Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Room With a View

A Room With a View (1909) falls into that category of novels, along with Henry James (not the writing, the setting), Jane Austen, etc.: The Very English Novel. The plot is simple: Lucy and her chaperon/older cousin Charlotte go on holiday to Florence, Italy. At their “pension,” they meet the Emersons – a father and son. The Emersons hear Lucy and Charlotte discussing the dismal view from their room, and the Emersons kindly offer to switch, as they have a very nice view, but don’t particularly care if they have a view or not. Charlotte is the epitome of The Proper Way to Do Things, and refuses for a time, as the Emersons are males, and as single female travelers, Charlotte feels it improper for them to accept as they would then owe the Emersons something. Eventually, realizing she had insulted the kindness of the Emersons, agrees to the room swap. One day, Lucy, Charlotte and a number of other “pensioners” – including the Emersons – all take a ride into the countryside. During a break in which the group separates, Lucy comes upon George Emerson (the son) in a field of violets, and he kisses her. Charlotte happens upon them and sees this. She whisks Lucy away, and it is clear that this is absolutely Not the Proper Way to Do Things. In order to escape “scandal”, the next day Lucy and Charlotte move on to Rome. So ends the first part of the book.

The second part of the book is Lucy with her family at their English house. Lucy has recently become engaged to pompous jerk Cecil (after having refused him multiple times before). Cecil happens upon the Emersons in a gallery somewhere, and tells them that he knows of a house for rent in Lucy’s neighborhood. Cecil does this in order to play a trick on the landlord, not realizing that Lucy is so “well acquainted” with George. Of course this causes issues. Charlotte is in a panic about it. George Emerson comes for a visit, and when they are alone he again kisses Lucy, who is not pleased. There is a discussion/argument about Cecil’s shortcomings (as in, he’s a pompous jerk, and Lucy isn’t suited to marry a pompous jerk). Lucy realizes that what George said about Cecil is true, and she breaks off their engagement. Of course he does it because she really likes George, but won’t admit it. She decides to run away to Greece with some of her English friends from Italy in order to escape the situation. But right before she leaves, she runs into Mr. Emerson (George’s father), and after a long speech, she realizes that she really is in love with George. They get married, go to Italy, and live happily ever after. The End.

There isn’t much to say about A Room With a View. That’s the plot, and if you think that sounds like something you would like, then you’re in for a treat. If it’s not something you’re interested in, you’ll probably be bored.

Forster, like most authors, seems to have been an interesting character. He turned down a knighthood because it wasn't "good enough" for him. Well known to be gay, he joined Virginia Woolf in protesting the suppression of Radclyffe Hall's Well of Loneliness. During a stay with the Woolf's at the time, he and Virginia had a discussion in which he stated he found lesbianism disgusting because he didn't like the idea of women being independent of men. This line of thought, I believe, comes across in A Room With a View...but it's being a fairly standard romance, that's typically the case, and Forster certainly wasn't the only person of his time - or any time - to feel that way.

This is my second foray into Forster – my first was my last year’s reading of A Passage to India. I had the same reaction to both novels: I wouldn’t say that I was disappointed, but I wasn’t thrilled with them either. I was so unthrilled, in fact, that it has taken me more than a week to come up with much to say about it. Some people are fierce about Forster…he has many devoted fans. But so does Henry James. I understand why someone would love this book – it’s plot is easy to identify with, and it’s fairly straightforward. I also understand why someone would adore Forster in general as well, but I think it takes a certain personality, and I don’t possess that type of personality. I say this about a lot of novels, particularly ones from the first decade or two of the 20th century…it’s not bad writing, it’s not bad plot…it’s just not for me.

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