A Passage to India

by E. M. Forster

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Critical Overview

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When A Passage to India was published in 1924, E.M. Forster was already a well-known and highly respected novelist. However, he had not published a novel for fourteen years (Howards End, 1910, was his previous book). Upon its publication, A Passage to India was reviewed widely in British newspapers and literary journals, as well as in American magazines. Most of these early reviews were very favorable and helped to ensure the book's success.

Among the first reviewers of A Passage to India in Britain and America were the English novelists Rose Macaulay (Daily News, June 4, 1924) and L.P. Hartley (The Spectator, June 28, 1924); the British writer and publisher Leonard Woolf (The Nation and Atheneum, June 14, 1924); and the Scottish poet Edwin Muir (The Nation, October 8, 1924). All of these reviews were positive; in fact, these writers believed that A Passage to India was the best novel that Forster had written. A review in the London Times Literary Supplement concluded that Forster "portrays the super-sensitiveness, the impulsiveness, the charm and the weakness, of Mohammedan and Hindu India, in order to emphasize the honesty, the arrogance...and the moral tremors of the governing caste." In the United States, Robert Morss Lovett wrote a favorable review in The New Republic (August 16, 1924). However, E.A. Home in The New Statesman in London criticized Forster for his unsympathetic portrayal of the book's Anglo-Indian (British) characters and pointed out some inaccuracies in Forster's depiction of India.

Two of Forster's distinguished contemporaries expressed differing views of A Passage to India in personal remarks. The celebrated military hero T.E. Lawrence—Lawrence of Arabia—told Forster that A Passage to India was "universal- the bitter hopeless picture a cloud might have painted, of man in India." However, the novelist D.H. Lawrence (no relation to T.E. Lawrence) commented that the book was filled with "people, people, and nothing but people."

In the decades since its publication, A Passage to India has continued to receive close and respectful attention from many distinguished scholars and critics, often as part of a consideration of Forster's writing in general. With her husband Leonard, Virginia Woolf was an early—though not entirely uncritical—supporter of Forster's work. She discussed the book in a 1927 essay, "The Novels of E.M. Forster," in the Atlantic Monthly. Rose Macaulay, who like Forster was a graduate of Cambridge University, wrote one of the first full-length books about Forster, The Writings of E.M. Forster, published in 1938. That same year the influential English critic F.R. Leavis wrote about Forster in his Cambridge journal, Scrutiny. The famous American critic Lionel Trilling discussed A Passage to India in 1943 in E.M. Forster: A Study, thereby helping to revive American interest in the work nearly twenty years after its publication.

More recent academic studies in both Britain and America have focused attention on particular aspects of Forster's book, such as its narrative technique, symbolism, and politics. Malcolm Bradbury and Jeffrey Meyers are among those who have made important contributions to scholarship on A Passage to India.

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A Passage to India


Essays and Criticism