The Eternal Moment

by E. M. Forster

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The Eternal Moment

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Subtle, witty, and elusive, this story is more concerned with the central character’s personal sojourn inward than with her physical journey upward in the Italian Alps. Yet she arrives eventually at both destinations: the actual mountain resort and the symbolic country of the mind.

Miss Raby, now a well-known novelist, had set her first book in an obscure mountain village, which after the novel’s publication and success became a popular tourist spot. When she goes back many years later to see how tourism has affected the village, she discovers only vulgarity in the plush hotels, ugliness in the other signs of prosperity, and disappointment in the unharnessed human greed.

She still cherishes her memories of the place, for on a hillside near the village a handsome Italian guide had declared his love for her one spring day. Although she had rejected him, she has always kept the moment alive, considering it the most perfect in her experience. Then on her return she meets the would-be lover, by now a fat, middle-aged, obsequious concierge in one of the grand hotels. How she confronts this destruction of her illusion brings the story to its dramatic yet understated climax.

When in Miss Raby’s youth the dashing guide confesses his passion, she experiences that rare “eternal moment” aglow with beauty and joy and truth. No matter what occurs thereafter, the one who knows such a moment is richer for having embraced it. Even though the ugliness of progress and the degeneration of the lover cracks the shell of Miss Raby’s illusion, the insight she had once gained remains intact for her.

The prominence of the youthful memory of the hillside encounter may appear exaggerated on the realistic level, but on the symbolic level it suggests a vision accessible to the one who stands ready and expectant. This vision might contain a key to the understanding of the individual’s place in the universal scheme. It might offer the artist the awareness without which his work would fail. Or it might hold a hint toward the unraveling of the eternal mystery.

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