Study Guide

Mrs. Herriton in Where Angels Fear to Tread

By E. M. Forster

Mrs. Herriton

Mrs. Herriton wears the pants, er, corset, in the Herriton family. She calls all the shots. She's hell-bent on preserving the family's core Edwardian value systems (read: be proper and miserable) at any cost. She's the novel's symbol of blind arrogance, and she fiercely guards a code of conduct that she would describe as "decency"… but she fails to notice that she does some pretty despicable things in the name of "decency."

One of the most striking images of Mrs. Herriton's strict no-nonsense policy appears at the beginning of the novel when the narrator describes her and Harriet tending the garden:

They sowed the duller vegetables first, and a pleasant feeling of righteous fatigue stole over them as they addressed themselves to the peas. Harriet stretched a string to guide the row straight, and Mrs. Herriton scratched a furrow with a pointed stick. (1.60)

The image of Mrs. Herriton scratching a furrow with a stick symbolizes her straight-laced approach to life: she pokes and prods people (like Lilia) to follow her orders, she never veers from the path or groove that she has set for herself, and she feels "righteous" in her narrow and conventional thinking.

Mrs. Herriton is even willing to sacrifice her daughter-in-law's chance of happiness in order to maintain the family's reputation. As the most dislikeable character in the novel, Mrs. Herriton represents everything that Forster criticizes about English society: the hypocrisy and pettiness, the short-sighted fixation on good manners, and the lack of genuine compassion. Yeah, Mrs. Herriton pretty much has no redeeming qualities at all.

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