Of Cocoons and Brown Stockings

While at first appearing to adopt a more traditional role of the novelist in representing and commenting upon the social and empirical world, Forster subsequently introduces an essentially modernist narrative style in the use of polyphony, indeterminate attribution of perceptions, as well as the consistent blurring of narrational and character-based points of view. Although possibly not the level of “high modernism” as Woolf’s “stream of consciousness narrative”, Forster’s narrative style is very much similar to Woolf’s.

Leaving Mrs Moore to retire, Aziz and Adela continue their exploration with little to say to each other – “If his mind was with the breakfast, hers was mainly with her marriage” (162). Here Aziz and Adela are knitting their own brown stockings in being careful not to neglect their social duties as host and guest respectively despite being absorbed in their own deeper thoughts. Fragmentation within the self is presented in the divorce of external occurrences divorced from internal events. On the journey to the Marabar caves, “(Adela) could not get excited over Aziz and his arrangements. She was not the least unhappy or depressed, and the various odd objects that surrounded her… they were all new and amusing, and led her to comment appropriately, but they wouldn’t bite into her mind” (146). Instead, Adela occupies herself with plans of the marriage (“She loved plans”), and here Forster suggests that occupation of the internal mind serves to distract from the mundanity of life described in the opening passage of part XIV of The Caves so as to keep from being insincere. There is little linearity or organization in her thought process as she jumps from planning in detail her marriage and the Anglo-Indian life she is to endure to questioning her feelings for Ronny and then the idea of love itself but not for long before her attention was focused on a rock nicked by a double row of footholds which made her recall the patter traced in the dust by the wheels of the Nawab Bahadur’s car and led her to conclude that “She and Ronny – no, they did not love each other” (162). Similarly, Aziz experiences “symptoms of disorganization” (162) as he struggles to keep up with his own inner thoughts. This dislocation of time-space consciousness and the inability to orientate correspond to a crisis of identity/conscious or schizophrenia, a possible consequence of the lost of older structures or going beyond “nation”. Employing the metaphor of the “cocoon of work and social obligation” (145) as a general comment of life and the pressures of society to conform, Forster aptly presents this crisis of identity/ consciousness which often denies the individual “the right to live for oneself” (147).

One thought on “Of Cocoons and Brown Stockings

  1. Very good Vanessa! Incidentally, Woolf also saw Forster as a competitor… she’d a very tenuous relationship with the man. I like your analysis of the subject.