WARNING: if you have not finished the book, there are some spoilers here!
I'm also starting with my first reaction, before thinking a bit more carefully about Beppe's opening questions.
Originally Posted by issybird
Briefly, the whole work interfering with my posting life schtick:
Beppe singles out the issue that I find rather offputting from the start, the character of Dr. Aziz. The man is a skilled surgeon, better, we are explicitly told, than his English overlord. And yet when introduced, his character is rather childish and even buffoonish. I cringed at the description of his response to the Major's summons.
Adela, even as we dislike her, doesn't fair much better. Vaporish females are irritating to modern sensibilities. As Hamlet points out, we don't know and it doesn't matter what happened in the cave. However, it's annoying that crux of the book is an unattractive virgin's inability to cope with sensuality/sexuality, to the extent of hallucinating about it.
That said, and I'll have more to say further on, the most salient aspect of the book is the gorgeous prose. It's impossible to read this and not be swept away by the beauty of the descriptions and the nuances of character and conversation. Forster, however open-minded, was still a product of his times, and we see his limitations in the character of Fielding, who clearly is Forster. Tolerant and just and willing to take a stand, he still can't quite transcend his origins.
issybird, I agree with the entirety of your second and third pargraph, and you've said it so well!
More in general the women here felt often more like a narration device than proper character - perhaps I am exagerating, but Adela is almost forgotten of after the trial, and both the change of personality in Mrs Moore as well as her death are rather sudden. These women needed to fade in the background, and in the background they disappear fast.
On Aziz, though, while I personally did not particularly like the character, he did remind me of many personality traits quite common in my native country. The aspect that struck me most is not his being emotional or his propensity to act on instinct - but his relationship with facts and reality. For instance, how Aziz "fills in the details" of Adela's departure from the caves in his conversation with Fielding as if this was a statement of fact reminded so much of my dad that it made me smile: not because there was any intention to deceive, or any hidden agenda, but this was simply a reasoning that made sense, sounded plausible and appeared harmless. It provided a coherent way of filling the uncomfortable gaps in Adela's sudden and rude disappearance, and in the end this became reality in Aziz's mind. And in normal circumstances I am sure Aziz would have accepted an alternative if this had been provided later e.g. by Adela, not thinking for another second about having provided Fielding with a load of made up rubbish! (by the way, this type of attitude is precisely what drives me crazy when I visit Italy
Though as a non native speaker I found the prose at time very challenging, it was really beautiful.
For me the plot lost some steam (and coherence) after the climax of the trial's collapse, but in a sense the plot was really secondary to the arguments on colonialism, and I really enjoied this book!
The "Turtons and Burtons" quoted above by Hamlet reminded me of Dickens Moodle and Boodle!