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A Passage to Cambridge

In response to:

The Unmysterious East from the January 17, 1985 issue

To the Editors:

Noel Annan’s admirable review of A Passage to India [NYR, January 17] devotes some space to an account of the meeting between Mr. David Lean, who was to direct the film, and certain fellows of King’s College, Cambridge, which owns Forster’s copyrights. This interesting encounter took place over two years ago, and my recollection is that Lord Annan was not present; if that is so his report is as accurate as one could reasonably expect. But it isn’t entirely so.

No one, for instance, can have been under the impression that the script of the film was by Santha Rama Rau, for Mr. Lean had sent copies in advance which clearly indicated his sole authorship. I thought it intelligent but unnecessarily limited, and said so. Mr. Lean did say in reply that he knew the book by heart. He certainly knew it very well, but not by heart. When he made that claim I asked him to tell me the name of Ronnie Heaslop’s Hindu servant—a fair test, for the name has a significant though small part in the pattern of this highly wrought novel. He got the answer wrong, though from his point of view, accurately described by Annan, it didn’t matter, any more than it mattered that Professor God-bole’s part is “cut to ribbons.”

It isn’t for me to say whether King’s College was “charmed by Lean” into granting permission when Forster himself would probably have refused it. For myself, I was impressed by him, enjoyed the argument, and knew very well he would get his way, if only because it mattered so much to him, and because it seemed obvious to us that his film would not be disgraceful, even though it declined the invitation to be great.

Frank Kermode

New York city

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