A Passage to India

by Edward Morgan Foster

A Passage to India by Edward Morgan Foster


Summary / Riassunto

This novel was written in 1924, it is generally considered as one of the masterpieces of modern literature and has sold almost a million copies. His author was born in London in 1879, during the so-called Victorian Age, and attended the King’s College in Cambridge together with Keynes and Bertrand Russell. As an author, he belongs to the generation of Virginia Woolf, Joyce, Lawrence and shared the ideals and themes of the “Bloomsbury group”, that is liberalism, the critics against the hypocrisy of the Victorian society and, on the contrary, the exaltation of other and more authentic cultures. All these themes find their best expression in A Passage to India, which is set in India at the beginning of the XXth century, when India was a British colony.

The protagonists are a Muslim doctor and a young English professor who is disapproved of by the other British living there because of the broad-mindedness and sympathy he shows towards the native people. When two British ladies arrive, the reaction of the community is at first a positive one: all the racial contrasts disappear and life in the village becomes easier and more tolerant. But it is just an illusion, because a mysterious and prosaic accident makes all the ancient difficulties in relationship and mutual trust between the British and the Indians come to life again; harmony is lost.

Miss Quested is on a visit from England to the man she is expected to marry, she is really interested in understanding the Indian culture and way of life, but the British community is not so happy with her attitude. After an excursion to the Caves with a young Indian doctor, Doctor Aziz, she comes back alone, upset and distressed. This makes all the British think something serious has happened and they follow their very strong prejudice against the possibility of contact between the British and the Indians. Thus the Indian doctor is arrested on a charge of attempted assault, and things arrive till the trial.

It is then that the story changes and the reader is asked to consider facts from another point of view. Miss Quested, in fact, withdraws her accusation and the trial ends with the doctor who is set free. A possible explanation is that she had been the victim of an hallucination or perhaps of such a deep prejudice that she could not overcome. For sure we can say that the friendship between Miss Quested and the Indian doctor fails because of a misunderstanding. The psychological dimension is more important than the social/historical/political one in this novel.


Must know / Da sapere

  • In literature the Victorian Age is usually referred to as a period of time longer than the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). It stretches from 1832, when the first Reform Bill was passed, to 1902, when the Boer War finished. On the whole it was a period of progress, prosperity and wealth, but also of vague sentimentalism, conventional manners and relationships, absolute slavery to exterior forms and artificial respectability, puritanism. This is what we call “the Victorian compromise”
  • Queen Victoria’s reign was also a period of colonial expansion. In 1857 the government of India was taken from the East India Company, which was abolished, to the British Crown. Queen Victoria became Empress of India in 1877
  • Foster’s main aim in A Passage to India is not to present a political analysis of colonialism. He wants to explore the human mind and to study the struggle between inner thoughts and outer situations
  • Other famous novels by the same author are: A Room with a View (1908) and Howard’s End (1910)




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