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Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Room With A View by E.M. Forster


A Room With A View by E. M. Forster

E.M. Forster wrote this book in 1908 about the Edwardian time period (1901-1910) when King Edward VII was king of England). It's about a young single woman named Lucy Honeychurch who is on a vacation to Italy with her older and spinsterish cousin, Charlotte Bartlett, as chaperone. They were in Florence at a hotel called the Pension Bertolini which is full of other English nationals vacationing in Italy. She and Charlotte had been promised 2 rooms with a view of the river but they recieved 2 rooms overlooking the courtyard instead. A gentleman and his son, George Emerson, offer to move out of their rooms (with the view of the river) and swap with Lucy and Charlotte. Despite his kind offer, Charlotte rudely rejects the offer. She tells Lucy that she doesn't want to have any unseemly obligation to these gentlemen (although they do switch rooms). Interestingly she thinks they are rude for making such a suggestion and for attempting to have conversation with them but, she's the one who is rude by talking about them behind their backs, avoiding them, rejecting their kind offer. All of the English in the hotel have taken a dislike to the Emersons and don't mind passing rumors around about them, talking about them when they aren't there and avoiding them. This snobbery is very affective. They behave so superior and self righteously. Looking down their noses at the Emersons becomes a universal pasttime at the little pension. Class snobbery is represented when Charlotte Bartlett and Miss Lavish gossip about the Emersons. Miss Lavish reveals the full extent of her own hypocrisy when she laughs at George Emerson's occupation with the railway. She hears that he worked for a railway and assumes it was in the menial position of porter. Miss Lavish had earlier spoken of the nobility of humble people but now she mocks George because he works for a living:

Then Miss Lavish darted under the archway of the white bullocks, and she stopped, and she cried, "A smell! a true Florentine smell! Every city, let me teach you, has it's own smell."
"Is it a very nice smell?" said Lucy, who had inherited from her mother a distaste to dirt.
"One doesn't come to Italy for niceness," was the retort; "one comes for life. Buon Giorno! Buon Giorno!" bowing right and left. "Look at that adorable wine cart! How the driver stares at us, dear, simple soul!"
...
"Buon Giorno! Take the word of an old woman, Miss Lucy: you will never repent of a little civility to your inferiors..."

In another conversation about the Emersons:
"The son of a laborer; I happen to know it for a fact. A mechanic of some sort himself when he was young; then he took to writing for the Socialistic Press. I cam across him at Brixton."
They were talking about the Emersons.
"How wonderfully people rise in these days!" sighed Miss Bartlet
"Generally," replied Mr. Eager (a clergyman), "one has only sympathy for their success. The desire for education and for social advance-in these things there is something not wholly vile. There are some working men who one would be very willing to see out here in Florence-little as they would make of it."
"Is he a journalist now?" Miss Bartlett asked.
"He is not; he made an advantageous marriage."
He uttered this remark with a voice full of meaning, and ended with a sigh.
"Oh, so he has a wife?"
"Dear, Miss Bartlett, dead. I wonder-yes, I wonder how he has the effrontery to look me in the face, to dare to claim acquaintance with me. He was in my London parish long ago. The other day in Santa Croce, when he was with Miss Honeychurch, I snubbed him. Let him beware that he does not get more than a snub."
...
"Perhaps," said Miss Bartlett, "it is something that we had better not hear."
"To speak plainly," said Mr. Eager, "it is. I will say no more."
...
"Murder, if you want to know," he cried angrily, "That man murdered his wife!"
"How?" (Lucy) retorted.
"To all intents and purposes he murdered her. That day in Santa Croce-did they say anything against me?"
"Not a word, Mr. Eager-not a single word."
"Oh, I thought they had been libeling me to you. But I suppose it is only their personal charms that makes you defend them."
"I'm not defending them," said Lucy, losing her courage, and relapsing into the old chaotic methods. "They're nothing to me."
...
"She will find (defending the Emersons) difficult. For that man has murdered his wife in the sight of God."
...

As you can see, from the above conversation, this little clique shunned the Emersons while putting themselves on high pedestals. Lucy is eager to fit in with the "in crowd" much like teenagers in high school and junior high school. She has feelings for George Emerson but is afraid to let anyone in the group know she even has a thought of kindness for him. She would be embarrassed. So she always shrinks back and hides behind her clique so she won't be "different" or stand out. So childish and, yet, a pattern of behavior replayed in schools all over the nation. But Lucy is young and she does begin having more independent thoughts throughout the novel.

A clergyman, Mr. Eager, pretends to primly withhold "unsuitable" information but he's really sitting on the edge of his chair eagerly awaiting to plop out his tidbit of slander and gossip for everyone to pick over. Downright breathless, lest his chance of telling his peers should pass him by.

Miss Charlotte Bartlett is another one with conceited and subtle malice. She reminds me of Charles Dickens' Uriah Heep:

With many a smile (Miss Lavish) produced two of those mackintosh squares that protect the frame of the tourist from damp grass or cold marble steps. She sat on one; who was to sit on the other?
"Lucy; without a moment's doubt, Lucy. The ground will do for me. Really I have not had rheumatism for years. If I do feel it coming on I shall stand. Imagine your mother's feelings if I let you sit in the wet in your white linen." She sat down heavily where the ground looked particularly moist. "Here we are, all settled delightfully. Even if my dress is thinner it will not show so much, being brown. Sit down, dear; you are too unselfish; you don't assert youreslf enough." She cleared her throat, "Now don't be alarmed; this isn't a cold. It's the tiniest cough, and I have had it three days. It's nothing to do with sitting here at all."

The book is divided with half of it in Italy and the other half in England. Forster seems to idealize Italy as the place with natural passion and England as the place of repression...uptight stuffed shirts.

At the turn of the century times began to change. Suffragets were pushing for the vote and equal rights. Socialists were challenging old ideas about government, class and religion. Artists and thinkers began to challenge Victorian attitudes about emotion and sexuality. With the Renaissance, men's ideas had begun to change. It was a time of rationalism and "science" versus the Medieval age of belief in God and the catholic church (as in universal church). Men and women began to step out of religion and to replace faith in God with faith in their own intelligence, faith in mankind...i.e. faith in the religion of humanism.

Forster mentions "rooms" and "views" throughout. Characters associated with "rooms" are conservative and uncreative such as Mrs Honeychurch, Miss Bartlett, Mr. Beebe and Cecil. They are boxed in by their traditions, religion, social class and English culture. Characters like Freddy and the Emersons, on the other hand, are often described as being "outside" — representing the modern movement to rational thinking, open minded and godless theories. Since Darwin's Theory of Evolution, society has spiraled down the path of what they call myth vs. reality. Thinking the Bible and salvation through Jesus Christ as myth while social upheaval, equality, government, science are the new reality. Forster idealizes modern liberalism and rebellion against tradition in this book. The Emersons were socialists, atheists and portrayed by Forster as persecuted, victimized and the positive characters in the book. Lucy's fiance, friends and family were conservative, social christians, traditional and Forster portrays them as narrow-minded, paternalistic, self righteous, snobs. They aren't portrayed very favorably, even comically, although her immediate family are loving and generous. Lucy is torn between the two. She finds herself "muddled", confused, disoriented. What does she believe, on what side will she come down on? Others take over and try to tell her what to do and how she should feel.

George Emerson is going through a depression according to his father. He is also in a muddle, confused and disoriented.

How will the story end? Will Lucy grow up and become her own independent person? So many are trying to form her into their image, whose image will she become? I will have to let you read the book for yourself.

As for my opinion, I thought A Room With A View was better than Where Angels Fear To Tread but I still don't much care for his writing. He reminds me of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. They portray their characters with thoughts and feelings so unnatural to modern day Americans. So dramatic and manic. All the feelings are so keenly felt and desperate. It's like you are reading something with a hidden code in it and you can't decipher it. Forster is that way for me. Conversations that are unreal and would never have naturally taken place. Or thoughts and feelings that are so weird that you can't really relate.

Mr. Beebe sat back complacently, and Miss Alan began as follows:
"It was a novel-and I am afraid, from what I can gather, not a very nice novel. It is so sad when people who have abilities misuse them, and I must say they nearly always do. Anyhow, she left it almost finished in the Grotto of the Calvary at the Capuccini Hotel at Amalfi while she went for a little ink. She said: 'Can I have a little ink, please?' But you know what Italians are, and meanwhile the Grotto fell roaring on to the beach, and the saddest thing of all is that she cannot remember what she has written..."

I couldn't understand a word Miss Alan was saying. What's the Grotto of Calvary at the Capuccini Hotel at Amalfi? How did it fall "roaring to the beach"? She went for ink while leaving her manuscript? She can't remember what she wrote? I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland listening to the natives.

"I believe it was my photographs that you threw away."
"I didn't know what to do with them," he cried, and his voice was that of an anxious boy. Her heart warmed towards him for the first time. "They were covered with blood. There! I'm glad I've told you; and all the time we were making conversation I was wondering what to do with them." He pointed downstream. "They've gone." The river swirled under the bridge. "I did mind them so, and one is so foolish, it seemed better that they should go out to the sea-I don't know; I may just mean that they frightened me." Then the boy verged into a man. "For something tremendous has happened; I must face it without getting muddled. It isn't exactly that a man has died."
Something warned Lucy that she must stop him.
"It has happened," he repeated, "and I mean to find out what it is."

Modern Americans would say:
"I threw your photographs in the river because they had blood on them. This whole situation is confusing and I need time to think."

What frightened him? Why was it better to throw them in the river rather than in a nearby garbage can? What "tremendous" thing just happened? Why did Lucy feel she must stop him? Since this is never mentioned again, did he find out what had happened? As the reader, I'm clueless as to what happened that was so tremendous. Forster shouldn't have left us clueless.

Edward Morgan Forster was born in London on 1/1/1879. His father, an architect from a strict evangelical family, died of consumption soon after Forster was born, leaving him to be raised by his mother and paternal great-aunt. Because his mother was from a more liberal and somewhat irresponsible background, Forster's home life was rather tense. He was raised in the household of Rooksnest. He then attended King's College, Cambridge, which greatly broadened his intellectual interests. Forster was part of the Bloomsbury Group, a set of unconventional British bohemian thinkers that included Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, Dora Carrington and Lytton Strachey. Forster was a conscientious objector during WWI and spent three wartime years in Alexandria doing civilian work and visited India twice. He wrote novels, essays, stories, plays, etc. He wrote Howard's End, Where Angels Fear To Tread, A Passage To India, The Longest Journey, and Maurice. He was a homosexual who lived with his mother until her death. Then he lived in London. Forster died of a stroke in Coventry on 7 June 1970 at the age of 91.

Having a brief look at his life makes some things a little clearer. Homosexuals live a life of rebellion against nature and God. So it's not surprising that Forster would attribute the Bible and Christian religion as myths. We should not be surprised that he would rebel against it. If it makes him more at ease with his sin, then he will reject the words of the Bible as superstition. I think it a strange twist that he portrays "Christians" as comical, close minded, uptight, paternalistic, self rightous, hard hearted, superstitious people. He writes so one-sided that it seems to me that he was the one with a closed mind and a self-righteous superiority over others. He thinks himself freed from traditional religious rules only to join the religion of humanism. Sexuality is another key theme in Forster's works, wonder why? Hanging around with that bohemian crowd called the Bloomsbury Group didn't help either. It's a very sad group. Let's take a look at a few of them:

Virginia Stephen Woolf - The sudden death of her mother in 1895, when Virginia was 13, and that of her half-sister Stella two years later, led to the first of Virginia's several nervous breakdowns. The death of her father in 1904 provoked her most alarming collapse and she was briefly institutionalised. Throughout her life she struggled with depression and wild mood swings. She claimed to have been sexually molested by her 2 half-brothers, George and Gerald Duckworth. After the death of their father and Virginia's second nervous breakdown, she and her full sister and brother, lived in Bloomsbury. Following studies at King's College, Cambridge, and King's College London, Woolf came to know Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, Rupert Brooke, Saxon Sydney-Turner, Duncan Grant, Leonard Woolf and Roger Fry, who together formed the nucleus of the intellectual circle of writers and artists known as the Bloomsbury Group. She married Leonard Woolf and claimed to love him. The Bloomsbury group was open to sexual experimentation, and in 1922, Virginia met the writer and gardener Vita Sackville-West, wife of Harold Nicolson. After a tentative start, they began a sexual relationship that lasted through most of the 1920s. After they broke up, they remained friendx. With WWII and the bombing of her home in London, she fell into depression again. This time she filled her coat pockets with rocks and walked into the river and drowned herself.

Giles Lytton Strachey-Strachey was born on 1 March 1880, at Stowey House, Clapham Common, London, the fifth son and the eleventh child of Lieutenant General Sir Richard Strachey, an officer in the colonial British armed forces, and his 2nd wife, the former Jane Grant, who became a leading supporter of the women's suffrage movement. Strachey was educated at a series of schools, beginning with one at Parkstone, Dorset. This was a small school where Strachey did well in acting, being particularly convincing when portraying female parts. He would even tell his mother how much he liked dressing as a woman in real life so as to confuse and entertain others. Strachey was admitted at Trinity College, Cambridge, on 30 September 1899. During World War I he applied for recognition as a conscientious objector, but was granted exemption from military service on health grounds. Though Strachey spoke openly about his homosexuality with his Bloomsbury friends (he had a relationship with John Maynard Keynes, who also was part of the Bloomsbury group), it was not widely publicised until the late 1960s. He had an unusual relationship with the painter Dora Carrington. Allegedly, she loved him but Strachey was much more interested sexually in her husband Ralph Partridge, as well as in various other young men. Strachey moved through a series of relationships with men. He died January 21, 1932, of what was later found to be stomach cancer and 2 months later, Cora Carrington shot herself to death.

Clive Bell - Clive Bell was born in East Shefford, Berkshire, in 1881. He was the third of four children of William Heward Bell (1849-1927) and Hannah Taylor Cory (1850-1942). He was educated at Marlborough and at Trinity College, Cambridge where he studied history. He married Virginia Stephen Woolf's sister, Vanessa Stephen. She had turned down his first two proposals of marriage. However, in 1907, following the deaths of both her father and brother Thoby, she accepted him. By World War I their marriage was over. In 1909 he met Roger Fry by accident on a railway journey and became involved in the promotion of modern art. Fry became a close friend of the family, and in 1911 went on holiday with them to Greece and Turkey. When Vanessa became ill, it was Roger Fry who nursed her back to health, and the pair began an affair, leaving Clive Bell to turn his romantic attentions back onto an old flame, Mary Hutchinson (who also had affairs with both Aldous Huxley and his wife Maria). However, Clive and Vanessa never officially separated or divorced. Not only did they keep visiting each other regularly, they also sometimes spent holidays together and paid "family" visits to Clive's parents. Clive and Vanessa had two sons. Vanessa would live a very eccentric and strange lifestyle while living in Charleston, Sussex. Although she was Duncan's lover, she remained married to Clive. Clive would often visit his sons and is said to have made remarks that when he would visit his sons, he noticed Vanessa parading herself around nude and dancing around the yard as if she was in a trance. Vanessa had in fact moved on from Roger Fry to Duncan Grant, and even though he was an active homosexual, they spent virtually the rest of their lives together. Vanessa gave birth to Grant's daughter but Clive gave the girl his name. Vanessa died of heart failure. Bell "was a wealthy snob, hedonist, and womaniser, a racist and an anti-Semite" - Wikipedia. He was the least liked in the Bloomsbury group. He died in 1964 in a London Nursing Home.

John Maynard Keynes-British Economist John Maynard Keynes was born in 1883 in Cambridge, England. His father, Dr. John Neville Keynes, occupied a high level administrative position at the university. Maynard's mother was one of the earliest female students to attend Cambridge. After attending Eton, Keynes went to Cambridge. In 1915, Keynes was offered a job at the British Treasury which he resigned from in 1919 in protest of the Treaty of Versailles. He was the economist of twentieth century economics. He wrote economics books and developed the Keynesian Theory of Economics. He was a journalist, art collector, bibliophile, and patron of the arts. He married ballerina Lydia Lopokova in 1925. They remained married until his death, and Lopokova lived until 1981. They had no children. He lived through 2 World Wars and a Great Depression. Keynes died of a heart attack on Easter Sunday, April 21, 1946

Duncan James Grant-was born 1/21/1885 in Northern Scotland. He was a well known painter. Although Grant had always been actively homosexual, a relationship with Vanessa Stephen Bell blossomed, which was both creative and personal, and he eventually moved in with her and her two sons by her husband Clive Bell. Vanessa very much wanted a child by Duncan, and became pregnant in the spring of 1918. Although it is generally assumed that Duncan's sexual relations with Vanessa ended in the months before Angelica was born (Christmas, 1918), they continued to live together for more than forty years. Living with Vanessa Bell was apparently no impediment to Duncan's relationships with men, either before or after their daughter, Angelica, was born. (Angelica grew up believing that Clive Bell was her father; she bore his surname and his behaviour toward her never indicated otherwise. She was told the truth when she was 17 and this estranged her from her mother.) Duncan and Vanessa had an open relationship, although she herself apparently never took advantage of this after settling down with him and giving birth to their daughter. Duncan, in contrast, had many physical affairs and several serious relationships with other men, most notably David Garnett. His love and respect for Vanessa, however, kept him with her until her death in 1961. Angelica Bell (Grant) married David Garnett, the former lover of her biological father, Duncan Grant, and 26 years her senior, in 1942, but they later separated. They had 4 daughters. He died May 8, 1978.

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