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Constructing reality. Close reading and how language constructs identity. Example 1. Where Angels Fear to Tread E.M. Forster’s first novel, written in 1905 contains the seeds of many of the issues he was to deal with in later works . Chapter 1.

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constructing reality

Constructing reality

Closereading and howlanguageconstructsidentity

example 1
Example 1
  • Where Angels Fear to Tread
  • E.M. Forster’s first novel, written in 1905
  • contains the seeds of many of the issues he was to deal with in later works
chapter 1
Chapter 1
  • Lilia Herriton, a young widow, is being seen off by her relatives at the beginning of a journey round Italy, accompanied by a younger woman, Caroline Abbot. Her mother Mrs Theobald and a friend and suitor Mr KJingcroft and her in-laws the Herriton family, her mother-in-law Mrs Herriton and her unmarried brother and sister in law Philip and Harriet are all there to say goodbye. We are then shown a conversation between the Herritons at home and given an account of past relations between Lilia and her family, brief sketches of the Herritons and their conflict with Lilia and then are taken again into the present with the news which comes through of Lilia’s progress through Italy, culminating in the crisis caused by the announcement of her engagement to a young Italian.

This crisis highlights all the characters’ attitudes and abilities and the conflicts which Forster is interested in but all the issues have already been signposted in the way the characters have been described.

  • Lilia, Mrs Herriton and Philip: examples at different points of the spectrum of control and lack of control
  • mentioned in the very first paragraph as breaking into ‘ungovernable peals of laughter’
  • the last view of her as the train pulls out is of her ‘laughing helplessly .
  • the expression ‘break into peals of laughter’ indicates the bursting out of natural forces of uncontrolled sound and thus hints at the way Lilia is not amenable to controlling forces.
reporting of events
  • Laughter itself is an extreme form of expression of amusement, denoting non-seriousness
  • she is portrayed as ‘sprawling’, with its connotations of untidiness and carelessness –untamed and undomesticated.
  • the issue of education and government with all its connotations of domesticating and taming is foreshadowed
reporting speech acts
  • her speech too is presented as extreme and uncontrolled, she cries and calls, reporting verbs which indicate high volume and lack of restraint.
  • emphatic forms such as the emphatic use of the auxiliary do and exclamatory forms, which usually signal feeling or emotion (signalling the emotion/reason contrast)
lilia s speech
Lilia’s speech
  • in particular the use of the exclamation mark or emotion adjuncts like the initial oh!, exclamatory adjective sentences forms with what, how and so
  • (Quite an ovation!; How I wish you were coming!; What a whirl! ‘Good old Harry!’ Oh I am so sorry but you do all look so funny. Oh you all look so funny waving!).
mrs herriton
  • clearly at the other end of the spectrum that concerns control in terms of government and self government.
  • first portrayed standing pensively with all the connotations of stillness and reflection which contrast with Lilia’s noise and movement.
  • her speech is unemphatic in public, the reporting verbs are said or murmured.
  • she controls others. She corrects Irma’s speech (Lilia’s daughter) and conceals Lilia’s grammatical problems in her letters in order to uphold a principal of parental authority.
  • she deals competently with staff , she organises, even such banal activities as sowing seeds.
  • She orders her adult daughter around using the imperative form, expecting instant obedience.
figures of speech
figures of speech
  • We are told how she schemed and are given various examples of how she manipulated events to try to prevent the match between Lilia and her son Charles and how she fought a duel over the education of Irma(
  • Metaphors of strategy, government and control as part of a war, highlighting the conflict between the two characters, the opposition between the domestic and the foreign

Here we find the issues of cross-cultural conflict, the significance of Italy for the British, religious issues, cultural and educational issues and class issues and of course the contrast and conflict between nature and emotions on the one hand and conventions and the rational on the other.

authorial comment
  • ‘Mrs Herriton did not believe in romance, nor in transfiguration, nor in parallels from history, nor in anything else that may disturb domestic life. She adroitly changed the subject before Philip got excited.’
losing control
  • Lilia manages to make Mrs Herriton waver in her self control and reveal suppressed emotion ( she broke down, she choked with passion, she tore the letter into little pieces and scattered it over the mould)
  • her control of others is affected too: the cook leaves (Mrs Herriton flew to the registry office and failed, flew to another failed again)
philip herriton
Philip Herriton
  • At times he is portrayed with connotations of lack of control (he flooded her with a final stream of advice, his family disliked his continual visits to the continent;
  • Philip whom the idea of Italy alwaysintoxicated :intoxication is related to lack of control;
  • full of passion for Italy, emotions taking the upper hand; ridiculing Sawton and its ways(openly siding against convention)
uncertain convictions
  • his allegiance to passion and the rule of the emotions is shown to be only skin deep: he has a career at the Bar, with its connotations of the rule of law,
  • Lilia’s marriage destabilises his convictions: for three years he had sung the praised of the Italians, but he had never contemplated having one as a relativehe departed for Italy reluctantly)
  • On this occasion he is going to Italy against his will because he is under the control of his mother.
  • the way Lilia follows his precepts so wholeheartedly forces him to recognise how little he could commit to them and in a crisis how much he is his mother’s son.
h arriet
  • The author introduces the character of Harriet using a whole range of reporting verbs, which denote a person who can be considered as easily excitable.
  • The very first verb we find is “screamed” which indicates lack of restraint, (defined in the Macmillan dictionary as being ‘a loud, high noise that you make because hurt, frightened or excited’.
speech representation
speech representation
  • we are shown immediately a person with as little thought for decorum as Lilia, and a self-centred view of life: Handkerchiefs and collars! Screamed Harriet, ‘In my inlaid box! I’ve lent you my inlaid box!’
  • This makes her appear all the more ridiculous coming after Phillip’s lyrical descriptions of the glories of Italy in a bathetic juxtaposition of high culture and trivial domestic concerns.

direct speech betrays her limited understanding: “I cannot understand people”...”what can they be doing all day? And there is no church there, I suppose”, where the modal verb cannot indicates she is narrow-minded and incapable ofunderstanding the other people’s behaviour.

speech representation1
  • Harriet’s reaction to Lilia’s letter. We can observe a climax structure, which begins with the zero grade “said” and quickly rises in intensity two lines later “Her voice began to quaver”. And again “faltered”. Finally we find the form “moaned”
  • As far as the “control/lack of control” theme is concerned, verbs as to quaver and to falter have a strong connotation of unsteadiness and weakness or hesitancy, implying anxiety, nervousness, susceptibility and more generally incapability of controlling emotions.
authorial comment1
  • The author presents her as her elderly daughter, thus juxtaposing her age with her dependent status, but underlines the harmonious relationship always got on very well, though they had not a great deal in common.
  • Despite Mrs Herriton’s belief in the redeeming powers of education in her attempts to domesticate Lilia, Harriet’s education is described as too with the quantifier too indicating excess.
  • Harriet cannot imagine a world different from the one created by her education which is indicated as being fairly limited (the Protestant part of Switzerland)
  • The repeated action of going to church is part of this. There is nothing else but following the rules and habits of her society.
  • We are told in the author’s narrative that she is pious and patriotic and a great moral asset for the house but he adds that she lacked that pliancy and tact which her mother so much valued and had expected her to pick up for herself.
obeying rules
  • She is also portrayed as being unoriginal and derivative in her language “Everyone to his taste! Said Harriet who always delivered a platitude as if it were an epigram. Part of creativity involves the breaking of moulds and rules.
  • talking about the influence religion has over Harriet: quoting Philip, she had bolted all the cardinal virtues and couldn’t digest them Harriet is portrayed as being obedient to her mother, carrying out her orders, though sometimes reluctantly or unwillingly.
authorial comment2
  • The positive terms are very much limited to her local environment and the negative terms show her to be rigid, too much control and an inability to be flexible.
  • Her life is described as being very circumscribed and the areas of her control parochial everything – the Book Club, the Debating Society, the Progressive whist, the bazaars are all trivial occupations for the middle class woman of the time,
  • she protests as if the highest cultural values are under attack with pompous phrases People won’t like it. We have our reputation. A house divided against itself cannot stand
  • she feels threatened by Philip’s derision of such activities as well as at his slights on the local church (called by the author a small depressing edifice).
losing control1
  • On the whole Harriet appears to be like a child who is overwhelmed
  • She is described as hot and agitatedbetraying her lack of control both physical and emotional.
  • She is described as having violent reactions and unable to control her emotions.
  • The language continually highlights issues of control.
  • The natural and emotional world are beyond our control whereas conventions, reason, and education are a matter of control.
  • The fictional worlds created by Forster contain all these elements.
  • Lilia causes the whole family to waver in their control and we know from the rest of the book the Herritons lose their battle with her, she moves out of their control and the conflict brings about tragedy.
  • the seeds of the conflict through the construction of the characters’ identity in the first chapter signposts what will happen in the rest of the book.
linguistic choices
  • Forster portrays character by means of linguistic choices which underline such conflicts and contrasts, thus opening the way to the themes of the novel by placing his characters along the spectrum at one extreme or another or simply in the middle.
  • In particular the narrative reporting of events, use of reporting words, the use of figurative language and authorial comment.