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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1948


page 11


'A Passage to India' is Forster's last pronouncement. It suffers from none of the defects of his earlier novels for it is a work conceived in universal terms and expresses the thought of two civilizations. It is in a sense an impersonal work although paradoxically enough finds its tangible reference in terms of the growth of a friendship between East and West, between Fielding a liberal English educationalist and Dr Aziz, a Moslem doctor. Throughout as an undercurrent is the intangible indeed mysterious figure of Mrs. Moore who, like Mrs. Stephen or Mrs. Wilcox, Gino or the Emersons in the earlier novels, is the touchstone, the elemental being to whom all is somehow related. And pervading the whole story are the Caves, the Marabar Caves. It is here that the novel finds its climax when Miss Quested, whom Dr Aziz has accompanied on a visit to one of the caves, fears she has been assaulted and later accuses the Moslem of attempting to molest her. Dr Aziz is imprisoned and when at his trial his conviction seems assured, Miss Quested breaks down and withdraws her charge. She is no longer certain as to what really happened. Throughout, Fielding has stood by Aziz in protesting his innocence. Such is the framework around which Forster's imagination has worked to produce something that is more than a commentary on India and the English. For in the result it is a work of deep beauty. All the Gods, Hindu, Christian and Moslem alike, are invoked, none accepted, none rejected. The limitless plains, rugged hills and whispering trees fuse into the mystic night of the vast starry Indian night. Perhaps all find expression in the deathless echo of the Marabar Caves which so affected Mrs. Moore. ". . . the echo began in some indescribable way to undermine her hold on life. Coining at a time when she chanced to be fatigued it had managed to murmur "Pathos, piety, courage—they exist, nothing has value ". If one had spoken vileness in that place or quoted lofty poetry, the comment would have been the same—"oy-boum".'

There is no finality in A Passage to India ', no answer, no ultimate salvation offered, no way of life proffered as the certain path to fulfilment. For life is a mystery. In it certain things are tangible, for the rest, only a few are born with the knack of knowledge. Mrs. Moore was one such and she died weary and ill on a ship at sea.

It is, of course, too early to assess Forster's place in English literature. But that his work is completed there can be little doubt. Apart from occasional writings nothing has come from his pen since 'A Passage to India. Nor need we expect more. For age has only confirmed what he has always felt, that 'tolerance, good temper and sympathy—they are what matter really' and no more need be said.