Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 May 2011
In E. M. Forster's novel Where angels fear to tread (1905), members of the Herriton family travel to Italy on a mission to rescue the offspring of a woman gone astray. That is, they search for the infant son of their sister-in-law Lilia, who has died in childbirth, with the intention of ensuring that he will be brought up in civilised, well-bred southern England and not by Gino, his Italian father, son of a provincial dentist. The most important illustration of the chasm of social and cultural difference that separates them from Gino, and that motivates them in their quest, is to be found three-quarters of the way through the book, when they attend a performance of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor at the opera house in Monteriano, a small Tuscan town Forster modelled on San Gimignano. Philip Herriton, who is enthusiastically Italophile, has cajoled his rather severe sister Harriet into joining him by using the magic words ‘Sir Walter Scott – classical, you know.’ In the event, she is appalled by the locals' shouting and throwing of bouquets during the performance: ‘“Call this classical?” she cried, rising from her seat. “It's not even respectable!”’
Like a number of other nineteenth- and early twentieth-century novels, including notable later examples by Forster himself, Where angels fear to tread associates receptivity to music with emotional and (at least as far as the class-conscious English are concerned) social liberation.