Where Angels Fear to Tread Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Lilia Herriton, a widow of several years who has been living with her husband’s family since his death, cheerfully leaves Sawston, England, with her friend Caroline Abbott for an extended visit in Italy. The Herriton family encouraged such a visit because of their concern over Lilia’s growing relationship with a man they consider unsuitable for her and also because they welcome a chance to train her daughter during the mother’s absence. The trip, which is Philip’s idea, is quickly agreed to by everyone concerned. Fortunately, Caroline, a woman ten years younger but much more levelheaded than Lilia, is also planning such a trip and needs a companion.

The winter passes peacefully for everyone, and the tour seems to be a success. Lilia is apparently gaining some degree of culture and taste under Miss Abbott’s guidance, and back in England Lilia’s daughter Irma is improving through the efforts of Mrs. Herriton. In the spring, however, Mrs. Herriton hears from Lilia’s mother that Lilia is engaged to an Italian, supposedly someone she met in a hotel. She immediately wires Caroline for details but is answered only by the terse comment that Lilia is engaged to an Italian nobleman. Instinctively recognizing this to be a lie, she insists that Philip go at once to Italy and stop the marriage.

Caroline meets Philip’s train when he arrives at Monteriano, the village in which Lilia and Caroline are staying for a month. Nervously, she agrees to tell him everything. According to her story, Lilia and the man fell in love with each other, so she rather offhandedly suggested marriage. Unfortunately, Signor Carella, who is about twelve years younger than Lilia, is the son of a dentist in that provincial village, and he has no money. His social position, therefore, is little better than that of a peasant. Philip is even more appalled when he sees the man, for everything about him except his physique is extremely vulgar. Philip is, however, too late to stop the marriage, for the couple married as soon as they heard he was coming. He can do nothing but return home, and he takes Caroline with him. The Herriton family refuses to have anything more to do with Lilia, but they keep Irma with them to be brought up as one who bears the Herriton name.

It is some time before Lilia realizes that she does not love her husband and can never be happy with him and that he married her only for her money. She is never able to understand that as an Italian wife she can neither expect nor receive from her husband the things that English wives receive from theirs as a matter of course. By the time she realizes her unhappiness, she is cut off from everything in England and there is nothing she can do. Once, when she is...

(The entire section is 1116 words.)