By the time the great Edwardian novelist, in this last and best of his novels published in his lifetime, addressed himself to the British presence in India, his moral sense was more fully equipped than ever. Mindful of the imponderables of human conduct, alert to all the reciprocal misjudgments and the wearying false appraisals we make as a matter of course, he looked at empire and saw its weak foundations. Adela Quested is a British visitor to the Raj who is anxious to know “the real India.” On a visit to the Malabar caves an assault of some kind does or does not happen to her, perhaps at the hands of Dr. Aziz, the solicitous Indian Muslim who has arranged the trip. Has she imagined things? Is he not what he seems? In his other great novel, Howard’s End, Forster directed us to “only connect.” What he demonstrates here, in a story of the greatest and saddest subtleties — and comic subtleties, too — is how nearly impossible that is to do.
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