- The Hill of Devi
Harcourt, Brace and Co., New York, 1953.
First US edition. Hardcover, octavo, 267pp. Slightly worn lower board edges and corners. Very lightly toned text block edges. Discoloured rear panel of dustwrapper; not price-clipped; minor edge wear; professionally protected by superior non-adhesive polypropylene film. Very good. The Hill of Devi is an account by E.M. Forster of two visits to India in 1912-1913 and 1921, during which he worked as the private secretary to Tukojirao III, the Maharaja of the state of Dewas Senior. Forster publishes the letters of his early travel without introduction in order to let the reader share his own 'bewilderment and pleasure at plunging into an unknown world and at meeting an unknown and possibly unknowable character'. This character, the central figure of the whole book, is the Maharajah himself. He is witty, complex, sensitive and religious, 'certainly a genius, and possibly a saint, and he had to be king'. As his private secretary, 'Forster was privileged to ride elephants, to receive an Official Insult, and to attend the strange eight-day festival of Gokul Ashtami'. The early essays are followed by an explanatory text on "The State and its Ruler." Then comes the main section, containing the letters of 1921, which are extensively commented by Forster. In the last part of the book, he describes the 'Catastrophe,' the descent of the Maharaja and the state. Forster closes his recollections with a meditation upon death and memory: 'One of the puzzling things about the dead is that it is impossible to think of them evenly. They all go out of sight and are forgotten, they all go into silence, yet we cannot help assigning some of them a tune. Most of those whom I have known leave no sound behind them, I cannot evoke them though I would like to. He (the Maharajah) has a rare quality of evoking himself, and I do not believe that he is here doing it for the last time'. In the preface, E. M. Forster describes his time in India as 'the great opportunity of (... his) life'.
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