I absolutely adore reading - my love for books has had a huge impact on my life! I'm going to grad school to be a children's/YA librarian.
When a young English widow takes off on the grand tour and along the way marries a penniless Italian, her in-laws are not amused. That the marriage should fail and poor Lilia die tragically are only to be expected. But that Lilia should have had a baby -- and that the baby should be raised as an Italian! -- are matters requiring immediate correction by Philip Herriton, his dour sister Harriet, and their well-meaning friend Miss Abbott. (source)
This is the story of a snobby middle class English family who is horrified when their former daughter-in-law, Lilia, has the nerve to marry an Italian without consulting them first. Lilia has been regarded as an embarrassment since she married into the family and after her husband's death, they're at a loss as to how to "deal with" her. They're all too happy to include Lilia's daughter, Irma, in the family, since there's still hope for her, but as for Lilia... well, she's just a mess, in their not-so-humble opinions. A trip to Italy seems like the ideal solution, until Lilia goes and marries an Italian nobody. She's then written off and is fated to die in childbirth. The family has absolutely no interest in Lilia's son until an acquaintance threatens to go and take care of the child herself, because they've deemed the father incapable of such a feat simply because he is an Italian. In the end, the son is becomes an innocent victim of this awful family's misguided ideals, and the family suffers absolutely nothing.
This is Where Angels Fear to Tread in a nutshell. I really liked it at first, but as the story progressed, I completely lost interest and ultimately I felt really disappointed in how everything ended. It had so much potential - I mentioned in my reading update that it had many areas of conflict and I felt that it would be interesting to read about all of these. But instead of having the characters overcome these issues, everything worked out perfectly for the detestable Herritons and, while I think that Forster sympathized with Lilia and her son, he ended up punishing both of them much more than any other character.
I was really surprised by how low the Herritons regarded the Italians. In novels from this time period, I generally expect racism, but I definitely did not expect it to this degree. Unlike African Americans or Asians, the Italians are fellow Europeans. Obviously, in reality, race doesn't make a difference (or shouldn't), but in the early 20th century, it did. But I really was not prepared for how much the Herritons scorned the Italians in this book. It went beyond class conflict; they actually viewed Gino as inferior simply because he was Italian. I knew from my history classes that southern and eastern Europeans were generally viewed as "lower quality," but this was the first time that I've actually encountered this prejudice in literature. It was very eye-opening and quite horrifying.
Overall, I don't think that Where Angels Fear to Tread is a bad book. I actually do think it's pretty well-written and I liked Forster's writing style. However, I was bored by the story and, frankly, pretty disgusted with how things turned out. Also, I don't really understand the significance of a title - does it have any meaning beyond the simple fact that Lilia pushed societal boundaries farther than anyone else dared to? I don't know, and I don't recall this being addressed at any point, which was frustrating. I don't know that I would recommend this book to anyone - I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading it, but I really wasn't a huge fan.