Sunday, February 09, 2014

A Passage to India

Forster's story, from which we get his lovely epigram:  "Only connect."  The David Lean movie version was on TCM just now.  Interesting parallels to my own thinking of late.

I pause to insert a personal note:  I examined the typescript of the novel, over 30 years ago, at the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.  The only portion that was in manuscript was the passage about the events at the Marabar caves.  I always meant to do some further study and try to figure out if that was something of some significance, but I failed at my chance to.  Godbole would say that was as it was meant to be; and perhaps he would be right; if he existed.

The story turns around an Englishwoman, alone at the Marabar caves with an Indian Muslim, an educated doctor of medicine, who has an experience that causes her to accuse the doctor of attempted rape.  He is, of course, guilty, because, well, you know:  the experience of the British with the "darker races."

The prosecutor spells that out quite clearly in the courtroom, by the way.

Racism?  Well, yes, but the English would have insisted that they had known too any victims of rape and assault to just let an Indian slide when there was a fairly clear pattern.  Patterns are always what we see, and they are there because we see them.

I mean, you can't argue with that.

And the Indian doctor is only released because his accuser, the Englishwoman, recants her charge against him when she takes the witness box.

The other interesting bit was when Mrs. Moore, the mother of Heaslop, the City Magistrate who is engaged to the victim of the attempted rape, tells her son that no one understands the Marabar caves because they haven't been there.  The caves themselves are described by the prosecutor and another Indian, Dr. Godbole, as featureless;  "empty and dark" is Godbole's description.

They are, in other words, Mrs. Moore insists, an experience:  not a "thing."  She has somewhat the same reaction to them as Miss Quested, her travelling companion and son's fiance.  And neither of them can explain their experiences to anyone else.

Miss Quested also admits, in open court, that she struck up a conversation with the unfortunate Dr. Aziz, the accused, about his marriage, because she had then just renewed her engagement to Mr. Heaslop, and she didn't love him.  I find this interesting because it has to mean his engagement to her is at an end, whether he wants it to be or not; whether she does, either.  They love each other, or convince the community they do, by getting engaged.  But if she admits to all and sundry in public that she doesn't love him, the engagement falls apart like an ice ring on a hot day.  How, now, can they put up the pretense of a happy marriage, or a conventional relationship?  It is not only "Why should they bother?", but "How could they possibly?"  Because love is another personal experience which is only "true" because they participants say it is.  We cannot test it, measure it, weigh it, or observe it with instruments.

We can only take their word for it.  Like the Marabar caves, it may be a destination in the stages on life's way; it may even have a reputation; but it is not a thing.

Nor is Dr. Aziz; or Miss Quested; or allegations of improper conduct.

1 comment:

  1. Heh-heh, I happened to catch (most of) this today, too!

    Boy, what struck me that I didn't see 30 years ago (when I saw it in the theater, and not again since): that far and away the most INTENSE relationship is between Dr Aziz, and his English professor friend Fielding. Why, one would almost think this novel was written by a gay man! ;-/