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By 1900, the novel was firmly established as a literary genre, but novelists were eager to adopt new Themes and settings in their works. In this period of awakening Liberal Humanism, there was a growing tendency in many contemporary novels to diagnose dangers, both social and psychic, and to openly oppose imperialism. Forster was identified as a Liberal Humanist because of his criticism of the British both at home and abroad, as clearly seen in A Passage to India. He was also known for the importance that he place on human relationships. In fact, Forster has been quoted as saying that "if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country." In his books, his emphasis is on the need for truth, tolerance, temper, and sympathy, especially in personal affairs; his novels often show the problems of social barriers -- between races, between classes, between men and women, and between art and life.
A Passage to India is considered Forster's literary masterpiece. Shantha Rama Rao adapted the novel for the stage; it became a popular play and ran for 110 performances. Critics, however, felt that the play did not measure up to the novel, for it fails to capture the contrast between the magic and the wretchedness of Indian life.
In the mid 1700's, there was no strong central power in India. The British East India Company took advantage of this situation and gained control over much of the country before the Indians realized it. By 1757, the East India Company was the leading power in India. In 1774, Warren Hastings became the first governor-general of India. Between 1800 and 1857, the East India company, using largely Indian troops, waged war against Nepal, Burma, and other neighboring countries for the purpose of acquiring more territory. The greed of the company brought bitterness and poverty to the Indians. Finally, in 1857, the Indian people rebelled against the East India Company. Although the Indians were not successful in overthrowing the East India Company, the rebellion made it clear to Great Britain that the East India Company's rule over India must end. In 1858, the British took over the rule of all the territory belonging to the East India Company, and it became known as British India, which was divided into 15 provinces. Each of the provinces was under the local rule of a British governor, appointed by the queen.
In the late 1800's, there was a movement towards independence amongst many Indians. Indian violence against the British began during the early 1900's. Then during World War I, the Indian people supported Great Britain. In return for their allegiance, British promised India a major role in its own government. In 1919, reforms greatly increased the powers of the Indian provincial legislatures. The Indians were not satisfied that they had received enough power, and violence against the British began again in their struggle for independence. Gandhi became the leader of the Indian independence movement. Civil disobedience towards the British continued through the 1920's and into the 1930's. Then in 1935 a new Indian constitution was created, giving Indians more power over their government.
India declared war on Nazi Germany in September of 1939, becoming an ally of Great Britain during World War II. During the war, the British leaders tried to reach an agreement with Indian leaders about the country's independence. In early 1946, Great Britain offered independence to India whenever the various Indian leaders could agree on a form of government. When an agreement could not be found, the British and Indian leaders decided to partition the country to end the violence between Hindus and Moslems. It was against this troubled background that A Passage to India was set.