Humorous, Insightful Social Commentary
The style Forster employs in Where Angels Fear to Tread is witty, conversational, and full of humor—we often find ourselves laughing at the way Forster portrays the silliness of his characters. Take, for example, Forster's description of Philip's attitude toward his mission to bring Lilia's baby back to England:
Philip saw no prospect of good, nor of beauty either. But the expedition promised to be highly comic. He was not averse to it any longer; he was simply indifferent to all in it except the humours. These would be wonderful. Harriet, worked by her mother; Mrs. Herriton, worked by Miss Abbott; Gino, worked by a cheque—what better entertainment could he desire? There was nothing to distract him this time; his sentimentality had died, so had his anxiety for the family honour. He might be a puppet's puppet, but he knew exactly the disposition of the strings. (6.8)
We agree with Philip that the situation is pretty entertaining: everyone is being "worked by" someone else. Both Philip and Harriet are following orders from their mother, who is forced into action because of Miss Abbott. But even if we can chuckle with Philip about who's pulling whose string, we can also see how ludicrous and immoral the whole situation really is. Forster is able to use humor to subtly underline Philip's hypocrisy: he can laugh all he wants about the expedition, but he's also betraying his own moral weakness in making light of a situation that's actually pretty serious and important.
In addition to highlighting his characters' flaws, Forster also sprinkles in lyrical descriptions of Italy that totally make us want to hop on the next plane to Europe. For example, even when Philip is exhausted and grouchy from hours of traveling, when they arrive in Florence, they can't help but marvel at how beautiful the country is. (See the "Setting" section for more on this).
On a larger scale, Forster touches on a wide range of subjects—social commentary, humor, love, tragedy, complacency and cultural clashes—and manages to weave them all together masterfully.