A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“It isn’t possible to love and part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.”
EM Forster, where have you been all my life? I tell you where; mouldering unassumingly on the shelf buried in anonymity, that’s what. I, the one who gags at the mere mention of romance novels may possibly, possibly have been won over with ‘A Room With A View’. But how? What sets this novel apart from others of its’ kind?
First off, it is wonderfully absent of the dewy-eyed, sugary prose that is the staple of romance novels and which ultimately makes my stomach churn. No ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ for me, thank you very much (two words: strawberry picking). There are no embarrassing outpourings of love, one-dimensional suitors or fainting maidens (okay, there is one, but for good reason!) Neither does it flog around the familiar, old-fashioned clichés commonly associated with the genre. It looks at love from an angle of improbability and tries at least to keep up with the kind of love we might experience in our day-to-day lives; the type that is fought for and jealousy guarded BECAUSE it is so hard-won.
“When I think of what life is, and how seldom love is answered by love; it is one of the moments for which the world was made.”
The characters are flawed and unconventional, because Forster is a wonderful analyst of personalities and knows exactly what combinations produce the most interesting chemistry. His grouping of characters therefore is delightfully uncanny and quirky, which reflects precisely what we all come to know and love about the ‘quintessential’ Edwardian era. This social comedy has its’ fair share of stiff-upper lips in the form of Charlotte Bartlett (a spinster cousin), Cecil Vyse (the socially appropriate suitor) and his awful mother Lady Vyse. However Lucy, our heroine, is a sensible lass and despite having been brought up in this inbred atmosphere of social rights and wrongs, realises that sometimes rules must be broken and that the real folly is to live one’s life according to what society expects from you.
But let’s talk a little of the story itself and how this odd romance begins in the best of all possible places; an Italian pensione. It is here that Lucy Honeychurch and her chaperone Miss Bartlett enter the scene and promptly bemoan that they have been denied their promised ‘room with a view’. It is also here that they meet the elderly socialist Mr. Emerson and his morose son George, who in a moment of rash chivalry offer their rooms to the ladies instead. This offer seen as gross lack of manners is kindly but firmly rejected. But after much insistence the ladies get their ‘rooms’ and begin their exploration of Florence thanks to a trusty Baedeker.
After this encounter Lucy gets to know the Emerson’s a bit better and decides that poor Mr. Emerson is a misunderstood soul whose heart is in the right place. His quiet, sullen son however is enigmatic in a way that both intrigues and repels her. Yet fate has it that their paths should collide at the plaza where a terrible, random tragedy unfolds. The event jars and awakens both of them to emotions that had hitherto lain dormant. Yet before Lucy can be sure of her feelings another event takes place; one where George makes it very obvious how he feels. This ultimately causes a small crisis that is resolved by a speedy escape to Rome.
There Lucy meets Cecil and his mother Lady Vyse; influential family friends who below to the upper echelons of English society. Needless to say Cecil falls for Lucy, deeming her a worthy mate (even though she is socially beneath him, but never mind, his mother says he can bring her over to ‘their side’), and begins to pursue her persistently. After they return from Italy his determination is rewarded with an eventual ‘yes’ and everyone deems it a very good match.
However betrothed bliss is short-lived, as Lucy’s nervous cousin Miss Bartlett intrudes into her life once more, bringing with it the scandalous ‘incident’ that caused her to run from Florence in the first place. In the wake of this bad luck harbinger, comes the shocking news that Cecil (out of subtle cruelty or irony) has brought the Emerson’s to Lucy’s neck of the woods. Of all the places! Tension surmounts as Lucy tries to keep a cool head, yet fate has a way of uncovering the truth and one of those is the obvious fact that Cecil simply is not and cannot ever be husband material.
And so the story goes, of which I will NOT talk, for fear of giving away too much. But before I end the review I just want to say how much I liked Lucy. This is probably because our heroine is far more able than her previous counterparts. Lucy Honeychurch is NOT dumb, she is not some silly lopsided caricature of femininity. Lucy has her own thoughts and feelings, can make decisions for herself and is aware that she needs to expand her horizons. She’s tough and once she makes a decision she tries to follow it through. In fact, Lucy might be said to have her own code which comes about after her fateful trip to Florence and Rome, where the hot-blooded continental spark for life fires her imagination and imparts the gift of transforming her into a ‘thinking woman’.
“This desire to govern a woman — it lies very deep, and men and women must fight it together…. But I do love you surely in a better way then he does.” He thought. “Yes — really in a better way. I want you to have your own thoughts even when I hold you in my arms.”
As George puts it, love is not about controlling anyone, it’s about loving them just the way they are. I think this will always be the case, as George and Lucy do love each other completely; warts and all. Cecil’s sneering attitude grated on my nerves and the way he looked down on everyone was just bad manners even though he was supposed to be the most well-bred out of the lot of them.
Through reading this novel I have discovered that I can definitely do this kind of earthy love story, that has its’ share of ups and down and is tempered by well-timed comedy. If you are like me too in that you can’t stand most romance novels, give this one a try. You might be surprised!
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