Saturday, April 6, 2013

"A Room with a View" by E. M. Forster

How is it that I am only now reading this delightful book?  I had always thought it would be kind of... fluffy.  Probably because I saw the 1985 movie back when I was in college and didn't care much for it.  Actually, I only really remember being shocked by three naked men running around a pond, and I kind of confused the plot with Tea with Mussolini (1999) because they both have Maggie Smith in them, they're both about Britishers abroad, and I saw them both while on Easter break at a friend's house.

But anyway, I absolutely loved this book!  I want my own copy.  I want to reread it again soon.  Really, really loved it.  It made me laugh and laugh, with a very similar humor to much of Jane Austen, the soft digs at ridiculousness and foibles and folly.  I'm going to list a whole bunch of Particularly Good Bits because so many things delighted me.

But that's not the real reason I loved this book.  I loved it because Lucy's muddle resonated very strongly with me.  The summer after my freshman year in college, I too "felt irritable and petulant, and anxious to do what [I] was not expected to do."  (Sorry, I forgot to jot down page numbers.  Bad me!)  I embarked on a folly or three of the semi-romantical persuasion, watched a lot of slightly depressing movies, and wrote a lot of poetry.  Call it growing pains or awakening or just a muddle, but there it was, with me trapped in the middle of it.  That was thirteen years ago, but I remember it very vividly, and would not want to go through it again for just about anything.

So anyway, A Room with a View concerns young Englishwoman Lucy Honeychurch touring bits of Italy with her spinsterly cousin, Miss Charlotte Bartlett.  In Florence, they encounter a group of fellow travelers, among them Mr. Beebe, who coincidentally was soon to become rector of their own parish back in England.  They also encounter Mr. Emerson and his son George, who is going through his own muddle and finds answers in Lucy.  They have a couple of chance encounters, during one of which, George kisses Lucy's cheek unexpectedly.  Miss Bartlett happens to see this and makes a big fuss about it, and she and Lucy run off to Rome as a result.

Back in England, Lucy becomes engaged to this perfect bore named Cecil Vyse.  But when Fate throws Mr. Emerson and George and their mildly unconventional thinking in her path again, Lucy has a crisis, and I zipped through the last few chapters in a perfect torment over how it would all turn out.  I love books that make me do that, don't you?  

This isn't a terribly profound book, nor does it attempt to be one.  It's an exploration of conventions and personal expression and chances seized or ignored.  And a sweet, engaging exploration, at that.  I hope to reread it again soon to study it a bit more thoroughly.

Particularly Good Bits: 

"You must have it," said Miss Bartlett, part of whose travelling expenses were paid by Lucy's mother -- a piece of generosity to which she made many a tactful allusion.

"I am so glad to see you," said the girl, who was in a state of spiritual starvation, and would have been glad to see the waiter if her cousin had permitted it.

Lucy was pleased, and said:  "I was hoping that he was nice; I do so always hope that people will be nice."

Then the pernicious charm of Italy worked on her, and, instead of acquiring information, she began to be happy.

It was one of Mr. Beebe's chief pleasures to provide people with happy memories.

She was like a woman of Leonardo da Vinci's, whom we love not so much for herself as for the things that she will not tell us.

In spite of the season, Mrs. Vyse managed to scrape together a dinner-party consisting entirely of the grandchildren of famous people.

"It is Fate that I am here," persisted George.  "But you can call it Italy if it makes you less unhappy."

If this was a movie, I would rate it:  PG for a bunch of grown men skinny dipping in a pond and getting caught.


  1. Hmmmm, you certainly make a good case! I have not read this one, because like you, I have seen the 1985 movie and didn't really enjoy it a great deal. (No particular reason really, it just didn't resonate I suppose.) But now you've kinda convinced me that I need to try this one. Okay, no kinda about it, you totally convinced me! :D

    1. Yay! I hope you enjoy it too.

      I see there's been another movie version more recently, so I'm going to try to get that somehow and see if it's any better.

  2. Love this post! As far as the movie (which I haven't seen), I'm not sure that this book could translate very well to film, since so much of its greatness is in the writing itself, and as you say, "the soft digs at ridiculousness and foibles and folly." I do hope to see the movie someday, though. I'm glad you liked the book!

    1. There's a newer movie version too, though I haven't figured out how to get my hands on it yet. But yes, it's got so much internal stuff going on that I'm not sure how it would ever work.

    2. I just double-checked the library website, and it's the newer version, wit a screenplay by Andrew Davies, that they have! Totally getting it soon.

  3. I loved the movie actually, but it does have sort of a quiet charm to it. You can't watch it expecting something wildly entertaining. It's calmly entertaining. I still want to read the book at some point, of course, hopefully soon.

    1. I saw the movie about 12 years ago, so I have very little memory of it. Maybe I'd like it better now!


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