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New at IWP Books: E. M. Forster (1953) The Hill of Devi. Jacques Barzun, “The Secretary’s Turban and the Story Behind It” (The Griffin, November 1953):

In his biography of that unjustly neglected writer G. Lowes Dickinson, E. M. Forster records a moment in their friendship: “On October 11th, 1912, I hung over the edge of a ship at Port Said — my first glimpse of the East or of Dickinson in a sun-helmet. He bobbed far below me in a little boat, looking dishevelled and tired. He had been stopping at Cairo, and he was joining R. C. Trevelyan and myself to visit India.”

It was this first visit of Forster’s that led to his return in 1921, his serving for eight months as secretary to a maharajah, his finishing A Passage to India, begun after the earlier voyage, and finally his publishing just this year, under the title of The Hill of Devi, a remarkable account of all these episodes.

The book starts innocently with some letters of 1912 written to Forster’s family in England. It winds up with a tale of despair and disaster that is historically of our age, and yet forces the mind back to late Roman times to find an analogue, for it is a tragedy of state, of love, and of character. Between the quietly humorous start and the last irrevocable word occur the characteristic incidents of a Forster novel — extraordinary, ludicrous, touching, unbelievable — and all marked with the stamp of truth. Here at last no critic can pit his sense of probability against the novelist’s: it all happened “on oath,” it is a slice of modern Anglo-Indian history; and if the detail sounds fishy to the imprehensile ears of Suburbia, it is not because Forster has invented or distorted, nor is it because the scene is India; it is simply because Suburbia’s categories for life are a size too small.

Barzun’s review is available at IWP Articles.