BBC Radio 4 Extra, 11-12 May 2011
Two tales from the novelist best known for A Passage to India and Howards End, read by Andrew Sachs and Ruth Wilson. Both of them were set in Europe, and explored the ways in which strait-laced Brits responded to the experiences of being abroad. This theme runs throughout Forster's work, most notably in A Passage to India.
In "The Road from Colonnus," the action took place in Greece, and centred around Mr. Lucas, a middle-aged protagonist travelling with a party of well-heeled English people, including his daughter. They stopped at a rural retreat: Mr. Lucas found the location so attractive that he proposed to stay the night, but was reluctantly persuaded to continue his journey by his fellow-travellers, who found the conditions particularly squalid. Some months later Lucas' daughter happened to read an article in an old Greek newspaper, which told about how several people in the rural retreat had been killed in a natural disaster on the very night that Lucas proposed to stay there. Needless to say she was relieved at her lucky escape, but Lucas could not help wondering whether he had been condemned to a life of stifling conformity as a result.
Forster uses the story to consider whether the apparently civilized life pursued by Lucas' friends is actually as idyllic as they believe. They live in their little cocoon, indifferent to others around them, even while visiting Greece to improve their cultural knowledge. Lucas becomes dimly aware of an alternative way of life pursued by the locals, but even he lacks sufficient moral strength to follow his inclinations and his fellow-travellers. The story was adapted by Richard Hamilton and produced by Elizabeth Allard.
In "The Obelisk," read by Wilson, Forster looked at anothr couple abroad, Ernest and Hilda, who together go to view an obelisk. Eventually they are waylaid by two complete strangers: the female pairs off with Ernest, the male with Hilda. The two couples go their separate ways, promising one another to visit the obelisk. As it turns out, however, the obelisk no longer stands, having been blown down in a storm; hence the two couples take the opportunity to indulge in extra-marital sex. Neither Ernest nor Hilda tell one another of their experiences, preferring instead to maintain the fiction that they have visited the obelisk. Once again Forster offers his protagonist an alternative to their life of conformity; although they only briefly experience it, the idea of finding a lover - even for a brief fling - proves irresistible. "The Obelisk" is one of those stories with a proverbial twist in the tail; we only understand what has happened right at the very end. As with "The Road from Colonnus," the story was adapted by Hamilton and produced by Allard.