Where Angels Fear to Tread

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been consuming a lot of popular fiction so far this year. For balance, I grabbed some literature before heading out on vacation. This E.M. Forster fellow spins a good yarn and it made for some great vacation reading.

Forster wrote Howard’s End, which I didn’t read, but I saw the movie. I liked it, but I can’t remember it that well. I know for sure that Howard’s End (the movie) was not as shocking as this book. There were two shocking twists and it was more of a page-turner than I expected from so-called lit.


This story appears to be about a headstrong and foolish young mother, Lillia, who’s husband has died. Her in-laws tolerate her despite their view that she is not worthy of their social standing in early-1900s London society. The in-laws send her off to a vacation in Italy and she meets a local common man (Gino) and weds shortly thereafter. The in-laws try and stop the marriage from happening, but it’s too late. Well, it turns out that the marriage is a bust and Lillia and Gino really don’t love each other, but they decide to have a kid (a son) anyhow.

Then Lillia dies. That’s right, at the end of chapter two or three, she dies from complications at childbirth. Shocking, at least to me. What’s this book about, I asked myself?

Well, it gets more warped from there. Her in-laws try and hide the existence of this young son from the world (and from Lillia’s daughter) but the world finds out. This causes some serious complications. I’m talking serious complications. In fact, the whole cadre (Lillia’s brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and friend) go to Italy to try and convince Gino to allow them to take the child back to England so they can raise him there.

This goes very badly because Gino will not give up the child, so the idiot sister-in-law kidnaps the child. To make matters worse, as they are making their getaway with the kidnapped child, their carriage overturns and the child dies.

Damn, this is heavy stuff. It’s like watching a Merchant Ivory movie. You may wonder why I would read such heavy stuff on vacation. Hmmm, for some reason, I embrace the carnage. Not sure why.

I’m in an especially reflective mode lately. A passage in the about the author section really struck me:

His six novels explore subtle political questions, as what seems at first to be merely stories of conflicts among friends, lovers, and families come to illuminate underlying tensions between the wealthy and the poor, individuals and nations.

Things that we still need illuminated today. I sit here during the aftermath of the Virginia Tech tragedy wondering about the parallels. How much of Cho Seung-Hui’s deranged lunacy was made even worse by today’s class struggle between rich and poor. Back in 1900’s England, young people rebelled, sure. But they did it by running off and marrying someone outside of their social class. Now you buy a gun and kill people outside of your social class. It’s a messed up world.