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Where Angels Fear to Tread

philip caroline gino abbott

the first novel by E. M. Forster, published in 1905. Set in Italy, it concerns the relationships of a group of English people who become embroiled in a disastrous and misguided plan to ‘rescue’ one of their number, Lilia Herriton, from what the others regard as an unsuitable marriage to a young Italian she has met on holiday in Tuscany. The novel opens as Lilia, an attractive and still youthful widow, is departing for Italy in the company of her friend, Caroline Abbott. When, after several weeks, a letter containing the news of Lilia's engagement arrives at the house of her mother-in-law, Mrs Herriton, in Sawston, it creates consternation; Philip Herriton is despatched to Italy to prevent the marriage taking place, but on his arrival he learns that he is too late. Poor Lilia does not have long to enjoy her life with Gino Carella, her new husband, before she becomes pregnant and dies in childbirth. Philip, this time accompanied by his formidable sister, Harriet, is once more sent to intervene, with instructions to remove Lilia's child, a baby boy, from Gino's care and return with him to England. They meet Caroline Abbott in Monteriano, and enlist her help in carrying out this plan. It emerges, however, that Gino has no intention of giving up his son, and both Philip and Caroline, both drawn, in their separate ways, to the young Italian, are prepared to admit defeat; Caroline, indeed, confessing that she has ‘changed sides’. Harriet, disgusted by this capitulation, decides to take matters into her own hands. She kidnaps the baby, intending to return to England with it as her mother has ordered, but the carriage overturns and the child is killed. Philip, whose arm has been broken in the accident, tells Gino what has happened, and in a fit of rage and grief the Italian attacks him, but is prevented from seriously injuring Philip by the arrival of Miss Abbott. Returning to England in the company of his sister (who has swiftly got over the incident) and Caroline Abbott, Philip realizes that he is in love; before he can tell Miss Abbott of his feelings for her, however, she tells him that she has fallen in love with Gino, even though she knows she will never see him again. The novel ends with its protagonists, who have, albeit unintentionally, left destruction in their wake, resigning themselves to a life of emotional sterility. The work was much admired by contemporary critics: Virginia Woolf wrote that ‘this slight first novel’ displayed ‘evidence of powers which only needed … a more generous diet to ripen into wealth and beauty’; F. R. Leavis called it ‘flawless’ in the ‘perfection of its structure, its subtle use of leitmotifs, its sureness of touch and tone, [and] the deftness of its comedy’.

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