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CRP: “The Hill of Devi” by E.M. Forster (Part 1)

The Classics Reclamation Project is my personal challenge to read and enjoy the classics. Each Wednesday, I post about the classic I’m reading at the moment.

The Classics Reclamation ProjectAfter listening to E.M. Forster’s novel A Passage to India over the past couple of weeks, I decided to pick up Forster’s nonfiction account of his time in India during the early 20th century. Entitled The Hill of Devi, this account is comprised mostly of Forster’s letters describing his experiences.

I’m only about 60 pages into The Hill of Devi, but I love it. It’s easy to read, full of interesting information and experiences, and lovingly written. In the preface, Forster admits that most of his letters were addressed to relations, including his mother, saying:

“I was writing to people of whom I was fond and whom I wanted to amuse, with the result that I became too humorous and conciliatory, and too prone to turn remote and rare matters into suburban jokes…

‘Amusing letters home,’ from Miss Eden’s onward, have their drawbacks. Aiming at freshness, they may sacrifice dignity and depth.” (p. 7-8)

It’s true Forster’s letters have a light-hearted delight about them. To me, though, that is precisely what makes them so endearing. Forster, apparently, had a gentle sense of humor that doesn’t come out much in his novels (at least, the ones I’ve read). His delight at experiencing India just pours through his descriptions and anecdotes, and they are a joy to read.

Here, for example, is Forster’s description of the food at a feast to which he was invited early on in his first visit. The following numbered list is, in the text, accompanied by a diagram of Forster’s plate, basically a circle with numbers indicating where each of the dishes described was located. He described his dinner as follows:

1.The Hill of Devi by E.M. Forster (cover) A mound of delicious rice–a great stand-by.
2. Brown tennis balls of sugar–not bad.
3. Golden curlicues–sweet to sickliness.
4. Little spicy rissoles.
5. Second mound of rice, mixed with spices and lentils.
6. Third mound of rice, full of sugar and sultanas–very nice.
7. Curry in metal dish–meant to be mixed with rice No. 1.
8. Sauce, as if made form apples that felt poorly. Also to be mixed with rice, but only once by me.
9. Another sauce, chooey-booey and brown.
10, 11, 12. Three dreadful little dishes that tasted of nothing till they were well in your mouth, when your whole tongue suddenly burst into flame. I got to hate this side of the tray.
13. Long thin cake, like a brandy snap but salt.
14. It may have been vermicelli.
15. As for canaries.
16. Fourth mound of rice to which I never came.
17. Water.
18. Native bread–thin oat-cake type.

I love the mixture of humor, analysis, and enjoyment. I often find myself smiling as I read Forster’s letters, which isn’t at all what I expected! I’m very much looking forward to continuing to read The Hill of Devi over the upcoming week.

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  • http://www.lovelaughterinsanity.com Trish

    I feel like I need to give Forster another chance. I’ve only read Howards End but really struggled through the whole thing. Maybe since this is non-fiction I’d fare a little better–so glad you’re enjoying! And how much rice did that poor man encounter? 😉

    • Erin

      I’d only read Howards End until recently, too, and I struggled with it. I probably wouldn’t have finished if it hadn’t been for a class. His style is completely different in this one, and I think you’re right–it’s because it’s nonfiction and letters. He’s very personable, a bit funny, and rather charming.

      Apparently, there was a lot of rice :-)

  • http://www.ragingbibliomania.net/ zibilee

    I know it’s weird, but those type of lists are something that I love, so thanks for sharing that one with us. I still haven’t read any Forster, but really need to get that collection off of my shelves and give it a go. Thanks for the great review!

    • Erin

      Not weird at all! Obviously I like them too…since I picked out this one to share :-) I’m amazed how differently his nonfiction and fiction read. It makes me curious to read nonfiction by other novelists to see if the split is universal!

  • http://fatbooks.org Ellen

    I haven’t heard of this one before, which surprises me since Forster is one of my favorites. It sounds like a good & fun read, I’ll have to check it out. The way he described that dinner is also eerily similar to how I tracked one of my own meals after I’d been in Macedonia about a week – a numbered list of foods and courses in my journal, which I think I then emailed to everyone I knew with a note that read something like, “I can’t believe how much FOOD they serve here!!”

    • Erin

      I love that you mapped out your food the same way–thanks for sharing that! I hadn’t heard of this one, either, until I was poking around on the Wikipedia page for A Passage to India, my last classic. The Hill of Devi doesn’t seem to be widely available, unfortunately. I’d love for them to put out a new edition!