Confrontations with Religious and Social Norms. The Emotional Adventures of Three Women in Edwardian Literature

E. M. Forster's "A Passage to India" and W. J. Locke's "Ladies in Lavender"

Term Paper 2016 17 Pages

Didactics - English - Literature, Works









Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


The current paper focuses on the portrayal of the emotional development of three female figures in works of Edwardian literature. This development is crucial for the determination of their later fate and life due to the wisdom they acquire through their new experiences. The women in question are: (1) Mrs Moore of A Passage to India (E. M. Forster, 1924); and (2) Janet and Ursula Widdington of Ladies in Lavender in Faraway Stories (W. J. Locke, 1916). The paper further places them in their corresponding literary background and finally draws some similarities and differences between each other. Due to the featured age and profile of these women we shall regard them as products of the Victorian society and witnesses of the transition from the Victorian to the Edwardian era. The emergence of the so-called ‘New Woman’ by the end of the nineteenth century with the accompanying women’s movement, the campaign for women’s suffrage as well as the terms ‘feminism’ and ‘feminist’ sought to create more space and independence for middle-class women, who were restricted to the customary household duties.1 The women who will be analysed are confronted with confusion and certain temptations that prompt them to question, if not defy, female social norms on very sensitive subjects such as the importance of Christian faith for the widowed Mrs Moore versus a more universal religion. Although she senses the universality of all creation, she does not consciously surrender to it, because she is disheartened by the fact that she cannot conceive of an adequate religion that represents such a pioneering idea.2 The other topic addresses the potential to effectively fall in love as a marginalised spinster and claim not only the social benefits of marital life, e.g. as a mother, but also the joys of a sexually active life. The spreading of single women - referred to also as ‘surplus women’ or ‘redundant women’ - formed a social issue in the nineteenth century and was seen as a problem to be solved, as some of them even rebelled at the institution of marriage itself.3 In the featured short story we will see that, even if romance seemed to have arrived too late to the Widdington sisters, wisdom was acquired through the influence of the motto ‘youth flows magnetically to youth’4 and the forced acceptance of the irreversibility of time like a form of coming-of-age.


E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924) reflects his eighteen-month experiences from his two visits in pre- and post-war India, as well as the differences he registered between the two trips. His primary motivation for the novel, which he started writing in 1913, was the connection between East and West through the exploration of sympathy and goodwill, but his intentions were affected both by the war and his own periodic depressions. As a result, instead of focusing on the portrayal of liberalism’s power for consensus and compromise, he adopted after his second trip, which was realised eight years after the first, a more pessimistic and cynical attitude regarding the potential of an Anglo-Indian connection and friendship.5 Consequently, the story’s plot is very much guided and determined by various human relationships, one of the most important of which is Mrs Moore’s psycho-emotional development opposite the colonised - via the presence of Dr Aziz - because she represents, as we will see, the way the British should have behaved and acted during their reign in India.6 White argues that the novel’s three parts have been named following the dialectic pattern of Hegelian thesis-antithesis- synthesis respectively: (1) The ‘Mosque’ represents the central problem of separation, i.e. the division between the Indian and the English through its Islamic symbolism, which is explored from different sides.7 (2) in the ‘Caves’ we witness ‘the utter rout of the forces of reconciliation, the complete triumph of hostility, evil and negation’ due to the side-effect of the Marabar Caves’ dark voice that echoed in the two Englishwomen’s ears;8 and (3) the ‘Temple’ is a symbol of Hinduism and of a possible reunion of divergences not in opposition to each other but in a broader synthesis representing the mystery rather than complexity or obscurity of the universe, but also regeneration and hope in life. This is observed in the cancellation of effects of the Marabar, and the appeasement of lost human relationships, i.e. the friendship between Aziz and Fielding, but also Aziz and Adela.9 Approached differently, all three chapter titles incorporate metaphysical or spiritual manifestations in life, e.g. religion/darkness, mystery and chaos/religion which form a contrast opposite the colonisers’ stiff Christian background. Interestingly, though, all titles suggest undoubtedly a kind of enclosure, maybe death itself, as a contrast to the fact that almost everything in the novel happens outdoors, where life belongs.10

Finally, one can say that the ‘Temple’ tries to rebut the Social Darwinist ideas and the imperial perceptions of race of the second half of the nineteenth century, when dark populations allegedly posed a threat to race purity and, thus, caused an exaltation of white selfhood. It is due to this notion that colonisers sought to maintain a strict division between the locals and themselves (or at least a selective caste-based or religious discrimination as we observe in the novel),11 regardless how hard the colonised ones - in India or other nations - might have tried to embrace the forced europeanisation process.12


William John Locke’s short story Ladies in Lavender (1916) is concerned with the topic of spinsterhood framed by ‘dangerous’ emotional challenges of two sisters in their forties with a twenty-year-old man during their peaceful life on the Cornish coast. Locke draws from representations and values of the Victorian womanhood. The spinster’s discomfort within the traditional Victorian marriage model prompted several writers to imagine forms of escape by creating contradictory figures who posed a threat to the code system of the Victorian norms.13 As a matter of fact, though, people knew and could not deny that due to the increasing surplus of middle-class women throughout the nineteenth century one third or even one fourth of the female population would never marry. The Victorian ideal was being already threatened by this predictable marriage decline.14 By the end of the twentieth century, the need for economic independence, sexual expression and motherhood could not be achieved together, says Oram, either within marriage or outside it, without forfeiting respectability or femininity. The consequent enduring of female friendships among many spinsters’ lives brought much attention to critics and came to be censoriously characterised even as ‘pathological,15 because these rising ‘New Women’ of the late nineteenth-century Britain had to search for a meaning in their life and, thus, defy several social norms, involve themselves into political action and redefine love and marriage.16 Considering these facts, it is plausible to justify the reaction to the Victorian stiffness through the increased number of single women who were aging aimlessly, isolated and socially stigmatised due to having failed to fulfil the usual marital expectations. For, the Victorian laws, customs, educational system and public opinion enforced the principle that the reason for a woman’s existence lies in marriage and motherhood. In fact, this disapproval of aging single women was a product of the pragmatic view of social organisation (middle-class Englishmen), and not of religious teachings.17 Such women were addressed with pejorative terms that referred to their prolonged virginity, lack of femininity and marriageability.18 In Locke, for instance, we can observe the aspect of virginity in Ladies in Lavender already in the opening scene by use of the white colour’s symbolism, which stands for the pure, the untouched and the unblemished.19 Also, the story makes clear that the two spinsters, Janet and Ursula, have not willingly chosen to grow old alone, but must have instead been unlucky in finding a husband and have nevertheless stayed chaste.20 Given the fact that not all women were meant to get married, Locke tries, on the one hand, to open the two sisters’ eyes to a life they have already missed by tempting them to the beauties of the young man they discovered. On the other hand, he guides them to a ripening process, or another coming-of-age, that shows them in bitterness, sadness and great disappointment what they are actually 244, note 22.

predestined for. Despite their relative independence, freedom and availability as women they are not, in the end, meant to dream of, fall in love with, claim for their own or even try to seduce a man who is decades younger than them. That is to say, it is the social attitude that Locke exhibits here rather than the potential of an unusual romance.



The novel introduces us first to the Indian side with Dr Aziz, a doctor who works at Chandrapore’s government hospital under the administration of Major Callendar, and with some of his friends who are presented discussing about the English officials as well as the difficulties they cause under the British Raj in India.21 Aziz’s sense of beauty, ‘exquisite and durable’ attitude towards life and notions of home and country are represented in his Islamic faith.22 The first part of the novel is entitled “Mosque” due to the importance the encounter between Aziz and Mrs Moore has, which occurs by the end of Chapter II. Here, a first-level contact and effort to bridge East and West is witnessed: Aziz’s sensitivity, Islamic stiffness but also hastened fury addresses an Englishwoman who was allegedly not supposed to be in the Mosque and should have removed her shoes before entering. Mrs Moore is new in town and came to India in order to attend her son’s engagement to Adela Quested as well as to explore and learn more about the East. But she had indeed removed her shoes.23 After the resolution of this misunderstanding the conversation becomes quickly enhanced and gains interest both for India and England. Coincidence, i.e. fate plays an important role here. For instance, during their dialogue Aziz is eager to exchange in friendly, light manner personal information with Mrs Moore. Both of them learn that they are widowed and have two sons and a daughter. Also, in hearing that the City Magistrate, Ronny Heaslop, happens to be one of Mrs Moore’s sons, Aziz is surprised and suddenly feels closer to the English lady. The conversation ends with Aziz observing that he is understood and felt for, and wishing that others resembled Mrs Moore, who also confesses great sympathy opposite the doctor.


1 Cf. Sutherland 2015, p. 1.

2 Ostrander 1967, p. 29. See also PI, p. 119, where Mrs Moore thinks that it is people who are important and not necessarily the relations between them; thus, she doubts about the fuss concerning marriage and carnal embracement.

3 Milne-Smith 2011, p. 146.

4 LL, p. 69.

5 Childs 2007, p. 190. See also Spear 1986, p. 8, who quotes Forster writing to his friend Masood on 27th September 1922: “When I began the book I thought of it as a little bridge of sympathy between the East and West, but this conception has had to go, my sense of truth forbids anything so comfortable.”

6 It has been argued that Dr Aziz partly embodies Forster’s deeply beloved friend Syed Ross Masood. It was for his sake that he visited India. Even if the two remained close friends, the straight young Indian did not respond to Forster’s homosexual appeal. It would be interesting, though, to examine whether this ‘mismatch’ is reflected in the work as an Anglo-Indian incompatibility on more sentimental or sexual topics. For more on this see Galgut 2014; cf. Spear 1986, p. 3.

7 White 1953, p. 644,

8 Ibid. p. 647.

9 Ibid. p. 651-2.

10 Beer 1985, p. 57.

11 For instance, the Bridge Party’s guests included the educated and wealthy Indians. See also descriptions and expectations in PI, pp. 31, 34. Also, Mrs Moore’s son is viewed as a racist; e.g. Waldhorn 2004, p. 86.

12 Boehmer 2005, p. 65.

13 Lepin 2007, pp. v-vi. Examples are given. She also believes that the Victorian notion of ‘woman’ was so strongly associated with qualities such as fertility and domesticity that the celibate and homeless spinster, hidden from every sight, absorbed these to represent a more powerful woman.

14 Auchmuty 1973, pp. 39-40. For some statistical information regarding the decline of birth- and marriage- rates in the late nineteenth century see also Russett 1991, pp. 122-3; cf. Milne-Smith 2011, p.

15 Quoted from Sutherland 2015, p. 39.

16 Ibid., p. i.

17 Auchmuty 1973, pp. 66, 57. Also, in contrast to bachelors, who were usually employed, spinsters were an object of embarrassment and an economic burden to the society.

18 Ibid., p. 58f. She offers examples of these characterisations in literature.

19 Locke 1919, p. 43; ‘As soon as the sun rose out of the sea its light streamed through a white-curtained casement window into the whitest and most spotless room you can imagine. It shone upon two little white beds (…); on white garments neatly folded which lay on white chairs (…); on the one picture (…) which adorned the white walls (…).’ The image of the virgins and their ‘white’ background is contrasted in ibid., p. 45 with the advent of a ‘black thing’ - the washed out young man - which symbolically poses a sexual temptation and a threat to the two sisters’ virginity.

20 Ibid., p. 44. “(…) who had grown grey with waiting for the prince who never came.” Chastity is implied at least for Ursula on p. 55 when she says “(…) I’ve almost forgotten what a man wears” not only due to their father’s loss, but also due to the fact that they do not meet or observe men so actively.

21 PI, pp. 5-12.

22 Ibid., p. 13.

23 Ibid., p. 14.


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Edwardian Literature Women in Literature Ladies in Lavender A Passage to India




Title: Confrontations with Religious and Social Norms. The Emotional Adventures of Three Women in Edwardian Literature