Study Guide

Harriet Herriton in Where Angels Fear to Tread

By E. M. Forster

Harriet Herriton

Like mother, like daughter. Harriet is the spitting image of Mrs. Herriton—she follows the same code of conduct, and guards the family name as if it were treasure. And Forster takes full advantage of Harriet's unlikeable nature by portraying her as hysterically, absurdly, tragically awful.

There's nothing exciting going on in her life, so Harriet makes it her sole mission to impose annoyingly strict and annoyingly arbitrary rules on everyone around her, especially her brother. And we use the word "mission" because Harriet approaches being annoying like she's in a top-secret military project. She even refers to her jerkiness as "tactics":

"Good. So those are our tactics—to tell no one about the baby, not even Miss Abbott." (5.25)

Harriet also seems to be a magnet for flying objects: on her train ride to Italy, a piece of smut (or soot) flies into her eyes (which, from the sounds of it, always happens to her), and at the opera performance, the singer on stage chucks a bouquet of flowers right into Harriet's chest.

To add insult to injury, a bottle of ammonia in her suitcase spills onto her clothes, so Harriet is forced to travel around Italy in purple-stained duds. Ha!

Forster can certainly be the cruel jokester when he chooses to be. Harriet's worst flaw is her tendency to meddle unabashedly in the affairs of others. Her biggest and most tragic mistake is her decision to kidnap Lilia's baby, which leads to the death of the baby in a carriage accident. And what we can never forgive Harriet for is the fact that she doesn't even feel sorry for what she did: her initial reaction is one of guilt, but she soon makes excuses for herself and merely refers to the baby's death as an "unlucky accident" (10.28), absolving herself from any moral responsibility for her actions.

For shame, Harriet, for shame.

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