Where Angels Fear to Tread

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Where Angels Fear to Tread
First edition
AuthorE. M. Forster
Original titleMonteriano
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherWilliam Blackwood and Sons
Publication date

Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) is a novel by E. M. Forster. The title comes from a line in Alexander Pope's An Essay on Criticism: "For fools rush in where angels fear to tread".

The BBC adapted the novel for television in 1966 as a Play of the Month. In 1991 it was made into a film by Charles Sturridge, starring Rupert Graves, Giovanni Guidelli, Helen Mirren, Helena Bonham Carter, and Judy Davis.[1] A ten-part radio adaptation of the novel was broadcast on BBC Radio 4.[2] An opera based on the novel by Mark Weiser was premiered at the Peabody Institute of Music in 1999, and received its professional premiere at Opera San Jose in 2015.[3]

Plot summary[edit]

On a journey to Tuscany with her young friend and travelling companion Caroline Abbott, widowed Lilia Herriton falls in love with Gino, a handsome Italian man much younger than herself, and decides to stay. Furious, her dead husband's family send Lilia's brother-in-law Philip to Italy to prevent a misalliance, but he arrives too late. Lilia has already married Gino and becomes pregnant again. She gives birth to a son, but dies in childbirth. Caroline decides to go to Tuscany again to save the child from what she perceives will be a difficult life. Not to be outdone, the Herritons send Philip again to Italy, this time accompanied by his sister Harriet, to save the family's reputation. In the public eye, they make it known that it is both their right and their duty to travel to Italy to obtain custody of the infant so that he can be raised as an Englishman. Secretly, though, they have no regard for the child, only public appearances.

Philip and Harriet meet Caroline in Monteriano. Both Philip and Caroline eventually fall under the charm of Italy, which causes them to waver in their original purpose. They further learn that Gino is fiercely devoted to Lilia's infant son. As they admit defeat in their mission however, Harriet kidnaps the baby, but the baby is accidentally killed when the carriage he is in overturns. Gino, hearing the news, attacks Phillip, but the two are reconciled after Caroline's mediation. Gino's physical outburst toward Philip in response to the news makes Philip realise what it is like to truly be alive. The guilt felt by Harriet causes her to lose her mind. Finally, as Philip and Caroline return to England, he realises that he is in love with Caroline but that he can never be with her, because she admits, dramatically, to being in love with Gino.


With a working title of "The Rescue", Forster began the novel in late 1904, completing ten chapters in one month.[4] He modelled the character of Philip Herriton on Professor Edward J Dent.[5] "He knew this, and took an interest in his own progress", said Forster. The author proposed to call the book "Monteriano" but the publishers didn't like it. It was Dent who contributed the final title.[6]

Critical reception[edit]

The reviewer for UK daily newspaper The Manchester Guardian (forerunner of The Guardian) wrote in August 1905: "Where Angels Fear to Tread is not at all the kind of book that its title suggests. It is not mawkish or sentimental or commonplace. The motive of the story […] is familiar and ordinary enough, but the setting and treatment of this motive are almost startlingly original". The review noted "a persistent vein of cynicism which is apt to repel, but the cynicism is not deep-seated. […] [I]t takes the form of a sordid comedy culminating, unexpectedly and with a real dramatic force, in a grotesque tragedy." It concluded by saying, "We wonder whether EM Forster could be a little more charitable without losing in force and originality. An experiment might be worth trying."[7]

Lionel Trilling wrote, "Forster's first novel appeared in 1905. The author was 26, not a remarkable age at which to have written a first novel unless the novel be, as Forster's was, a whole and mature work dominated by a fresh and commanding intelligence".[8]


  1. ^ "Where Angels Fear to Tread (1991)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 10 October 2016.
  2. ^ "EM Forster: Where Angels Fear to Tread". BBC News. Retrieved 10 October 2016.
  3. ^ "Opera by Mark Weiser to receive professional debut". Retrieved 26 March 2016.
  4. ^ Moffat, Wendy E. M. Forster: A New Life, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010
  5. ^ Amos, William. The Originals: Who's Really Who in Fiction (1990)
  6. ^ Cowley, Malcolm. Writers at Work: the Paris review interviews (1958)
  7. ^ "From the archives: Forster's cynicism: Where Angels Fear to Tread by EM Forster reviewed in the Guardian, August 30 1905". The Guardian. London. 13 August 2002 [First published 30 August 1905 in The Manchester Guardian]. Retrieved 10 October 2016.
  8. ^ Trilling, Lionel (1965) [First published 1943]. E. M. Forster: Columbia essays on modern writers. Vol. 189 (Reprinted ed.). New Directions Publishing. p. 57. ISBN 0811202100.
  • Forster, E. M., Where Angels Fear to Tread, ed. by Oliver Stallybrass (London, 1975).
  • Winkgens, Meinhard, 'Die Funktionalisierung des Italienbildes in den Romanen "Where Angels Fear to Tread" von E. M. Forster und "The Lost Girl" von D. H. Lawrence', Arcadia, 21 (1986), 41–61..

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