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Review: Literary Sourcebook

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Further Notices

More than just a Collection of Critical Approaches

A Routledge Literary Sourcebook on E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India

A Passage to India is Forster’s most celebrated and most frequently read novel. Published in 1924, the novel has given rise to critical discussion about imperialism, liberalism, modernism, ethnicity, sexuality and the relation of the personal and political. With Forster being one of the chief authors of early twentieth-century English literature, this text is a key text to the modern novel. Therefore, Routledge has decided to publish a sourcebook on the novel in their series of literary sourcebooks, edited by Duncan Wu (Oxford). Peter Childs, the editor of the book, is Principal Lecturer in English at the University of Gloucestershire and well known due to his publications on twentieth-century prose.

The approach of this book is very different to other critical works. It has been designed to provide students with the materials required to begin serious studies of their own. This is reflected in the structure of the book. Section 1, ‘Contexts,’ provides biographical data in form of an author chronology and contemporary documents relating to the author and his work—every single one of them by Forster himself. The texts are structured in four major groups: ‘The English and the British Empire’, ‘On A Passage to India’, ‘India’ and ‘On the Rhythm in Fiction.’ Section 2, ‘Interpretations,’ contains what the most critical books contain: critical approaches to the text. In Childs’s book, they are sorted as a history of criticism. This part is divided into three main chapters. The first gives an overview over the critical reception of Forster’s novel whereas the second as well as the third are selections of extracts from the most important and influential early and modern criticism. The last part of the second section is dedicated to the stage and film adaptations, but does—alas!—not tell about all and the most recent adaptations. Section 3 is called ‘Key Passages.’ This is clearly a euphemism for a chapter summary with snippets of the original text. The reason to have these forty-eight pages in the book is simple: They are for the lazy students. They summarize the plot, they give examples for brief presentations; they tell the reader the setting, the point of view—everything which would take the student five minutes having the novel in hand. Furthermore, they tell the reader how to interpret the text. The rest of the book is a short list of recommended editions and further texts, followed by an index.

One can ask for the perfect reader of this book, and one will find none. For the student who really wants to do research on Forster, the references are too few and the critical extracts to short and to various. There is a general lack of in-depth analysis. The editor, so it seems, did neither want to focus on a specific aspect of the novel nor put an emphasis on a specific type of criticism, whether feminist, postcolonial, biographical or structuralist criticism. The idea to provide a book of sources as a basis for discussion is laudable, but it is disavowed by the I-tell-you-how-to-read-this-novel part of the sourcebook. What this sourcebook can do is to give you a general overview over the history and the types of criticism, a timeline of Forster’s life and a selection of letters and essays, which can form a contextual frame for the novel. One can recommend Peter Childs’s book to teachers who either really want to discuss the novel or have no idea and want to deliver the usual interpretational phrases, and the book is recommendable to people who do not want to read the novel by themselves and have no internet account to find the freely available chapter summaries. Still, the book is well done, very clearly arranged and of a certain academic standard. As first overview for a subsequent authentic research, this well-written book is good choice. (Heiko Zimmermann)

Childs, Peter, ed.  A Routledge Literary Sourcebook on E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India.  Routledge Literary Sourcebooks. London, New York: Routledge, 2002. (167 pages, paperback)

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