This Day In Literary History
On March 1st, 1921, the legendary English writer E.M. Forster embarked on his second trip to India, (his first had taken place eight years earlier) which would inspire him to write his classic novel, A Passage to India (1924).
Forster, a liberal and humanist, had made his name as a writer by assailing the British class system in such memorable novels as A Room With a View (1908) and Howards End (1910).
In A Passage to India, Forster assailed the colonial mindset of the British in India as he told the story of a respected Indian Muslim doctor who finds himself falsely accused of attempting to rape a white Englishwoman.
Set in the fictional city of Chandrapore amidst the backdrop of the Indian independence movement of the 1920s, A Passage to India opens with respected physician Dr. Aziz dining with some Indian friends and wondering if genuine friendship between a white Englishman and an Indian man is possible.
As the novel progresses, he receives a painfully honest answer to his question. During his meal, the doctor is summoned to meet with Major Callendar, his unpleasant superior at the hospital where he works. Delayed en route, Dr. Aziz arrives at Callendar's bungalow and finds that he has left, having tired of waiting.
Later, while walking, Aziz impulsively decides to go to his favorite mosque, a ramshackle yet beautiful house of worship. There, he finds a strange, elderly white Englishwoman at the mosque. Angry, he rebukes her, telling her not to profane the holy place.
Then, to his surprise, he finds that the woman, Mrs. Moore, understands and respects his religion. She had taken off her shoes before entering the mosque, and acknowledges that God is present in the Muslim house of worship. Aziz and Mrs. Moore become friends.
Mrs. Moore has come to visit India with Adela Quested, a young British schoolmistress who is engaged to marry Mrs. Moore's son, Ronny Heaslop, a city magistrate. When Mrs. Moore tells Ronny how she met Dr. Aziz at the mosque, he becomes indignant, as he shares the racist views of Indians held by the majority of British whites living in India.
Later, at a party held by Mr. Turton, the city tax collector, (instead of venomous hatred, his racism takes the form of thinly veiled contempt) Adela meets Cyril Fielding, headmaster of the local segregated college for Indian students.
Fielding invites her and Mrs. Moore to a tea party, and at Adela's request, extends an invitation to Dr. Aziz, who decides to attend the party. He finds Cyril to be respectable and tolerant of Indians (another of his guests is Narayan Godbole, a Hindu-Brahman professor) and the two men become great friends.
Dr. Aziz invites Adele, Mrs. Moore, Fielding, and Godbole to the Marabar Caves, a famous natural attraction. Then Ronny crashes the party and rudely breaks it up. On the day of the Marabar expedition, Fielding and Godbole miss their train.
At the caves, Mrs. Moore is overcome by claustrophobia. Later, Dr. Aziz finds that Adela's guide has let her explore a cave by herself. Angry, he punches the man and searches for her. He finds her talking to another Englishwoman on the other side of a hill.
Then, Cyril Fielding arrives and the two women drive away in his car. Meanwhile, Aziz, Mrs. Moore, and Fielding take the train home. At the Chandrapore train station, Dr. Aziz is shocked when he is promptly arrested and charged with groping Adela and attempting to assault her.
As his trial date approaches, the simmering racial tensions between the English and Indians reaches the boiling point. Mrs. Moore becomes apathetic; she claims to believe that Aziz is innocent, but does nothing to help him. She takes a ship back to England, then dies during the voyage.
When Cyril Fielding strongly proclaims his belief in Aziz's innocence, he is ostracized by his fellow Englishmen and condemned as a race traitor. The Indian community defends him. During the trial, Adela, suffering from fever and hysterical weeping, becomes confused and begins to doubt her own story.
When asked point blank whether or not Dr. Aziz attempted to rape her, she tries to think clearly. That's when she realizes that while inside the cave, she experienced an episode like Mrs. Moore's claustrophobic shock and became temporarily insane.
While in the throes of this psychotic episode, she hallucinated that Dr. Aziz was in the cave with her and tried to attack her. It was all in her mind. The case against Dr. Aziz is dismissed.
The white English community is shocked and infuriated by what they believe is Adela's betrayal of her race. Her fiance, Ronny Heaslop, breaks off their engagement and dumps her. She stays with Cyril Fielding until her passage on board a ship to England is booked.
Meanwhile, although he's now a free man, Dr. Aziz is furious that his friend Fielding would befriend Adela after she nearly ruined his life. When Fielding later returns to England himself, Aziz believes that he's going to marry Adela for her money.
Though he vows to never again befriend a white person, Dr. Aziz ultimately reconciles with Fielding when he returns to India two years later. But he realizes that it won't be a genuine friendship until India is free from the yoke of British tyranny.
Quote Of The Day
“If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” - E.M. Forster
Today's video features a rare recording of E.M. Forster discussing his classic novel, A Passage to India on the NBC University Theatre radio show in 1949. Enjoy!