Where Angels Fear to Tread

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

In 1991 it was made into a film by Charles Sturridge, starring Rupert Graves, Giovanni Guidelli, Helen Mirren, Helena Bonham Carter, and Judy Davis.

Plot summary

On a journey to Tuscany with her young friend and traveling companion Caroline Abbott, widowed Lilia Herriton falls in love with both Italy and a handsome Italian much younger than herself, and decides to stay. Furious, her dead husband's family send Lilia's brother-in-law to Italy to prevent a misalliance, but he arrives too late. Lilia had already married the Italian and becomes pregnant again. While giving birth to her son, she dies. The Herritons send Philip again to Italy, this time to save the infant boy from an uncivilized life and to save the family's reputation. Not wanting to be outdone—or considered any less moral or concerned than Caroline for the child's welfare—Lilia's in-laws try to take the lead in traveling to Italy. In the public eye, they make it known that it is both their right and their duty to travel to Monteriano 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.

Similarly to A Room with a View, both Italy and its inhabitants are presented as exuding an irresistible charm, to which eventually also Caroline Abbott succumbs. However, there is a tragic ending to the novel: the accidental death of Lilia's child, which spurs a series of drastic changes within the story. Gino's physical outburst toward Philip in response to the news makes Philip realize what it is like to truly be alive. The guilt felt by Harriet causes her to lose her mind. Finally, Philip realizes that he is in love with Caroline Abbott but that he can never have her, because she admits, dramatically, to being in love with Gino. The film adds a positive ending by hinting that this may be just a passing fancy, with love between herself and Philip being its actual expected development.


  • 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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