A Room With a View By E.M. Forster
A Room With a View by E.M. Forster is a novel I have read a couple of times before, and seen the film, yet it was a delight to read it one more time. This novel is both a love story and a comedy. It is certainly a clever commentary on late Victorian society.
Lucy Honeychurch, a lovely innocent young thing, and her chaperone and cousin "poor Charlotte" are in Florence. They are staying at the Pension Bertolini, and along with Baedeker's Handbook to Northern Italy they are seeing the sights.
What they are not seeing is a view from their room, although Charlotte had expressly asked for one. When Charlotte complains of this an older gentleman and his son, George, immediately offer to give up their rooms for the women.
This is most improper, the women protest, but are indeed moved into the Room with a View - it is actually Charlotte who has this room as it had been the room of the young gentleman and it would have been most improper for Lucy to move into it.
Lucy and Charlotte also meet a Miss Lavish at the pension. Miss Lavish has been some time in Italy and is writing a book - not too successfully yet. Miss Lavish attempts to show Lucy the true Florence - without Baedeker.
Lucy at first is paralyzed with uncertainty "there was no one to tell her which, of all the sepulchral slabs that paved the nave and transepts (of Santa Croce), was the one that was really beautiful, the one that had been most praised by Mr. Ruskin." But the magic of Italy begins to work on her and she finds herself gazing in wonder - she begins to be happy.
Lucy's happiness does not last long however as a startling event is witnessed, a kiss is given - and Lucy is whisked off to Rome by her cousin, and then home to England - scandal averted, or at least not spoken off except in whispers.
This book was first published in 1908. Thank goodness that things have changed since then. E.M. Forster lived a long life, born in 1879 and living until 1970. During that time he witnessed two world wars and the Cold War.
We know that E.M. Forster was gay, and that his character Mr. Bebbe, the local curate, may be as well. When Mr. Beebe learns that Lucy has accepted a marriage proposal from Cecil Vyse he is most surprised. He said; "Mr. Vyse is an ideal bachelor", and when questioned about his meaning, "Oh, he's like me - better detached" says Mr. Bebbe. Cecil indeed is a fuss-budget, very particular about everything and disdainful of Lucy's fun loving brother, Freddy, and their eccentric mother.
E.M. Forster spent a great deal of time in Italy, as did other members of the Bloomsbury Group - painters and writers, economists, thinkers. Wagner composed Parsifal while in Ravello. One of the most delightful passages in the book (and the film) is a romp in the woods, a bathe in a pond by Freddy, George and Mr. Bebbe. "The three gentlemen rotated in the pond breast high, after the fashion of the nymphs in otterdammerung." The men begin to splash and eventually chase each other, running through the woods in innocent fun - ending when Cecil and the ladies come across them while out for an afternoon walk. Needless to say it is Cecil who is most shocked - on behalf of the ladies, of course.
When George finally has the opportunity to speak of his love to Lucy, she is confronted for the first time by a man who treats her as his equal - not someone to be protected from life, but as someone who wants to live it. George tells Lucy, "I want you to have your own thoughts even when I hold you in my arms". How could she resist! Mr. Beebe is George's ally of course - Mr. Bebbe who is "adept at relieving situations". "A rector lives in a web of petty secrets, and confidences, and warnings, and the wiser he is the less he will regard them.” He will change the subject, as did Mr. Beebe, saying cheerfully: "Have you heard from the Bertolini people lately?"
It was such a pleasure to read this book again. The Penguin Classic edition has an introduction by Malcolm Bradbury, which will enlighten the reader about the context of this romantic comedy - love and truth triumph over convention and dullness. It is brilliant still.