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“I have long wanted to meet you”: Elsewhere as Construct in E.M. Forster's A Passage to India

La (dé)construction idéologique de l'ailleurs dans A Passage to India de E.M. Forster
Catherine Lanone
p. 1–14


L'Inde d'E.M. Forster n'était ni celle d'un touriste, ni celle des Anglo-Indiens, puisque l'amitié de Masood d'abord, puis celle du maharaja Tukoji Rao III, lui permirent de connaître plus intimement l'Inde musulmane et hindoue. Publié en 1924, A Passage to India transpose l'expérience biographique pour explorer les failles de l'Inde coloniale, notamment les modalités d'interpellation qui viennent sans cesse entraver les relations humaines. Forster déconstruit la peinture orientaliste des paysages pour explorer l'interstice des rencontres impromptues, et opposer aux constructions idéologiques qui suivent la visite traumatisante des grottes de Marabar le dispositif du procès, qui suscite paradoxalement des modalités de contre-interpellation. La dernière section s'ouvre à la pluralité polyphonique pour proposer une résolution qui imploce dans le morcellement ultime des inconciliables différences culturelles, révélant l'aporie au cœur d'une œuvre qui se veut anti-coloniale mais occulte en majeure partie le mouvement pour l'Indépendance.

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1As he explained in “Three Countries”, E.M. Forster was from the start interested in elsewhere: he was deeply drawn to foreign landscapes and fascinated by personal relationships born from (and challenged or threatened by) cultural difference. Thus the first short story E.M. Forster ever wrote, entitled The Story of a Panic, turns Ravello into a mythic setting triggering a disquieting epiphany, while his early novels Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Room with a View explore the relationship between Englishness and Italy, the cradle of art and civilization; published in 1924, Forster's last novel, A Passage to India, takes place entirely out of England and attempts to capture the atmosphere of a wider, stranger, more untameable place. But in A Passage to India, as in all those cases, elsewhere is perceived, as it were, at an angle.

2Forster's experience of India was unusual, since unlike many Anglo-Indians he had close personal contacts with “real” Indians, beginning with his student Syed Ross Masood, who became his friend, introduced him to Moslem culture and enticed him to visit his country in 1912: “perhaps I owe to him more than to any one individual, for he shook me out of my rather narrow suburban and academic outlook, and revealed to me another way of looking at life—the Oriental, and within the Oriental, the Moslem” (Forster 2008, 200). In 1921, Forster entered a Hindu cultural frame when he became the Secretary of the Maharadja of Dewas Senior, Tukoji Rao III: for a baffling six months he was asked not to write as he expected, but to supervise garden and garage, though he knew little about cars and there was no water system to allow flowers to grow. But perhaps after all Tukoji Rao III did get the best of secretaries, since Forster was to publish a partly epistolary, partly narrative account of his Indian period in The Hill of Devi; besides, his semi-insider's experience was transmuted into the fictional complexity of A Passage to India, where the term “passage” connotes both the tentative wish to explore a country and the awareness that Westerners (like Adela, Mrs Moore, Fielding or like Forster himself) may only pass through the country and get partial glimpses, however significant they may be. Thus the 1924 novel uneasily steers between a voluntary, bitter estrangement from the stiff structures of the Raj—which Forster seeks to challenge and deconstruct—and a sadder estrangement from Indian culture, whether Moslem or Hindu. The dilemma raises fascinating questions of interpellation and counterfeit signifiers (to use Jean-Joseph Goux's concept), although, as Said points out, “even such a remarkable novel as A Passage to India nevertheless founders on the undodgeable facts of Indian nationalism” (Said 245–246).

3As Said or Bhabha have shown, Orientalist texts or pictures tend to interpellate the reader/spectator, ascribing an inferior position to the subaltern and a hegemonic vantage point to the European reader. But Forster delights in depragmatizing clichés, disclosing their frame of reference to reveal hidden prejudices. To begin with, Forster addresses landscape painting as imposture. A Passage to India opens with a chapter devoted to setting and topography, but instead of abiding by Eurocentric prejudices, Forster seeks to distance his description from expected local colour: it is obvious from the start that Forster has serious qualms about Imperial romance and wants to disappoint readers who, like the eager Adela, long to see India. The landscape does feature briefly a city of gardens, with neem trees and mangoes reaching up towards the sky, “a tropical pleasance washed by a noble river” (Forster 1989, 31), the fourteenth-century term ”pleasance” connoting a secluded place, a protected garden of delight. But the Orientalist dream of a place is foregrounded as delusion from the start: the reader is a newcomer who has to be driven down from his high and mighty position uphill, among the square streets of Anglo-India, to discover the squalid truth beneath. He must be confronted with the true Chandrapore, the Indian muddle of mud and decay lurking beneath the space constructed by Anglo-Indians. Thus, with the series of paradigmatic negations, Forster seems to build the photographic negative of a tourist's cliché. The Ganges happens not to be holy there, there are no bathing steps, there is no view, no “wide and shifting panorama of the stream” (31), even the bazaars are drab and colourless. Chandrapore is no postcard—as is confirmed by what Gillian Beer sees as an ironic parody of a guidebook—nor is it its Orientalist counterpart, a presentation of India as a dismal, squalid Other, but simply a reminder that all is not well in British India (indeed, Indian critics and writers have praised this opening scene and Anita Desai's dismal Bankipore in In Custody, for instance, pays an intertextual tribute to A Passage to India).

4Thus the opening chapter mocks the way in which Anglo-Indians construct Otherness and attempt to recreate a miniature England: the English carry their cultural luggage with them, building bungalows which mimic English houses, preserving their English habits, both in the sense of clothes and of Bourdieu's habitus, a set of acquired patterns of thought, behaviour and taste, which corresponds to internalized social structures. For instance, whereas The Hill of Devi almost begins with the description of an Indian meal, A Passage to India stresses the way in which the English in India refuse to absorb foreign food: ethnic purity seems equated with “the menu of Anglo-India”, sardines, “bullety bottled peas, pseudo-cottage bread, fish full of branching bones, pretending to be plaice” (67); the pseudo-pla(i)ce or the bullety peas connote sham and hidden violence.

5As the Raj flaunts its own metonymic logic of superiority, Anglo-Indians use what Jean-Joseph Goux calls “counterfeit language”:

Just as in the economic sphere there arises the question of convertibility, that is, the existence or not of a deposit of serving to back the tokens in circulation, likewise in the domain of signification the truth value of language will become a crucial concern. (Goux 17)

6As opposed to gold-language, a language which is full, expressive, adequate, Goux coins the expression “token-language”: “In this case, the relationship between language and being begins to be problematic”. Second-hand signifiers are exchanged like worn-out coins, no longer to mean something but to disguise something. This is the price to pay to belong to the community, deferring exchange in order to uphold the law of the group. Ronny is spoken by, rather than speaks, such token signifiers:

When he said “of course there are exceptions” he was quoting Mr. Turton, while “increasing the izzat” was Major Callendar's own. The phrases worked and were in current use at the club, but she was rather clever at detecting the first from the second hand, and might press him for definite examples. (Forster 54)

7Such patronizing superficiality creates inflation, insincere language loses value. The few Indian words which slip in, like “tonga”, “topi” or “sahib”, are not so much used to spice up language (as in Rushdie's case) as to freeze it; the term “pukka”, for instance, is used in a normative way, not to mean “genuine” but orthodox: thus Adela is not deemed “pukka” by the Turtons, casting doubt on her ability to toe the line.

8Because she is not quite “pukka”, Adela seeks to break the bounds of Anglo-Indian conformity and longs for “the real India”, but interestingly enough, this desire itself is suspect. Significantly, Maria M. Davidis reads Adela's yearning in terms of Imperial romance, as a parody of male journals of exploration: her very name (Quested rather than questing) connotes a failed Romantic quest. Indeed, ironic details pave the way for the breakdown in the caves. For instance, on the train, Adela longs to see a glorious sunrise, but at the last moment the scene grows brighter and brighter, light slips from grey to yellow and as “they [await] the miracle” (149), nothing happens; the simile (as if a bridegroom had failed to enter a bride's chamber when the trumpets sounded) debunks the erotic appeal of exotic scenery, and the ironic personification might be read as an allegory of Orientalism, as defined later by Said.

9One problem, among others, springs from the fact that cultural mythemes actually work both ways. With his dream of chivalric hospitality, Aziz is not free from Orientalist constructs in reverse: perceiving himself as a Moslem Emperor, he longs to lavish attention on his guests during the expedition to the Marabar Caves, and, having been warned that the English eat all the time, he provides an endless series of breakfasts, including eggs cooked in the train's toilets. In spite of their limitations, Aziz's and Adela's desire to cross the cultural gap stands in sharp contrast with the cold official bridge party organized by the British, a superb exercise in non-communication. “Why, fancy, she understands!” (62) says Mrs Turton to a lady who has ventured to say that she speaks a little English, the third-person pronoun distancing and silencing her: this is a travesty of contact. The purpose is not to meet, but to fence off communication, and Mrs Burton and Turton excel at the exercise. It is not easy, in such a system, to attempt to return to the currency of true words.

10Satirizing limitations, Forster also probes into sincere ways of attempting to negotiate the great cultural divide. Stray encounters offer a spontaneous, sincere opportunity to cut across the lines, to create, in Deleuzean terms, a smooth space of interaction (however brief this may be) which disrupts the striated space of cultural occupation. For instance, Aziz refuses to attend the Bridge Party but plays polo with the soldier whom he happens to meet on the Maidan. The scene might seem immaterial, if polo were not a ritual loaded with symbolic connotations; originally an Indo-Persian game, it was appropriated by the British into a pastime designed to train and teach discipline, the focus of social life and an occasion for social interaction with Indian leaders. Adela and Ronny, for instance, duly attend a game of polo, but as part of colonial recreation and colonial ethos; on the contrary, the game played by Aziz and the nameless subaltern is irrational and chaotic, since Aziz cannot play and the soldier has a badly trained poney (the poney was a definite sign of social status; the poorer one was, the worse the poney was). Shifting away from the stiff British game allows brief, personal interaction. Forster is aware that such an encounter may fissure cultural frames, but cannot shatter them. As soon as they part, the “poison” (76) of nationality returns, the inability to see through the eyes of the other which is emblematized by the pronoun “they”, distancing alterity: “‘If only they were all like that’, each thought” (76). Later on, after Aziz is arrested, the subaltern will damn him at the club, yet recall the nice Indian he once played polo with, who was “all right”, instantly erasing individuality with a general statement which reinscribes colonial taxonomy: “Any native who plays polo is all right” (192). Forster's irony stresses racial prejudices, since the soldier is talking about the same man unawares.

11A more genuine kind of encounter, of course, takes place when Aziz and Mrs Moore meet in the Mosque.

“Oh yes—that's where I got to—that's where I've been.”
“Been there when?” asked her son.
“Between the acts.” (51)

12It is significant that Mrs Moore should sneak out between the acts, escaping from the poor performance, not only of Cousin Kate, but of the club and the British Empire. Spontaneously, she takes off her shoes before she enters the Mosque, an alternative space where East and West may meet on equal terms; she has no fear, of dirt, otherness, or, as Aziz points out, snakes. The conversation shows how Aziz and Mrs Moore manage to create a personal space, the “secret understanding of the heart” (42), and reveals Mrs Moore's ability to overcome ingrained habits. Materializing in the twilight between the pillars, Mrs Moore resists Aziz's illocutionary sentences which attempt to force her out (for instance her polite but steady question tags challenge him: “Yes, I was right, was I not?” 42). She reveals her name, the fact that she has three children, like Aziz who concludes: “Is not this the same box with a vengeance?” (44) Presumably, Aziz should say boat rather than box, a slip which emphasizes the way in which the old woman has simply left the box of the club, to enter a more genuine Indian space, while the term “vengeance”, a cliché connoting excess, also recalls etymologically the idea of revenge, as if pointing to the sudden sense of equality between an Indian man and a British woman as the return of the repressed, something which the cultural structure of both club and Empire seek to erase, but which Mrs Moore revives unawares. So that Aziz adds that she is an Oriental, a tribute to her honest attempt to enter elsewhere instead of remaining safely in the realm of British simulacra.

13Later, after the dryness of the club, Mrs Moore drinks the light of moon and stars, “like water through a tank, leaving a strange freshness behind” (51)—an image which turns the encounter into a ritual of regeneration, part of a cosmic dance—and she tells Adela and Ronny about her stray encounter in the Mosque. Whereas Mrs Moore seems colour blind, aware of cultural differences and willing to let them go, and presents Aziz simply as a young doctor she has met by chance, Adela and Ronny react in terms of constructs of Otherness. Ronny instantly switches to racial suspicion, feeling he has been tricked into believing that the unknown doctor was white, that his mother was imposed on and manipulated, and he longs to report the scene to authorities. Adela, on the other hand, lavishes upon the scene the colours of romance, patronizingly addressing the elderly lady, while India remains something exotic and distant which must be penetrated: “A Mahommedan! How perfectly magnificent!' […] 'Ronny, isn't that like your mother? While we talk about seeing the real India, she goes and sees it, and then forgets she's seen it” (52). Mrs Moore's simplicity contrasts with Adela's well-meant but superficial romantic clichés, and Ronny's defiant coldness.

14The first meeting between Aziz and Fielding, the schoolmaster, is not tinged with the elusive magic of secret connection which pervades the Mosque scene, but it also plays a structural part in the novel and focuses on the way in which the world can only be seen at an angle, through the prism of cultural differences, even between compatible characters who wish to be friends. When Aziz asks Fielding to improve his English, he is obscurely talking not about his words and accent, which as Fielding realizes need no improving, but about the more subtle cultural capital which remains so elusive, as the slight misunderstanding about the reference to Post-Impressionism quickly shows. What matters, however, is that contrary to the bridge party, there should be a genuine desire to cross boundaries between the two men, as, like Mrs Moore, Fielding seems immune to racial prejudices (indeed, Anglo-Indians mistrust him intensely because he once claimed that the whites are really pinko-grey, a joke which actually undermines the very concept of racial purity, based on the colour white, and the construction of the Other). No wonder, then, that the meeting between Aziz and Fielding should attempt to break the straitjacket of symbolic forms.

15The scene is steeped in an informality which delights both Aziz and Fielding and which comes as a relief after the stiff upper lip of stereotyped Anglo-Indians. The hierarchy seems, in a way, reversed when Aziz walks in, fully dressed in formal clothes, whereas Fielding is dressing after a bath, though hidden by a semi-opaque glass door. Instead of scrambling to greet his guest, or feeling threatened by his appearance and wishing to uphold barriers, as other Anglo-Indians would do, Fielding simply shouts an unconventional “Please make yourself at home” (81), to a delighted Aziz who begins chatting away freely. Calling out “I have long wanted to meet you” (81), he begins to improvise on how he hoped Fielding might fall sick so that he might get a chance to meet him, and when Fielding swears, because he has stepped on his collar stud, Aziz offers his own instead, making sure that Fielding cannot see him wrench it from his own collar.

16Sara Suleri has discussed the homoerotic implications of this scene where the two men strike up a friendship which, as the text says, dispenses with preliminaries, as Fielding bends before Aziz under the pretext of pushing the stud in; but it is equally interesting to pay attention to the cultural politics of language in the scene, since I cannot help feeling that collar sounds very much like “colour”, and that, although Forster refrains from representing Indian politics and Gandhi's activism, his Fielding is nevertheless willing to bend his neck before Aziz, a servant's posture no Turton or Burton or McBryde would ever consider: reversing postures, this may be seen as a covenant attempting to seal equality. As Fielding bends and grumbles that he cannot possibly see why he is being made to wear a collar, Aziz answers that they wear collars to pass the police: “If I'm biking in English dress—starch collar, hat with ditch—they take no notice. When I wear a fez, they cry, ‘Your lamp's out!’” (83) The good-humoured joke draws attention to the connection between clothes and policing, acculturation and civil rights.

17And surely, it can be no coincidence that Fielding should greet Aziz with the clichéd phrase, “make yourself at home”, a sentence which encapsulates all the ambiguity of good will in India. For Aziz is, after all, the one who is at home in India; so much so that he feels compelled to lend Fielding the gold collar stud his brother-in-law has brought him from Europe, a gesture which must surely be construed in terms of hospitality: although Fielding is the host, Aziz is the one who must make sure that he feels at ease. Thus the scene reveals Indianized strategies of politeness, as well as the limits of good will.

18The limits of good will are further emblematized by the outing to the Marabar Caves, a grand gesture of hospitality that turns into unforeseen disaster. For all Aziz's display of digestible Indian culture (a couple of Indian dishes lost among English ones to feed conversation, a beautifully painted elephant) Indian space remains formidable, as the dark labyrinth of the caves swallows and spits out visitors, forcing them to enter a smooth, dark space of absolute negation, where the dull drum of emptiness, the echo, annihilates all signifiers, from love to light and religion. Mrs Moore collapses as she loses her grasp upon a world which now seems devoid of Christian meaning, while the repressed Adela feels shattered, torn by the place as if raped by some unknown presence, yielding to the spell of darkness and hallucination. From the perspective of cultural constructs, the outing points to the hubris of transgression (Godbole's silence warned that this was not an outing to be undertaken lightly, that the spiritual setting defied categories of representation and was not meant for tourism) while Forster's Marabar Caves definitely unleash social and racial, as well as sexual hysteria. Beyond Adela's personal journey towards self-discovery, Forster plays upon the cliché of rape, the aggression of a white woman which masks the British aggression against the country itself. The image is fraught with allusions, to the great Mutiny of 1857 (remember contemporary propaganda sketches like the British lion pouncing on the savage tiger attacking a white woman) or of the more recent events at Amritsar. For instance, as G.K. Das or Jenny Sharpe have shown, when Mrs Turton screams that all Indians should be made to crawl on their hands and feet, she actually refers to an actual punishment imposed after the Amritsar massacre of 1919. A “crawling-order” was enforced in the Amritsar street where a female English missionary was assaulted: every Indian entering the street was required to crawl its length. Thus the subtext of Adela's phantasmatic hallucination may well be the whole imaginary construct of India as savage Other, which must be ruled and tamed for its own good by the British.

19Before the trial Adela is turned into an icon, an allegory of Englishness. She is hailed as the white victim, a case of violent Interpellation. Paying such constant attention to her, however, erases her as a person. Though everybody now calls her by her first name, she vanishes as an individual: “The issues Miss Quested had raised were so much more important than she was herself that people inevitably forgot her” (220). Indeed, she does not quite fit the part, and somebody wishes she were blond and pretty. Forster shows political myth-making at work, both an interpellant speech and a frozen speech, to use Barthes's definition: “at the moment of reaching me, it suspends itself, turns away, and assumes the look of a generality: it stiffens, it makes itself look neutral and innocent” (Barthes 125).

  • 1 Lecercle's theory of interpellation is based on Althusser's and Judith Butler's concept.

20Unexpectedly enough, the trial becomes the place of counter-interpellation, when McBryde's questions break the process of interpellation. Adela is exposed to the gaze of both Indians and Anglo-Indians, on stage as it were (the spatial construction of racial superiority is farcically undermined when all the English claim a right to sit on the platform, and are made to sheepishly climb down by the Indian judge Das, a retreat which, in the political context of troubled Anglo-India and rising opposition and an overwhelming call for independence, is a displaced image of British usurpation and an omen of expulsion). This brief, grotesque theatrical moment is fraught with meaning, and it is no wonder that this “little excursion” (Forster 224) should help to clear Adela's mind, challenging as it does the British prerogative to a vantage viewpoint, allowing a glimpse of the audience, the Indian side of the courtroom. The interrogation begins, a series of well-rehearsed questions which should unfold effortlessly, yet unexpectedly enough, memory slips in and fences off McBryde's monotonous voice, reviving the experience of the caves, leading to the shock of recognition and self awareness. For a split second, Adela does stand at an angle to the world, entering elsewhere, sitting on the platform at the trial, but also standing in her mind outside the caves, and contemplating her own self entering the caves, failing to locate Aziz, realizing with her mind's eye that he never followed her. Significantly, there is no scream, no hysteria, this time, but desperate quietness. In a flash of understanding, Adela manages to say “no”, in a flat, unattractive, but powerful voice: “Dr Aziz never followed me into the cave” (231), Thus she resists McBryde's hailing-speech, she breaks the process of assujettissement (Lecercle 167), silences the hate speech poured upon Indians ever since her accusation crystallized racial tensions, a process which corresponds to Lecercle's1 definition of counter-interpellation: “Recontextualization breaks the chain of authority, it allows the interpellated subject to be displaced, if ever so slightly, from the place ascribed by interpellation: such is the content of imposture” (Lecercle 167). Only Fielding is able to see this recantation as a brave, desperate deed: she has set herself beyond the pale, refusing to play the part which the community had constructed for her; her resistance frees Aziz, but leaves her no space, whether in the Indian community (who hates her for her accusations) or the English community (whom she has exposed and humiliated).

21The third section of the novel, entitled “Temple”, offers a complex epilogue to the novel, a muted resolution which seeks both to subsume cultural differences and to reaffirm their presence. A musical coda, “Temple” is set after the grand aria of the dull echoing Marabar caves; the plot—including events leading to the expedition, the traumatic outing, the trial—has been solved, and although a few dangling threads remain, they may be deemed immaterial—indeed, in his “Programme Note to Santa Rama Rau's Dramatized Version”, Forster agrees with Rau's editing of the third section: “Miss Rau—most rightly in my judgement—has not emphasized it, and has brought down the final curtain on the Trial Scene” (Forster 1989, Appendix III). Yet in the novel the third section does play a crucial part, as far as the assessment of cultural differences is concerned.

22For, drowned as it is in the noise of “braying banging crooning” (282) complete with thunder and cymbals, drums, elephants and artillery, the third section offers a nebulous confusion which must be read in terms of polyphonic resolution. Once again, the festival is clearly perceived at an angle, filtered by a humourous narrative voice depicting the ritual with an obvious degree of bafflement before the piled electric lights, gaudy oleographs, heaps of rose petals; so that the God remains “[i]ndistinguishable in the jumble of His own altar” (282). The festival celebrates the birth of Krishna, and a comparison is drawn with Christmas, but the ritual still seems bewildering, since a mere piece of material is placed by the rajah in the cradle: “The napkin was God, not that it was” (285). The ritual is a “muddle”, a typical Forsterian concept: “they did not one thing which the non-Hindu would feel dramatically correct” (282). But Moslems are equally unable to grasp such a celebration: Aziz has “never discovered the meaning of this annual antic” (288). Thus both Fielding and Aziz hover on the margins of a chaotic ceremony which throbs with life throughout the section. Interestingly enough, they are finally brought together again by this decentered posture, though Godbole himself occupies an eccentric rather than central position in this confusion of forms and symbols.

23Forster entwines the two rituals of reconciliation, between the human and the divine with the celebration of the birth of Krishna, and between Aziz and Fielding with the bees and boats. The “temple” which gives its name to the section is thus a state of mind rather than a single edifice, the ritual takes place outside rather than inside, and above all it involves body and mind. Slipping from irony to empathy, the narrative voice switches to internal focalization to allow the reader access to Godbole's thoughts as he dances up and down, up and down, so that we shift from a grotesque little body and an entangled pince-nez to a dance-induced trance, where only a splinter of Godbole's mind attends outer reality, while the body is transfigured, a conduit of energy, especially with its bare feet. According to Sophie Diaz, “[i]n Hinduism, Hindu practitioners do not consider their faith a mere belief system, but rather, an empirical process enabling one to perceive the spiritual nature of reality” (Diaz 85). Dancing liberates energy, awakens to spirituality, as Forster suggests when his Godbole has a vision of Mrs Moore and of a wasp, a reminiscence of her unusual empathy with aspects of India, a recollection of a scene which Godbole cannot possibly have witnessed. Similarly, a ball is thrown from child to child, as a homage to the birth of Krishna, a flickering process of embodiment, which seems tedious to the Western voice, hence the heavy repetition: “When they had played this long enough—and being exempt from boredom they played it again and again, they played it again and again—” (287). Then the men reach up for a great jar which they break with sticks, smearing their faces with “greasy rice and milk”, or snatch from each other's faces melting morsels of butter. From a Western perspective, such matter is merely disgusting: “This way and that spread the divine mess” (287).

24Yet something else shines through the mask of irony: the body, denied and repressed by the British, is here given full sway, while butter represents the essence of things, endowing the apparently irrelevant games with a mythical dimension: the scene mimics Krishna's antics as he stole butter from milkmaids as a child, a popular theme for dance or game in India. The polyphonic passage (in a Bakhtinian sense) also reinscribes the spiritual presence of Mrs Moore in Mau, a place she has of course never seen. Thus Godbole's dance and the trance are a fitting prelude for the final reconciliation between Fielding and Aziz, as they fall into the water of the lake after having hit the mud model of Gokul, a miniature version of the Chandrapore of the opening chapter. As the mud village dissolves in the purifying water, so do misunderstandings, and the letters of Adela, who never became Fielding's wife as Aziz had surmised, float away. Seen from the angle of unbelievers, whether English or Moslem, the ritual is slightly ridiculous, yet it performs its carthartic function and brings peace.

25Yet after this “climax” stressed by a metatextual comment (310), the novel ends with separation rather than togetherness, so that the final section ultimately stresses “fissures”: “Hinduism, so solid from a distance, is riven into sects and clans” (289). Harmony between Hindus and Moslems remains precarious, as Fielding recalls, prophesying disaster should the English leave; while there may now be lasting trust between the Englishman and the Indian, they are forced to part, by their horses, by the landscape, by time itself, as if, as the incantatory final paragraph stresses, friendship were ontologically, culturally impossible.

  • 2 See Forster's 1922 essay “The Mind of the Indian Native State”, which points to the collusion betwe (...)

26To conclude, it is obvious that, in A Passage to India, Forster's humane portrayals of the eager Aziz and the enigmatic Godbole reach beyond set categories, while his scathing evocation of Anglo-India bitterly exposes the limitations of the Raj. Unravelling complex processes of interpellation to demystify ideological constructs like the stereotype of the rape of the white woman, Forster draws attention to the phantasmatic nature of constructs of the Other. His polyphonic inscription of a Hindu ritual in the final section shows his attempt to overcome his own prejudices and inability to understand cultural differences; one only needs to compare the more conventional vignettes of The Hill of Devi, where, in his “Amusing letters home” (Forster 1965, 9), Forster confesses his inability to grasp Hinduism, with Godbole's dance to realize the way in which the novel transcends raw experience. Of course, the ultimate play on distance and desire which links yet severs Aziz and Fielding is homoerotic, and suggests impossible sexual transgression. But the ending is also highly political. Fielding's mocking comments about India being a nation (which the narrative voice seems to endorse) jar on the ear of today's reader. Yet Ronny's letter claiming that “incidents” are mere propaganda is implicitly ridiculed, and Forster's Aziz accurately foretells that the next European war will be followed by India's freedom. The ending reflects Forster's insight, his divided sympathies, yet also his inability to face the situation in India other than obliquely, still at an angle. He was deeply aware2 that his experience in Dewas distanced him from Gandhi's great fight, since theoretically independent states actually desperately relied on the British Raj to maintain a social and political status quo, and feared Ghandi and reforms which would detroy the Maharadjah's way of life (an accurate conjecture, as it turned out); yet Forster could not quite take that final historical step, as his 1922 essay confesses: “A new spirit has entered India. Would that I could conclude with a eulogy of it! But that must be left to writers who can see into the future and who know in what human happiness consists” (Forster 1936, 331) . . .

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Note de fin

1 Lecercle's theory of interpellation is based on Althusser's and Judith Butler's concept.

2 See Forster's 1922 essay “The Mind of the Indian Native State”, which points to the collusion between the British government and Independent states, as both British officials and Indian princes see Gandhi as a common foe: “as its own troubles grow and a Ghandi succeeds a Tilak”, the Government of India “becomes more polite than ever to men who have no sympathy with Nationalist aspirations, whether legitimate or anarchical, and who applaud any attempts to suppress them. Curious alliances result.” (Forster 1936, 323)

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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Catherine Lanone, « “I have long wanted to meet you”: Elsewhere as Construct in E.M. Forster's A Passage to India »Études britanniques contemporaines, 37 | 2009, 1–14.

Référence électronique

Catherine Lanone, « “I have long wanted to meet you”: Elsewhere as Construct in E.M. Forster's A Passage to India »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 37 | 2009, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2017, consulté le 23 avril 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Catherine Lanone

Université de Toulouse, UTM, CAS.
Ancienne élève de l'École Normale Supérieure, Catherine Lanone est Professeur à l'Université de Toulouse II. Elle est l'auteur de deux ouvrages consacrés à E.M. Forster et à Emily Brontë, et de nombreux articles sur, entre autres, Virginia Woolf et E.M. Forster.

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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