Study Guide

Where Angels Fear to Tread Chapter 5

By E. M. Forster

Chapter 5

  • The Herritons receive news of Lilia's death on Philip's twenty-fourth birthday.
  • They decide, rather matter-of-factly, that it would be proper for them to go into mourning and that they will tell Irma of her mother's death but refrain from mentioning her marriage. Philip is concerned about what should be done regarding Lilia's newborn son, and feels annoyed (though he's not sure why) that both his mother and sister don't want to have anything to do with the baby. Mrs. Herriton thinks that it would be best if no one in Sawston knew about the child who was, after all, no real relation of theirs. Mrs. Herriton is an evil witch.
  • When Irma is told the news of her mother, she weeps loudly but seems content with vague answers to her questions.
  • Miss Abbott is also informed of Lilia's death and takes it very hard.
  • A few days later, she happens to be traveling to London at the same time as Philip, and the conversation focuses on Lilia. Caroline still feels that she's partly to blame for what happened: she had asked Lilia if she was truly in love with Gino, and that if she was, she should marry him. Caroline also feels guilty for abandoning Lilia in Italy once things went south with Philip.
  • In response to her confession, Philip does call her out for not telling the family sooner of Lilia's marriage, and presses her to explain what made her act that way in the first place.
  • And here's when we get to the Really Deep Stuff.
  • Miss Abbott explains that while in Italy, she realized how much she hated Sawston and the hypocrisy of English society. She thought that Lilia had led such an empty life in England, and if she had finally found her true love, why shouldn't she marry him and be happy? But looking back, Miss Abbott realizes now that she was wrong in thinking that Lilia had found real happiness.
  • Miss Abbott still resents the pettiness and mediocrity of Sawston, but has learned that when you go against Society, you'll lose in the end. Philip tries the more optimistic approach: while Society can seem invincible, nothing can stop you from still finding beauty and truth in your own life. Although Miss Abbott is unconvinced, the two part on friendly terms when the train arrives at Charing Cross station.
  • Skipping ahead to seven months later. Life has been chugging along with relatively few bumps, until one afternoon, Irma receives a postcard with the following message: "View of the superb city of Monteriano—from your lital brother" (5.80). We didn't just misspell "little," that's how it's written in the book.
  • Guess the cat is out of bag now.
  • Irma bombards her grandmother with a million and one questions about who her little brother is and why hasn't she met him before. Mrs. Herriton is forced to explain the situation (giving Irma as few details as possible), and makes Irma swear herself to secrecy. The last thing Mrs. Herriton needs is for the whole of Sawston to know about Lilia's Italian son.
  • Irma manages to stay quiet for about a month, but then a second postcard arrives in the mail from her "lital brother" (i.e. Gino, since newborn babies can't write, as far as we know). Unable to contain her excitement a minute longer, Irma spills the beans at school, bragging to her friends that she has a baby brother who lives in Italy. The news spreads like wildfire and, before long, the entire town has heard about Lilia's son and the Herritons are fielding questions left and right.
  • Several days later, Miss Abbott pays a visit to the Herritons to inquire what their plans are for the baby. Philip and Mrs. Herriton are shocked and outraged at what they see as Miss Abbott's impertinence. To save face, Mrs. Herriton says that only Mrs. Theobold is in a position to offer assistance to the baby since Lilia was her daughter, and that it would be inappropriate for the Herritons to interfere.
  • But Miss Abbott knows full well that Mrs. Theobold would never do anything without Mrs. Herriton's stamp of approval. What's more, Caroline now thinks that it's her duty to "help" the baby since she was partly responsible for Lilia's failed marriage in the first place.
  • After Miss Abbott leaves, Mrs. Herriton realizes that there will be no way of keeping her away from the baby. Even worse, there's the danger that people will start thinking the Herritons are shrinking from their responsibilities by neglecting the child's needs.
  • Time to switch tactics: Mrs. Herriton now wants to adopt the baby and raise it in England. Philip is shocked by his mother's hypocrisy (people spend a lot of time in this novel being shocked).
  • Mrs. Herriton sends a letter to Gino, offering to adopt the baby, but Gino writes back that he loves his son too much to part with him. When Mrs. Herriton shows Miss Abbott the letter (hoping that she'll finally drop the matter and stop meddling), Caroline refuses to accept the outcome and insists on traveling to Italy herself to bring the baby back.
  • Furious with Miss Abbott for interfering, Mrs. Herriton rushes home and orders Philip and his sister to head at once to Monteriano and gain custody of the baby at all costs. So Philip is sent on his second rescue mission (we're calling it Operation Baby Recovery).

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