A Passage to India

by E. M. Forster. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company. 1924. 8vo. vi+315 pp. $2.50.
MR. FORSTER, as shown by all his books, has a craftsmanship adapted for regions of sense and sensibility wholly ignored by most novelists. He has now turned his excellent powers to a study of British India — its sounds, its smells, its psychology. Dodging behind politics and economics, he seizes upon what is perhaps deeper and less temporal than either — race. Officialism is the thick net cast about every act and thought in Chandrapore — where the story falls — and the excitement of the book is in watching human kindness, Western science, and Oriental tradition poking their several heads and fingers through the web, tearing but not destroying it.
It is the story of Adela, who goes to India to find out whether she loves Ronny enough to marry him. Ronny is a young official, deeply conscious of his public-school ideals, painfully aware of the ‘white man’s burden.’ Adela inclines— temperately—to appraise the native as a human being. She is not an apostle of ‘India for the Indians’; she is just fresh and sympathetic. In fact she never conforms either to British India or to Indian India, and in that nehulousness of character lies the tale.
To satisfy Adela’s yearning to ‘see India’ a picnic visit to the Mara bar caves is arranged by a young Indian medico, Dr. Aziz. And out of that picnic Forster distills Indian landscape and character. The persons that fill up the episode and its consequences — which prove to be quite horrible — suggest the social and cultural complexity of Anglo-India: Ronny, the young official who believes in courtesy toward but not intimacy with the ‘subject race’; Adela, curious and inclined to sympathy; disillusioned but just Mr. McBryde, the chief of police; Mahmoud Alik, thoroughly anti-British; Dr. Godbole, a Hindu, and hence more difficult for Moslem India than even the British; Dr. Aziz, with Western science lightly inscribed upon his Oriental soul; and of course all manner of Indian servants and what not to add to the color and psychology of the background.
Adela, who has been nervous and unwell, visits one of the caves with young Aziz; a misunderstanding occurs; she thinks she has been insulted. The thing is taken up by everyone in the government post and magnified beyond all reason. It is assumed that Aziz attempted a personal assault. He is thrown into prison; everyone violently takes sides. At the trial she withdraws her charge and admits she has made a mistake. The effects of the trial serve to emphasize the extraordinary social, cultural, and ethical difficulties which arise when AngloSaxon and Oriental live together, as conqueror and conquered.
Through the whole tale, like a flame dying into ashes and sputtering into life again, is the friendship of Fielding, an Englishman, for Aziz, the Moslem. On every page from first to last is the question: Can an Indian and an Englishman he friends? The book ends with Fielding saying Yes, and the defiant environment of British India, No.