Without Allies: Adela Quested as Failed New Woman in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India

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Journal Article

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Journal for Liberal Arts and Sciences


This essay examines E.M. Forster's final novel A Passage to India and the Victorian expectations that prevented Adela Quested from participating in a cultural revolution that would provide both women and Indians with greater freedom. I argue that, at its heart, the novel is an anti-colonial critique that situates British and Anglo-Indian women at the center of the colony and in control of the behavior of men and women, Indian and British. As Forster portrays them, the British women in A Passage to India exemplify a perceived need to maintain colonial hierarchies between British and Indian subjects. This ideological disparity prevented Anglo-Indian women from pursuing the same types of freedom women, especially New Women, strove for in Britain at the fin-de-siècle. The hierarchical subversion - whether based on race, religion, or gender - so endangered Britain's imperial project that a widespread women's movement foundered in India in both reality and the novel. Forster illustrates this subversion through Adela's inability to change the colony, and portrays failure, a mainstay of Modernist literature, through the characters' inability to connect with others, the colony's refusal to embrace change, and outdated Victorian values' inertia. The visceral response to Adela's revolutionary efforts in India demonstrates the opposition to change that Forster perceived as an inherently negative quality of the Anglo-Indian community. The more that Adela attempts to challenge Anglo-Indian ideologies, the more the Britons, particularly the women, shun her.

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