For something slightly different this month, instead of focusing on one specific country or city, I thought I would focus on the works of British novelist E.M. Forster, who always set his works in the most spectacular of locations.
A Passage to India
India is a country that one day I would like to visit. I think traveling there would make my trips to places like Central America and Mexico seem “Scandinavian” in comparison (by this of course I mean tame and normal in comparison). But between its fascinating ancient history, the myriad of colors that seem present at every turn, and its inextricable ties to its colonial past (a major theme in the novel A Passage to India), I know it’s a country that I no doubt would be captivated by. A Passage to India specifically focuses on the relationship and subsequent tensions between the indigenous Indians and their British “rulers.” While many of the places in the novel are fictional, they were of course based after real locations. The Barabar Caves of Bihar were the inspiration for the infamous scene when it’s believed that the character of Dr. Aziz had assaulted Adela after she leaves the cave upset and in distress.
Where Angels Fear to Tread (Tuscany)
Just as the Italian city of Florence plays a prominent role in his later novel, A Room with a View, Tuscany is like a main character in Forster’s first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread. While the setting of Monteriano is fictitious, Forster based it on the Tuscan medieval hill town of San Gimignano, a place that was popular with tourists in Forster’s time and most likely even more popular today. Its medieval architecture and uniquely preserved tower houses were one of the main reasons why the character of Lilia falls in love with both an Italian man and Italy itself.
Howard’s End (England)
Much of Forster’s writing was heavily influenced by his native country, England. Howard’s End is takes place in the idyllic English countryside (the county of Hertfordshire) and explores England’s social conventions and codes of conduct at the turn of the last century. Rolling green hills, charming shops one equates with the English countryside, homes and characters straight out of Downton Abbey, they’re all found in what some consider to be Forster’s best work.
Pharos and Pharillon (A Novelist’s Sketchbook of Alexandria Through the Ages) (Egypt)
While it’s always been a popular travel destination, following World War I, interest in the country of Egypt piqued immensely with well-off tourists flocking there from England in droves. In addition to his adept skills as a novelist, Forster was also a much talented writer in other pursuits as well, including the world of travel writing. He served as a noncombatant in Alexandria, Egypt during World War I and produced both Pharos and Pharillon and Alexandria: A History and Guide. While both of these titles have long been out of print and might not even be found at your local library, if you ever happen to stumble across them, it will be a real treat. It’s always amazing to read someone else’s thoughts and words on a destination from another time.
A Room With a View (Florence, Italy)
The novel and its film adaptation were the main reasons I wanted to visit the Italian city of Florence. Unfortunately for me, my visit was rather lackluster; however, I will say that seeing some of the Florentine sites that featured so prominently in the book (and naturally were shown in the movie as well) was extremely memorable. Like the stabbing scene that the character of Lucy witnesses which takes place in Piazza della Signoria with the famous fountain or when Lucy and George are walking along the banks of the Arno River and George throws out the bloodied postcards. A Room with a View was supposed to take place around the turn of the last century and for visitors today, it will look very similar with the exception of individuals wearing much less clothing than what was the norm then.
Have you read any of Forster’s works? Or watched the film adaptations?