On a trip to Italy, a young widow gets pregnant and subsequently dies in childbirth; the ensuing custody battle, between the families in England and Italy, leads to nothing but tragedy for everyone involved. After burying her husband, Lilia Herriton decides she needs a long vacation. So she leaves her young daughter Irma with her wealthy, status-conscious in-laws, whose money is how she's funding her trip, and sets out for Italy, joined by an old friend named Caroline Abbott. Together, they explore the Tuscan countryside and assimilate themselves with the local people. Lila soon falls in love with Gino, a handsome and passionate Italian man, who also happens to be much younger than she is.
Word gets back to Lilia's in-laws in England. They are outraged. They dispatch Philip Herriton, her brother-in-law, to ensure that nothing untoward happens. But by the time Philip arrives, Gino and Lilia have already married. Philip returns to England a failure. To make matters "worse", as the in-laws see it, Lilia becomes pregnant with Gino's baby. But there are physical complications. And while the baby, a boy, is safe and healthy, Lilia herself dies during the birth.
Caroline Abbott, who has since returned to England, travels to Italy to help the now motherless child. When the Herritons hear about this, they feel as if Caroline is trying to make them look bad; so, in order to counter any negative public perceptions about their own capacity for kindness (and proving that they don't understand Caroline's genuinely selfless motives), they once again send Philip to Italy to retrieve the baby and thereby save him from an uncivilized life in an uncivilized country, whatever the cost. But this time, to ensure he doesn't fail again, his sister Harriet is sent along with him.
Gino, unsurprisingly, has no intention of giving up his son. The Herritons, who expect everyone to simply acquiesce to their demands, are at a loss. Meanwhile, Caroline becomes a kind of surrogate mother to Gino's child, and finds herself falling in love with Gino and the country, both of which exude the same pull on Caroline that they did on Lilia. Philip, for his part, is shocked to realize that his time spent around Caroline has a hypnotic effect on him. She is a genuinely kind and loving person – something he is not used to in his family – and in short order Philip falls in love with her.
Harriet, though, is unaffected and never forgets the purpose of their trip. Under her guidance, the two Herritons concoct a plan to kidnap the baby and flee back to England. But the plan is ill-conceived and desperate, and when they make their move, a series of missteps leads to the baby being accidentally killed. When Gino finds out, he becomes almost feral with rage and he confronts Philip, rightly blaming him for the death. But Gino can't sustain this and collapses, broken with grief.
The novel ends with everyone reeling or shattered. This confrontation is transformative for Philip, who in the presence of such all-consuming emotion finds himself feeling alive for the first time in his life. The guilt over the baby's death – and her direct and active role in it – causes Harriet to go insane. Philip is brilliantly alive and in love with Caroline, but Caroline doesn't even notice his feelings for her and, for her part, only falls deeper in love with Gino after all this. But even Caroline can't have what she wants. Gino, it turns out, become betrothed to another woman soon after Lilia died, and before Caroline arrived back in Italy. This was simply to ensure a maternal presence for his motherless baby. But even though the reason for this betrothal – the baby – is gone, Gino is too honorable to back out of the arrangement. Unsatisfied with each of their lots, and beset with insanity, heartache, and loss, everyone nevertheless goes their separate ways.
Best part of story, including ending:
It's not as epic an examination of cross-cultural and cross-class misunderstandings as Forster achieves in A PASSAGE TO INDIA, but the narrow focus allows for some perhaps more nuanced insights about the late-Victorian English self-satisfaction and chauvinism.
Best scene in story:
The scene where Gino discovers his son is dead and has his feral eruption of raw, wordless emotion is one of the most intense and powerful scenes I think Forster has ever written.
Opinion about the main character:
While there's no one main character, and several of the mains are the despicable Herritons, I will simply say that Caroline is a welcome antidote to the priggish elitism that Harriet, in particular, seems to exude with every breath.
This book is talking about the cultural differences between England and Italy. Since Lilia who came from England got married to Gino who was in Italy, she had to struggle to understand her husband's culture. However, she and her baby died in an tragic incident.
The review of this Book prepared by Ji-Young Choi
Swati Swarnim on 12/13/2015 4:10:40 AM says: I appreciate the character of Caroline..the most generous and a lady with heart full of love for the motherless child and for Gino.. she turned out to be a good friend, a good mother and a good lover as well..