on 8 September 2013
Published in 1905, when Forster was 26, this debut novel is regarded as a modern classic. He only published six novels. He was inspired by journeys to Italy with his mother (in 1901). For a young man's debut, it is accomplished.
It's written from an omniscient point of view, so that we hear the author as much as any character's thoughts, which was - and perhaps still is - the fashion in literary fiction. It begins as a comic piece but towards the end turns into a tragedy.
The young widow Lilia Herriton tours Italy, leaving her daughter with her mother-in-law. When Lilia announces her marriage to Gino, an Italian a dozen years younger than her, there are ructions at home and Philip is despatched to put matters right. However, Philip is ineffectual and fails in his mission. To say more would spoil the story.
Forster intended that the book should be about the improvement of Philip, according to one of his letters. Yet much of the first portion of the book is as much about Lilia and her rocky relationship with Gino and Philip's implacable mother, Mrs Herriton.
The editor for this book states that he finds the book `flawless - in the perfection of its structure, its subtle use of leitmotifs, etc.' Much of the `etc' I can agree with, but not the structure, which I found uneven, and some of the head-hopping annoying.
However, what won me over were Forster's acute observation and his humour.
Philip's sister Harriet accompanies him on another mercy mission to Italy and when asked about her ticket, she replied, `A single for me, I shall never get back alive.' Perhaps because she held the view `foreigners are a filthy nation.'
Towards the end, Philip deduced that `For our vanity is such that we hold our own characters immutable, and we are slow to acknowledge that they have changed, even for the better.' And that's the case, though there is a neat little twist ending.
on 22 July 2014
Once again, I fear that I've read a book that is only truly exciting in the last pages. The story is thin, but the focus is more on the relationships and prejudices of the characters. Can I just say that I despised Harriet throughout this whole novel. She was conceited, prejudiced and hateful throughout, and it annoyed me thoroughly that she took no blame, or felt any guilt, for her actions and the disastrous consequences. Additionally, that she was not punished for her actions was shocking, and Philip taking the blame on himself, whilst noble, angered me because it allowed her to rid herself of guilt. Her mental breakdown counted for naught in my opinion, because we hear that it was not long-lasting, that she took on no guilt, and that it didn't change her character for the better.
Anyway, the novel was interesting, though not gripping. I have read that his later novels are far more interesting, so I can forgive that this was a first novel and thus perhaps his writing style was not fully established. I look forward to reading some of the author's other novels of note.