My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A Room with a View (1908) by E.M. Forster is his third novel following The Longest Journey (1907) and the morbid-ending Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905). Forster, however, ends A Room with a View on a much happier note than his first novel and proclaims himself as one of the premier English novelists of his generation with his love story that centers around young Lucy Honeychurch and her sweet admirer George Emerson, who attempts to steal Lucy from her fiancée Cecil Vyse, a surname playing on the words “vice” and “vise” meaning to oppose or to constrict and control.
Upon its publication Forster’s A Room with a View helped established the linear and tight form of the English novel for the next one hundred years. There are no grand historical backgrounds stretching on for dozens of pages. There are no sidewinding twists and turns to confuse and distract the reader from the primary action among Lucy, George and Cecil. There is only Forster at his finest hiding his authorial hand in a well-penned romance that refuses to let the reader go throughout the rather small 222 pages bound in a book no bigger than a man’s hand.
Hong Kong Harbor, 2015
And who is our young heroine? Lucy, like many young women her age—then and now—was “no longer a rebel or a slave” and as her fingers tapped the piano she long mused over she understood that “the kingdom of music is not the kingdom of this world; it will accept those whom breeding and intellect and culture have alike rejected” (p 34).
Forster, or our anonymous narrator left over from the Victorian novels, continues to describe his protagonist as she suffers the stultifying etiquette found in high English society and in that modern league of pretentious ivy which strangles the vines of the gentle meek who are the true foundation of society:
“The commonplace person begins to play, and shoots into the empyrean without effort, whilst we look up, marveling how he has escaped us, and thinking how we could worship him and love him, would he but translate his visions into human words, and his experiences into human actions. Perhaps he cannot; certainly he does not, or does so very seldom. Lucy had done so never…
“And she was tragical only in the sense that she was great, for she loved to play on the side of Victory. Victory of what and over what—that is more than the words of daily life can tell us. But that some sonatas of Beethoven are written tragic no one can gainsay; yet they can triumph or despair as the player decides, and Lucy had decided that they should triumph” (p 34-35).
And it is in this following Italian arena de amour which Lucy will shape her non-English Victory and her interest for the young god George:
“The Piazza Signoria is too stony to be brilliant. It has no grass, no flowers, no frescoes, no glittering walls of marble or comforting patches of ruddy brick. By an odd chance—the statues that relieve its severity suggest, not the innocence of childhood, nor the glorious bewilderment of youth, but the conscious achievements of maturity. Perseus and Judith, Hercules and Thusnelda, they have done or suffered something, and though they are immortal, immortality has come to them after experience, not before. Here, not only in the solitude of Nature, might a hero meet a goddess, or a heroine a god” (p 62).
While in Italy on holiday—which begins the setting of this story—Lucy meets George and his father, Mr. Emerson—one who reminds Lucy of the restricting antithetical aristocracy found in the English bookworm Cecil. And it is Mr. Emerson, much like angelic music descending from heaven on high, who sets the stage and themes of this quick novel when he confesses to dear Lucy about the state his son, George, is in:
“I don’t require you to fall in love with my boy, but I do think you might try and understand him. You are nearer his age, and if you let yourself ago I am sure you are sensible. You might help me. He has known so few women, and you have the time…But let yourself go. You are inclined to get muddled, if I may judge from last night. Let yourself go. Pull out from the depths those thoughts that you do not understand, and spread them out in the sunlight and know the meaning of them. By understanding George you may learn to understand yourself. It will be good for both of you” (p 31).
And Mr. Emerson injects the love-life of our goddess Lucy with that singular most interesting word “muddled”, which she is most sure to do when while on an Italian hillside she wanders away from the group and runs into George, alone and contemplating the Universe like Pan occasioned to do, if you will.
Lucy is thrust into George’s arms and they share a delightful moment, a moment of lovers in secret waiting to find one another vulnerable and unafraid in what for Tristan and Isolt Gottfried calls the “La fossiure a la gent amant” which one can translate as “The Grotto for People in Love” (found on page 44 of Joseph Campbell’s The Masks of God, Vol. IV: Creative Mythology), and it is here we find Lucy entering such a grotto:
“From her feet the ground sloped sharply into view, and violets ran down in rivulets and streams and cataracts, irrigating the hillside with blue, eddying round the tree stems, collecting into pools in the hollows, covering the grass with spots of azure foam. But never again were they in such profusion; this terrace was the well-head, the primal source whence beauty gushed out to water the earth.
“Standing at its brink like a swimmer who prepares, was the good man. But he was not the good man that she had expected, and he was alone.
“George had turned at the sound of her arrival. For a moment he contemplated her, as one who had fallen out of heaven. He saw radiant joy in her face, he saw the flowers beat against her dress in blue waves. The bushes above them closed. He stepped quickly forward and kissed her” (p 73).
And, later back in England at Windy Corner, it is this young god who instructs the clergyman Mr. Beebe on the essence of reality and philosophy:
“I have reflected. It is Fate. Everything is Fate. We are flung together by Fate, drawn apart by Fate—flung together, drawn apart. The twelve winds blow us—we settle nothing” (p 136).
And by story’s end, as Lucy finds herself torn between Cecil and George, Fate steps in with the solemn words from her old friend Mr. Emerson, who sits by the fire. Together she and he wait out the rainstorm in the clergyman’s private room while Lucy’s mother prays in the chapel nearby:
“If only [Lucy] could remember how to behave!
“[Mr. Emerson] held up his hand. ‘But you must not scold him.’
“Lucy turned her back, and began to look at Mr. Beebe’s books.
“‘I taught him,’ he quavered, ‘to trust in love. I said: ‘When love comes, that is reality.’ I said: ‘Passion does not blind. No. Passion is sanity, and the woman you love, she is the only person you will ever really understand.’ He sighed. ‘True, everlastingly true, though my day is over, and though there is the result. Poor boy! He is so sorry! He said he knew it was madness when you brought your cousin in; that whatever you felt you did not mean. Yet’—his voice gathered strength: he spoke out to make certain—‘Miss Honeychurch, do you remember Italy?’”
And as the rain beats down on the windows and rooftop, Lucy contemplates George’s forward behavior of several kisses and direct admission of his unwarranted love for her.
“‘Why, he has behaved abominably,’ she said. ‘I am glad he is sorry. Do you know what he did?’
“‘Not ‘abominably,’ was the gentle correction. ‘He only tried when he should not have tried. You have all you want, Miss Honeychurch: you are going to marry the man you love. Do not go out of George’s life saying he is abominable” (p 209-210).
And Mr. Emerson has one last thing to say on his son’s behalf to Lucy as she attempts to sort out her love life and the coming trip to Athens in hopes of leaving all her turmoils behind:
“You’re shocked, but I mean to shock you. It’s the only hope at times. I can reach you no other way. You must marry, or your life will be wasted. You have gone too far to retreat. I have no time for the tenderness, and the comradeship, and the poetry, and the things that really matter, and for which you marry. I know that, with George, you will find them, and that you love him. Then be his wife. He is already part of you. Though you fly to Greece, and never see him again, or forget his very name, George will work in your thoughts till you die. It isn’t possible to love and to 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” (p 215).
And it is there we leave Lucy to make her choice. But how wonderful it must be to live in a less critical world that believes in love at first sight, romance that flowers until the deathbed comes, and all the beauty of what we thought about love was like in our immortal teens but lose as we mature to experienced adulthood.
But after all is said and done, despite what the majority of zombie-hearted men and women murgle while they hurl their detestations at those lovers secured in their grotto and in each other’s arms, we understand that love—whatever you want to call it—is a choice, and you will just have to read A Room with a View—quietly to yourself or out loud as I did to my unicorn-love and dream girl—to find out what choice Lucy makes, or you could simply watch the movie—both are memorable and true to Forster’s vision of what romance is like and should forever be.
Either way, do try to let go and trust in love.