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I had read all of Forster’s novels some years ago, prompted by the film versions. This is the first re read I have done of any of his works.
The novel is set in India, in which Forster had spent time in the early 1920s as the private secretary to a Maharajah, this novel was completed on his return and published in 1924.
A young woman (Adela) has travelled to Chandrapore, India to agree a marriage with Ronny Heaslop the City Magistrate.
Here she meets Dr Aziz, a local surgeon and Fielding the local college Principal. The outcome for all concerned of a disastrous outing to the Malabar Caves has terrible repercussions, especially for Aziz and Adela.
Some people feel that the central character is Adela (the film took this view). For me it’s the relationship between Aziz and Fielding that is the central part of the book. Aziz is the first character we meet and is there to the last page. It is his struggle with which Forster is chiefly concerned. Adela, for much of the book, is absent, with the consequences of her accusation rather than herself being to the fore. The book is dedicated to Syed Ross Massood – Forster’s long-term lover – and the portrayal of Aziz is based on him.
My first impression was how modern the book felt. More like a novel written after Partition and looking back, than a novel written 20 odd years before. This is due to Forster’s sympathetic portrayal of the Indian characters, and his forensic detailing of the British Raj – a fact that didn’t endear him to the Anglo-Indians who read it at the time.
The Guardian’s contemporary review congratulated Forster
“…upon the tone and temper of his new novel. To speak of its “fairness” would convey the wrong impression, because that suggests a conscious virtue. This is the involuntary fairness of the man who sees.”
Obviously the other main character of the book at the very heart of the novel is India itself. It is at the very start of the book, is the setting – the Caves- for Adela’s “assault”, and has the last “words” in the novel.
Was Adela assaulted physically? Was it a psychic disturbance in her head “the echo” she mentions so often in describing what she felt? Forster leaves that up to us to work out.
I enjoyed rereading this very much, the characters and the landscape are memorably drawn, though the depiction of Anglo-Indian life and their contempt for Indians made for a tough read at times.
This has been my first Reading 1924 novel, now onwards to Margaret Kennedy’s “The Constant Nymph”.