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257 Depths and Surfaces: Dimensions of Fosterian Irony By Alan Wilde (Temple University) Forster began writing, as he saw it, for a "new age,"l in which society would be (the words are Leonard Woolf's) "free, rational, civilized, pursuing truth and beauty."2 Clearly, there existed in the early years of the century a group, however- small, sharing common standards and aspirations and furnishing that community of belief on which satire depends. And satire, however limited and often inadequate a vehicle it provided for him, was apparently congenial to Forster throughout his career. Where Angels Fear to Tread is among the most coherently satirical of his works and suggests both the nature and the limits of what he was able to do with the form. To begin with, the strategies of the novel remain largely Augustan: verbal irony makes the satiric point, holding up to ridicule the triviality, the complacency, and the dishonesty of the lives exposed. Moreover, the novel seems to present as the basis for its attacks a comprehensible world, as the symbolically central figure of Gino Carella makes clear. Gino and his city give a definite shape to the universe of Where Angels Fear to Tread, encompassing, as Philip sees it, everything between heaven and hell (p. 113)3 or between "the clouds above him, and the tides below" (p. 166). The novel's world may be mysterious and terrible, but it is ultimately limited and contained : an extrapolation (in Pierre Francastel's terms) from a "cube scénographique au centre duquel se déplace l'homme-acteur": "l'image d'une Nature distincte de l'homme, mais à la mesure de l'homme et de ses réactions."^ Though he is seen by Caroline at one point as "greater than right or wrong" (p. 137)» almost a transcendent force, Gino is very much of this world, conceived "à la mesure de l'homme," extending but also defining its boundaries . In other words, Gino is the image of nature in the novel, and despite his occasional brutality (or because of it) a symbol of cosmos, of order. But his order is not Sawston's, and his function is not only to articulate the human limits of Where Angels Fear to Tread but to give its world a sense of dimension, to ratify its concern with views, which are as central to this as to Forster's other Italian novel. "Astride the parapet, with one foot in the loggia and the other dangling into the view" (p. 131), Gino exists, without being aware of it, in spatial and moral depth. He is part of the view, at one with, perhaps identical with the phenomenal world and the world of value into which he merges. As contrasted with the superficial, morally conventional life of Sawston, Monteriano embraces, stretches, unifies (most notably at the opera), absorbing and accepting the melodramatic moments that are part of the texture of its life. I have suggested already that in Where Angels Fear to Tread irony functions largely as a rhetorical weapon in the armory of satire. 258 But the novel reveals as well another kind of irony: the perception of disparities or incongruities inherent in the very nature of existence and consequently resistent to the corrective thrust of satire. Furthermore, irony can be seen as the response to as well as the perception of a discontinuous and fragmented world, a world lacking order and coherence and, finally, meaning, as meaning is increasingly located not objectively in the cosmos but subjectively in the eye of the beholder. Longing to cross the gulfs and abysses that scar the landscape of modern literature , the ironist (Francastel's "l'homme-acteur") is trapped in the dubious safety of distance and uninvolvement. Gino stands outside this kind of irony. As the vehicle of Forster 's satiric vision, he makes clear that the aim of the satire in the novel is to break down barriers, to achieve through a sort of transparency or unity a coherence that will make irony impossible. But Gino is less a solution than an ideal. Like his opposite number, Harriet Herriton, who has no view, no ability to see in depth, Gino is, for very...


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pp. 257-274
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Will Be Archived 2021
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