Where Angels Fear to Tread

by E. M. Forster

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Places Discussed

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Sawston. English town that is home to the conventional middle-class Herriton family. E. M. Forster modeled this dreary, repressive town on Tonbridge, Kent, southeast of London, where he himself had attended school. A gray place preoccupied with duty, respectability, and tradition, Sawston represents the worst of English repression of self and others.

When family friend Caroline Abbott later dreams of the Italian town Poggibonsi as a “joyless, straggling place, full of people who pretended,” she recognizes it as Sawston. At the end of the novel, Philip Herriton’s growth is evident in his decision to move from his hometown to London. (Forster also uses Sawston to symbolize English middle-class deadness in his second novel, The Longest Journey, 1907.)


*Tuscany. Region of west-central Italy along the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian Seas that includes the provinces of Firenze (Florence), Pisa, Livorno, and Siena. Forster’s depiction of the Tuscan landscape draws on a long holiday he took there in 1901. Particularly close echoes of his travels come in his description of Philip and Harriet Herriton’s tourist hardships in several cities while they are on their way to Monteriano. Harriet, to whom “foreigners are a filthy nation,” embodies strong English chauvinism and is the only traveler unresponsive to the magic of Italy.


Monteriano (mahn-teh-ree-AHN-oh). Hill town in Tuscany modeled on San Gimignano southwest of Florence and northwest of Siena, which is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Italy. Forster invents a description of his fictionalized town for his characters’ tour book, which characterizes Monteriano as a town with 4,800 inhabitants, a Siena gate, walls, a magnificent view from the fortress at sunset, and Giotto frescoes that earn it “one star.” Later, the narrator’s comment that the town’s Piazza has “three great attractions—the Palazzo Publico, the Collegiate Church, and the Caffè Garibaldi: the intellect, the soul, and the body” recalls the model, San Gimignano, with its Palazzo del Populo and its Collegiate, a former cathedral. However, Forster also clearly elevates Monteriano into symbolizing a full, integrated life.

Monteriano’s overall role in the novel resembles that of Florence in Forster’s A Room with a View (1908). Both Italian settings overflow with the beauties of nature and Renaissance art, as well as passion and spontaneity, and both are enchanted places of transfiguration and liberation—almost Forster’s version of the regenerative “green world” of Shakespearean comedy. In A Room with a View, Forster explicitly links these Italian locations by having two English tourists in Florence gossip about Monteriano as the site of an ill-fated Anglo-Italian marriage.


*Poggibonsi (po-jee-BON-see). Town east of San Gimignano and of its fictional counterpart Monteriano. In the novel, Monteriano is described as having thrown off Poggibonsi’s rule in 1261—much as Lilia, Caroline, and Philip liberate themselves from the tyranny of English propriety.

House opposite the Volterra gate

House opposite the Volterra gate. Stuffy two-story house outside Monteriano in which Lilia spends her short married life with Gino. Confinement of Italian women to their homes leaves Lilia feeling alienated in the Italian culture that initially seemed her refuge from oppressive English norms.

Stella d’Italia

Stella d’Italia. Hotel in which Philip, Caroline, and Harriet stay. Formerly a palace with Gothic windows, the hotel represents a guiding star on Caroline’s and Philip’s journeys to self-realization.

Collegiate Church of Santa Deodata

Collegiate Church of Santa Deodata. Monteriano’s church, decorated with Giotto’s frescoes of the death and burial of a patron saint of the Dark Ages who denied herself everything. In Monteriano, which simultaneously affirms art, nature, and passion while honestly embracing pain and death, Caroline and Philip question their modern, English abstention.


(This entire section contains 723 words.)

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Caffè Garibaldi. Café in Monteriano where men enjoy freedom and camaraderie while their wives stay home or go to church. Forster depicts this café, where Philip and Gino cement their friendship, as the locus of male privilege in a patriarchal Latin culture, indicating that although England is generally more constrained, it nevertheless offers its women a freedom of movement alien to Italian custom.


Theater. Tiny garishly decorated building that houses Monteriano’s opera. There Philip and Harriet confront Italian crudity, vitality, joy, and kindness at a performance of Lucia di Lammermoor, which, as an Italian opera based on a romance by Sir Walter Scott, harmoniously merges Italian and British cultures.


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Furbank, P. N. E. M. Forster: A Life. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978. An exhaustive biography of Forster that also serves as a source of cultural information concerning Forster’s settings in England, Italy, and India.

McConkey, James. The Novels of E. M. Forster. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1957. McConkey attempts to judge Forster’s fiction in relation to the critical principles outlined in Aspects of the Novel (1927), Forster’s book-length study of the genre.

Trilling, Lionel. E. M. Forster. 2d ed. New York: New Directions, 1964. Appreciative readings of Forster’s works that are intended to elevate the novelist to the artistic status he deserves. Forster is seen as a practitioner of what Trilling termed the “liberal imagination.”

Wilde, Alan. Art and Order: A Study of E. M. Forster. New York: New York University Press, 1964. Focuses on Forster’s practice of and contribution to the aesthetic view of life. The value of beauty in human existence, and art’s role in defining beauty, are the motivating issues in Wilde’s first chapter, which begins with a discussion of Where Angels Fear to Tread.


Critical Essays