‘Monteriano’ is an earlier title for E M Forster’s first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread, published in 1905.
Where is Monteriano?
Like Chandrapore and Sawston, fictional towns that feature in two of Forster’s other novels (A Passage to India and The Longest Journey, respectively), Monteriano was invented by Forster. He conceived of it as ‘a romantic hill town,’ situated ‘in Tuscany on the basis of San Giminiano.’
The town and the novel were inspired by his first visit to Italy in 1901, when, aged 22, Forster travelled around the country with his mother. Despite, at times, verging on a comedy of errors – he sprained his ankle, broke his arm (in a separate incident), and most days were spent retrieving items he had lost – this trip proved deeply stimulating, leading to two novels, numerous short stories, and a life-long love of Italy. More than once, Forster acknowledged his debt to Italy. Speaking to an Italian audience, he professed that during his visit, ‘the creative element had been freed.’ ‘Your country has taught me much’, he confessed.
Why was the original title changed?
As well as ‘Monteriano’, this novel was also tentatively called ‘Rescue’, and colloquially referred to by Forster as the ‘Gino novel’. It was his publisher, Blackwood, that insisted he find a new title, and his friend E J Dent – who had helped him, ‘in all sorts of ways’, to ‘get into touch with Italy’ – who suggested ‘where angels fear to tread’. This title was derived from a much quoted line from Alexander Pope’s poem, ‘An Essay on Criticism’, which reads: ‘For fools rush in where angels fear to tread’. Forster’s mother, who was not one to mince her words, deeply disliked the title, and Forster was inclined to agree that ‘it isn’t “me”’. However, he acquiesced that its change was important for the marketing and sale of the book, so didn’t dare fight his case too vehemently.
Blackwood might not have been the best authority on the need for a title change, however, as they made the questionable decision to advertise the book as ‘a story that puzzles the critics’. Happily, that was not the case, and Forster’s first published novel was met with great critical acclaim. The then literary editor of the Daily News (and later liberal MP and junior minister) C. F. G. Masterman hailed this debut novel as ‘a remarkable book.’ He concludes this glowing review remarking that ‘it is told with a deftness, a lightness, a grace of touch, and a radiant atmosphere of humour, which mark a strength and capacity giving large promise for the future’. Writing in 1936, fellow novelist Elizabeth Bowen reflected that Where Angels Fear to Tread ‘contained the embryo of all the other books’.