront the "real" India and are profoundly changed. who excelled in tennis and was fond of reading French poetry. where he enjoyed fencing and riding. Another English person. This version of Aziz clearly reflects Masood. artistic passage. and.
But even as the narrative focus of A Passage to India narrows from the panorama of the first chapter to the dramatic action of the second.This is the story as told in David Lean's film of A Passage to India. and all the time I had to repress the consequences. . Forster had written to his mentor and confidante. Scarcely anyone has seen that I hoped Aziz would be charming . Goldsworthy L. If at all. this is aesthetically unfortunate. Forster was meaning to create a work that was "publishable. erupt the Marabar Hills. Where is truth? It makes me so sad that I could not give the beloved a better show. After the original publication of the novel. there is little if anything sexually suspect in the relationship between Aziz and Fielding. As the subsequent chapter begins." by which he meant not homosexual in any explicit way. for if Chapter 2 were the beginning of the . the author's deeper motivations are revealed in his narrator's loving treatment of the main character Aziz. A Passage to India begins with a descriptive chapter in which none of the main characters is present or even mentioned. One's deepest emotions count for so little as soon as one tries to describe external life honestly. or even readably. Towards the horizon where these vast expanses meet. or fail to hold the scales. now perhaps the most widely known version of the work. the earth and the sky dominate. . Lean discarded the novel's beautifully crafted closing—as well as its extraordinary opening chapter—in order to place Adela Quested's experience at the center of the work." (26 June 1924) While all of Forster's earlier novels—including the fragments "Nottingham Lace" and Arctic Summer—begin in the midst of the affairs of the principal English characters. It is on that immediate human level that Forster's other novels begin. Ignoring Forster's maxim that "The end is of supreme importance in a book" ("Pessimism in Literature"). Aside from any mangling of Forster's meaning. Thus. . Dickinson: I fall in love with Orientals. since both beginning and end are spatial and visual in ways that could have been rendered magnificently in the film with the resources Lean had available to him. with Anglo Indians—no: that is roughly my internal condition. Humans are mentioned only generally. the sudden shift to the immediate human scale is reminiscent of a technique in the then still developing film medium: the panoramic establishing shot from which the camera zooms in to the human level. something is quite different.
Stephen. the anonymous British soldier on the polo field. are presented in some sort of interaction with Aziz: Mesdames Callendar and Lesley. Fielding. Ronny Heaslop. the English appear as a contrast to the lives of the Indians. A Room with a View. Aziz is the first character to enter and he and Fielding are the last characters to be seen in the final paragraph. not interacting with the English. first appears in his own milieu. with dinner table conversation. Of all the characters. Adela Quested. In spite of this. Ralph Moore. Dr. Aziz appears socializing with Indian friends. Aziz is the one whom we know most about. or in one case a different nation—Gino. In these novels. and many secondary ones.novel—as it was originally intended to be—it would still differ markedly from the beginnings of Forster's earlier novels. however. Aside from the obvious differences in race and culture. Margaret Schlegel in Howards End. In A Passage to India Forster has essentially inverted his earlier technique. Aziz is the touchstone against which all other characters are tested. Maurice with a school walk by the sea shore. Among characters in Forster's novels Aziz is comparable in fullness of development to Rickie Elliot in The Longest Journey. who is present during more of the novel than any other. until recently critics have generally regarded him as a foil for the English characters. The first character to appear in the shadow of the looming Marabar is the character who later proposes and eventually plans an expedition to the hills and whose life is most affected by the events that take place there. with undergraduates at Cambridge discussing philosophy. characters from a lower class. the beginning of Chapter 2 of A Passage to India resembles the opening of The Longest . Howards End with an exchange of letters between the Schlegel sisters. George Emerson. as the sympathetic native against which the feelings and reactions of these English characters can be measured. and Maurice Hall in Maurice. that is. Where Angels Fear to Tread and Arctic Summer begin at train stations. Leonard. the novel's dramatic action begins. Aziz. Forster's earlier novels begin with British characters interacting in conversation or communication with their peers. with the lives of people from a class or culture other than the British middle class. all of the main British characters. and Alec —appear after and in contrast to the middle class characters. Moore. the early novel fragment "Nottingham Lace" starts with a mother and son looking out the window and gossiping about the new neighbors. Mrs. The Longest Journey.
in A Passage to India a message arrives from Aziz's English superior calling him away from his dinner party. and it is women that Aziz first encounters. but the incident is also the first indication in the novel of a sexual dimension to the problem of relations between the colonized and the colonizers. Setting the general tone of British-Indian relations in the novel. dispersing the undergraduates and confronting him with the person whom his "diseased imagination" will "invest with the semblance of reality". his carriage taken." In both novels the congenial discussion is interrupted as the dramatic action of the plot begins to test out the theoretical problems posed in the talk. From being a topic of the Indian's conversation. In the interrupted conversation at Aziz's friends. their subaltern position is tangibly revealed. Englishwomen were cited more than men. Beautiful women would have pained him. they ignore him and take the hired tonga he has arrived in. The theme of beauty and attraction carries over to Aziz's second meeting with an Englishwoman. "the existence of objects. where some Cambridge undergraduates are relaxing comfortably in Rickie Elliot's college room and informally discussing philosophy. In A Passage to India an informal and intimate group of Muslim men are discussing "as to whether or no it is possible to be friends with an Englishman. reality in relation to ideas. The wives of two local British officials are leaving the house as Aziz arrives to report to Major Callendar. Aziz goes off in response to his summons. their minor usurpation is a microcosm of the general British usurpation in India. the usual thing—just as Mahmoud Ali said. the English have suddenly become an intrusive power that manipulates their lives.Journey. thereby enacting one of the extremes of behavior mentioned shortly before by Aziz's friends: So it had come. The inevitable snub—his bow ignored. The difficulty of relations between Indians and English is not in their individual personalities but in the nature of the colonial situation in which they are mutually contextualized. two incidents which occur in the rest of the chapter bear directly on the question of friendship with the English. which occurs in the mosque where he stops to rest on his walk back to Hamidullah's house. In The Longest Journey Agnes Pembroke bursts into Rickie's room. It might have been worse." or. . more generally. for it comforted him somehow that Mesdames Callendar and Lesley should be fat and weigh the tonga down behind.
Thoughts of love now replace his initial superstitious urge. whom he has recognized as an Englishwoman (an Indian would have had her head covered)." This apprehension on the woman's part of the possibility of aggression foreshadows the later event when Adela Quested attributes to Aziz the apparent assault against her in a Marabar cave. too. When she replies defensively that she has removed her shoes. and smarting from the English wives' impoliteness. . keeping the ablution-tank between them. "Advancing. as perceived through Aziz's tear-filled eyes. . Aziz's anger dissipates. he found that she was old. Another pillar moved. he realizes that she is married. and formalized religions are intellectual elaborations of this basic feeling. Aziz's sexual nature. Aziz challenges the intruder. It swayed in the gloom and detached itself. and he tried to symbolize the whole into some truth of religion or love. When the woman says "Mrs. and as he did so one of the pillars of the mosque seemed to quiver. Annoyed that Maj. In a sense the mosque. is revealed. but he sat firm. A pillar "quivers. and the ninety-nine names of God on the frieze stood out black." Then two more pillars do the same. Belief in ghosts ran in his blood. and then an English-woman stepped out into the moonlight. though he cannot see well enough in the dimness to perceive that she is old. The contrast between this dualism and the contention of shadows within pleased Aziz." in reply to his asking her name. "Still startled. A mosque by winning his approval let loose his imagination. Moore." and "detaches. . a third. as the frieze stood out white against the sky. Aziz thinks it is a ghost. as their conversation proceeds more amicably. is literally falling to pieces. the woman moved out. A fabric bigger than the mosque fell to pieces . But love as a social construct finds her unacceptable because she is married. biological love finds her unattractive because of age. but the falling pillars turn out to be a human woman walking behind them in the shadows. Aziz had begun to integrate her into the romantic reverie he had fallen into before she emerged. Callendar had not even been home after calling him away from his friends.Aziz sits in the patio looking at the arcade with shadows within: The front—in full moonlight—had the appearance of marble. Just as belief in ghosts is a primitive form of the religious impulse. the idea of love is the ." "sways. Aziz's imagination leads him to poetry and pathos: The secret understanding of the heart! He repeated the phrase with tears in his eyes." Sexual tension underlies the scene: imagining her younger.
Snakes also. who wandered away from the production of Cousin Kate. He finds the sentry asleep and. as it turns out." There is something foreboding in this mentioning of "bad characters. This is the "fabric bigger than the mosque. Moore--home after having met Aziz in the mosque--addresses an insect on the coat peg: "'Pretty dear. let alone intellect.' said Mrs Moore to the wasp. intending to ply the servants for information. the multiplicity of points of view and the indeterminacy of experience. from the harmless domesticity of Cousin Kate at the British club. on the train ride out to the Marabar. Moore continue their conversation. Through a convoluted use of images of sound and insects. which will echo in later scenes: the interrelation of sexuality and religion. As Aziz rides over to the British guest house with some salve for Ralph's bee stings. when Mrs." says Aziz. if they wander away. Moore about her encounter. "I think you ought not to walk at night alone. which precede even consciousness. Forster relates Mrs. her son Ronny. This meeting in the mosque is echoed later when Aziz meets Mrs. He did not wake. And at least one of the snakes Aziz warns Mrs. The reason for this is the bee stings he had received earlier in the day." Aziz hits keys of the piano." As Aziz and Mrs. he goes ahead anyway. the "swollen" notes produce a "remarkable noise" which attracts the attention of Ralph Moore. Moore has rejoined her compatriots for drinks at the club after the play. Although he concludes that his patient will not be at the guest house. Ralph has broken ranks with the English by not going out sightseeing on the lake. Angered at something he reads that shows the English "closing their broken ranks against the alien. Moore. Moore has. as Mrs. Aziz snoops around and finds some letters. thinking of "his duty to report suspicious characters. Like his mother. Thus the scene in the mosque initiates several of the novel's principal motifs. Moore's son Ralph at the end of the novel. but her voice floated out to swell the night's uneasiness. is there.intellectualization of the emotions surrounding sexuality. Moore and her son to a Hindu-like consciousness. there is further foreshadowing of later events. the biological urges of the organism." of things than can happen if the English wander out of their area. "There are bad characters about and leopards may come across from the Marabar Hills. Mrs. When Mrs. he sees that the English visitors have gone out in a boat to see the continuing Gokul Ashtami events." questions Mrs. thinking the house is empty. who." A wasp . Moore against will appear later. The verb "swell" appeared in connection with sound earlier in the novel. a snake which is or is not a snake.
no. . a frustration of reason and form. this approaching triumph of India was a muddle (as we call it). Completeness. logic and conscious effort had seduced. And the stone where the wasp clung --could he . They loved all men. he had been wrong to attempt the stone." But for Godbole and the other Hindus in the Gokul Ashtami festival there is meaning and transcendence in the reenactment of the birth of Krishna. before Aziz's house call. . Ralph has been bitten by bees. she happened to occur among the throng of soliciting images. perhaps on a stone. Chance brought her into his mind while it was in this heated state. Unlike Ronny Heaslop early in the novel. and he impelled her by his spiritual force to that place where completeness can be found. Moore pass through Godbole's mind when he is dancing in the Gokul Ashtami festival. he impelled it likewise. a tiny splinter. This was more exciting. the whole universe. and the singers' expressions became fatuous and languid. made a thick little blur of sound. and it is those stings which bring Aziz to the Guest House and ultimately to a reconciliation with Fielding. and produced a new rhythm. he came back to the strip of red carpet and discovered that he was dancing upon it. he was imitating God.and Mrs. in whom Fielding detects a sympathy for Hinduism which he (Fielding) cannot understand." Fielding actually tries to recruit Aziz as a kind of intermediary to help him understand Stella and Ralph: "I can't explain. who "never dreamt that an Indian could be a channel of communication between two English people. Fielding is talking to Aziz about his wife Stella and her brother Ralph Moore. not reconstruction. he remembered a wasp seen he forgot where. Near the end of the novel Fielding and Aziz have resumed their friendship and intimacy and go on a final horse ride together. he did not select her. though she was not important to him. emerged for a moment to melt into the universal warmth. and scraps of their past. remembered an old woman he had met in Chandrapore days. He loved the wasp equally. Godbole consulted the music-book. This concatenation of images also takes place in the Hindu celebration which begins the final section of the novel. His senses grew thinner. Thus Godbole. tiny splinters of detail. but why do my wife and her . who broke rhythm. because it isn't in words at all. the inner images it evoked more definite. The celebrants "did not one thing that the non-Hindu would feel dramatically correct. said a word to the drummer.
The first said to the Muezzin "Surely it is not the hour for prayer yet?" The second said to the first "Do not blame the Muezzin. but what follows in the text does. unconsciously. A further elaboration of Aziz's mystical tendencies exists in the manuscripts of the novel. semi-sensuous overturn. I wish you would talk to them. though they take no interest in its forms? . Moore in the mosque near the beginning of the novel. he added: "For my own part. Aziz replies to Fielding's question about "this Krishna business. and he found himself riding in the jungle with his dear Cyril." The fourth said "Thank God. but how else should it concern you and me?" Their conversation provides no immediate answer. namely Mrs Moore. came to end like a landslip and rested in its due place. and caused him to reread his letter to Miss Quested." by saying. for at all events you're oriental." The textual echo here of what Aziz had said to Mrs. so characteristic of his spiritual life. Jalaluddin Rumi. I shall henceforth connect you with the name that is very sacred in my mind.brother like Hinduism. Aziz's declaration to Fielding that "it is useless discussing Hindus with me" is undercut by the subsequent paragraphs. All the State offices are closed. I am not as these other three!" The prayers of all four were unheard." The third said to the second "Do not blame him for blaming the Muezzin. . but a sound—flitted past him. Aziz undergoes an experience very like that of Godbole's cited above: Something—not a sight." answers Fielding's question by implication: Ralph and Stella's liking for Hinduism is inherited from their mother. At one point Forster intended to use the following lines by the thirteenth century Persian poet. the meadow disintegrated into butterflies. he thought of his wife. as an epigraph to the first section of A Passage to India: Four men went to pray. . Hadn't he wanted to say something else to her? Taking out his pen. the mirror of the scenery was shattered." When he had finished. and then the whole semi-mystic. . A poem about Mecca—the Caaba of Union—the thorn-bushes where pilgrims die before they have seen the Friend—they flitted next. "Then you are an Oriental. has a basic congruity with Godbole. "[O]fficially they call it Gokul Ashtami. which indicate that Aziz.
Masnavi II. but that he who would also keep in with Englishwomen must drop the Indians. and to accompany his verses he originated the famous whirling dance. who eventually may have had his beloved murdered." . Lingams tipped with garlands. ." and recorded a visit to a fakir who had a "little lingam in a niche like a crucifix . .12] Although the epigraph was discarded. whose original inspiration to write was his sense of longing for a lost love. a mystic striving for union. useless to blame them for blaming one another. The poem is of the Classic Muslim type that Aziz enjoys reciting. . . albeit unconsciously." In A Passage to India Forster portrays Aziz as sharing something profoundly religious with Godbole. . neglecting his family. Rumi began to write poetry. The two wouldn't combine. it is echoed in the novel in a description of Fielding: He had discovered that it is possible to keep in with Indians and Englishmen. . All of this lies behind Godbole's dance and Aziz's moment in the saddle with the "Caaba of Union. Aziz's "semimystic. He had become obsessed with a wandering holy man with whom he lived in an almost homoerotic intimacy. but a basic truth that lies behind all religions. but there is a deeper significance. an idea that Forster had toyed with on his first trip to India. Rumi was a Sufi mystic poet. Useless to blame either party. semi-sensuous overturn" points towards the fundamental unity of sexuality and religion. which was practiced by his followers among the dervishes. . It just was so. . and one had to choose . .[From Rumi. when he described in his diary a "temple full of gods and saints. It is not Hinduism.
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