Study Guide

Where Angels Fear to Tread Plot Analysis

By E. M. Forster

Plot Analysis

Exposition (Initial Situation)

Bon Voyage!

Lilia Herriton is headed on a sweet trip to Italy with her travel companion, Miss Abbott. Lilia is a widow, lives with her in-laws, and has never been able to really adapt to her duties as a mother. She totally needs to get away from it all. She is always on the verge of causing some sort of scandal, and this time, the Herritons have decided to send Lilia off to travel in order to put an end to her flirtations with Mr. Kingcroft. Because in Edwardian England, flirtation while widowed=pearl-clutching. Lilia's absence will also give Mrs. Herriton a chance to properly educate and train Irma, Lilia's daughter. The next few months pass peacefully, with Lilia sending letters home describing the awesome time she's having in Italy.

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

Guess Who's Not Coming to Dinner?

Then one day, the Herritons receive a letter that sends everyone scampering for their smelling salts. There have been rumors circulating that Lilia is engaged to someone she met at the hotel. Gasp! Mrs. Herriton sends her son Philip on a mission to bring Lilia back to England before she brings disgrace to the family. But Philip arrives too late—Lilia is already married and her husband is… wait for it… a twenty-one-year-old penniless Italian, son of a county dentist (did we mention that Lilia is thirty-three?). Not exactly the kind of man that the uptight Herritons would welcome into the family with open arms.

The Herritons pretty much turn their backs on Lilia, who sets up house in Italy with her husband Gino. Things seem to be going a-okay until Lilia finds out that Gino has been cheating on her (the dirtbag). Her only hope in saving the marriage is to have a child, but during the delivery, Lilia dies giving birth to her son.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

Rescue Mission Number Two

The Herritons try to keep the news of Lilia's newborn son a secret both from Irma and their hometown of Sawston. But when Irma receives a letter from Italy from her "lital brother," (we know that it's misspelled) she ends up telling all her friends at school about the baby, and pretty soon, the whole town knows about it. When Miss Abbott learns the news, she decides she must find a way to help the baby. Mrs. Herriton is pressured to keep up appearances (she goes as a "loving grandmother" for Halloween) and is forced to send Philip on a second rescue mission to bring the baby back to England, before Miss Abbott can interfere. Harriet, Philip's sister, also tags along for the ride.

Things in Italy do not go well. Miss Abbott realizes that Gino actually does love his son and won't part with him, no matter how much money they offer him. Philip is also unsuccessful in convincing Gino to give up his baby. So now it's up to Harriet to find a solution. And what's her genius strategy, you ask? Well, she walks right into Gino's house when he's not at home and kidnaps the baby!

Falling Action

Tragedy Strikes Again

Harriet sends a message to Philip to meet her at the gate outside of town, and they take a carriage towards the train station (Miss Abbott follows closely behind in a second carriage). Philip assumes Harriet somehow managed to strike a bargain with Gino for the baby. Suddenly, the carriage lurches and overturns—they've crashed into Miss Abbott's carriage. When Philip looks around for the baby, he finds that the poor child has been killed.

When Gino hears the news, he lashes out in anger and attacks Philip. We can't blame him. Somehow, Miss Abbott manages to separate the two men and calms them down enough until they eventually forgive each other.

Resolution (Denouement)

Going Home

Harriet's crime is never revealed to the public, and Gino and Philip part on friendly terms. During the train ride back to England, Philip looks at Miss Abbott and realizes that over the course of their time together in Italy, he has fallen in love with her. (Because nothing spells romance like a kidnapping plot gone awry, amiright?) He's just about to confess his feelings to her when Miss Abbott tells him that she's in love… with Gino. Philip, who always prides himself on understanding how the world works, suddenly realizes that he doesn't really understand anything.

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