Early on in EM Forster’s A Passage to India, the narrator describes Chandrapore, where “streets are mean, the temples ineffective.” Terry Eagleton, in his 2013 book “How to read literature,” gives a neo-Marxist reading and says the sentence “almost deliberately gives the game away… The term assumes that the temples are there not for the inhabitants to worship in, but for the observer to take pleasure in.”
Then there’s Vidyan Ravinthiran. Reviewing Eagleton’s book in the Times Literary Supplement, March 14, 2014, Ravinthriran objects: “surely it means that the temples are of little material benefit to those on the mean streets of Chandrapore.”
Personally, I would have thought that Forster meant that the temples were not effective in making the streets not mean: that they were not making the people in Chandrapore more virtuous or religious. Am I wrong?
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