Study Guide

Where Angels Fear to Tread Respect and Reputation

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Respect and Reputation

For six months she schemed to prevent the match, and when it had taken place she turned to another task—the supervision of her daughter-in-law. Lilia must be pushed through life without bringing discredit on the family into which she had married. (1.37)

Mrs. Herriton would be a nightmare to have as your mother-in-law… or your mother, for that matter. She's pushy, controlling, and judgmental. She is so obsessed with protecting the family name that she never prioritizes Lilia's happiness. Notice the narrator's use of the verb "pushed." Lilia isn't guided gently through life, or encouraged to explore and grow. Instead, Mrs. Herriton pushes her through a set path and won't tolerate any deviations from it. Ugh.

"Philip laughs at everything—the Book Club, the Debating Society, the Progressive Whist, the bazaars. People won't like it. We have our reputation. A house divided against itself cannot stand." (1.58)

There are very few things in life that Philip takes seriously. In nearly every situation, he'll find a way to throw in a witty or sarcastic comment. It drives Harriet nuts that her brother is constantly cracking jokes. Harriet is afraid that Philip's flippancy will make the family look bad, but Philip seems to take pride in his detachment from life.

"Yes! and I forbid you to do it! You despise me, perhaps, and think I'm feeble. But you're mistaken. You are ungrateful and impertinent and contemptible, but I will save you in order to save Irma and our name." (2.110)

Lilia manages to get a rise out of Philip when she accuses his whole family of mistreating her. But he falls back on the same line of reasoning that Mrs. Herriton always uses: that Lilia is ill-mannered and that the Herriton reputation must be remain untarnished from her misconduct. Does Philip really believe this or is he just following his mother's orders without thinking for himself? You be the judge.

"Do you suppose that he guesses the situation--how anxious we are to hush the scandal up?" (5.105)

Mrs. Herriton asks Philip if he thinks Gino will suspect how much the Herritons want to keep their name free from scandal. They don't want Gino to realize this because he might ask for more money. But Mrs. Herriton would be willing to pay as much as it would take to keep the family reputation intact.

"The child is no relation of ours," said Philip. "It is therefore scarcely for us to interfere." (5.127)

Philip argues that since Lilia's baby isn't a direct member of the family, they don't need to concern themselves with his fate. But Mrs. Herriton is always attuned to any whiff of danger when it comes to the family reputation. If there's any possibility that people would accuse the Herritons of shirking their duty toward the baby, that's something Mrs. Herriton simply won't stand for. Where are those smelling salts?

"It doesn't matter for you. You can laugh. But I know what people say; and that woman goes to Italy this evening." (5.193)

Mrs. Herriton is so angry in this scene that we're worried she's going to burst a blood vessel. She has just come back from visiting Miss Abbott, who is so determined to "help out" that she's traveling to Italy to bring the baby back to Sawston. Mrs. Herriton won't allow Caroline to make the family look bad, so now she's forcing Philip to take the next train to Monteriano.

"Stop that nonsense, Philip. I will not be disgraced by her. I will have the child. Pay all we've got for it. I will have it." (5.195)

Mrs. Herriton kind of scares us—we definitely wouldn't want to get on her bad side. She is furious at Caroline for potentially disgracing the Herriton reputation. But here's where Forster shows Mrs. Herriton's true colors: she emphatically declares that she will have the child, but not because she loves the baby. She's treating the child like an object that can be bought and sold with cash.

"Her view will be that the affair is settled—sadly settled since the baby is dead. Still it's over; our family circle need be vexed no more. She won't even be angry with you. You see, you have done us no harm in the long run. Unless, of course, you talk about Harriet and make a scandal." (10.24)

We're disappointed in Philip in this scene—even though he seems genuinely repentant about the baby's death, the way he describes the events sounds callous and dismissive. Pay attention to how Philip's word choice emphasizes the way he sees the tragic events only in terms of how it affects the Herriton's reputation: the baby's death "settles" the affair, so now the family doesn't have to be "vexed" with bringing the baby back to Sawston. Mrs. Herriton isn't even "angry" at Miss Abbott because she hasn't done any "harm" to the family name, unless of course she creates another "scandal" by mentioning Harriet's crime. Uh, the Herritons are the worst.

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