Where Angels Fear to Tread
A clever, engrossing portrait of class and prejudice
When attractive, impulsive English widow Lidia takes a holiday in Italy, she causes a scandal by marrying Gino, a dashing and highly unsuitable Italian twelve years her junior. Prim and snobbish, her in-laws make no attempt to hide their disapproval, and when Lidia's decision eventually brings disaster, her English relatives embark on an expedition to face the uncouth foreigner. But their mission yields results that are unexpected, to say the least. Confronted by the beauty of Italy and the charm and vitality of the disreputable Gino, their own narrow lives are shattered by emotion, upheaval, and violence.
Student Review by Sibylla Archdale Kalid
A Review of E. M. Forster’s ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread’
The widow Lilia escapes to Italy with her plodding companion Miss Abbott, falls in love with an Italian (to the utter horror of her in-laws), marries him, dies, and so leaves behind a baby whose fate is furiously contested by the very people who resolutely condemn its conception. Miss Abbott, blaming herself for the child’s regretful parenthood, takes it upon her being to rescue it from the doting arms of its Italian father and bring it back to England where it can be brought up properly. Philip, Lilia’s brother-in-law, is equally intent on getting the child, but is acting on behalf of his domineering mother. Caught in the middle is Gino; naive, aggressive, and Italian, devoted to his baby son. None is antagonistic, at least not to the reader. Each is caught in the trap of their society and its inevitable principles. Nevertheless, this is not so much a portrait of society than of humanity, with its great success being that each character is so very, painfully, human. This is what, after a distance of over a century, enables the book still to absorb and entertain.
‘Where Angels Fear to Tread’ is short, but its simplicity is deceptive; behind its wit and humour is a tender, almost bitter heart. The title is taken from a phrase from a poem by Alexander Pope; ‘fools rush where angels fear to tread’. So do the characters continually rush in conflicting directions, metaphorically charging into brick walls and falling down wells, unsure of themselves or of others. Philip casts himself as the outsider, but of course it is the reader who is the objective observer, watching the muddle of lives attempting in vain to disentangle themselves before them, Phillip entangled just as much as everyone else. The reader can see that it would be wiser to let sleeping dogs lie, but the characters charge on, oblivious.
Weaving through the mess is Forster’s subtle wit and humour. Forster – and the reader – laughs at the characters, but with affection, and it only adds to the poignancy of their situation. Although marketed as a comedy the overall impression that I came away with was not a humorous one, but something more delicate and wistful, with a gentle longing to break free of the confines of society and humanity.