On Friday, 23 June, I am going to be giving a special presentation on E.M. Forster’s lovely little novel A Room with a View and the Merchant/Ivory film of the same title. I can hardly wait. So…before I do the presentation, I’ll set down a few notes to solidify my thoughts about the genius of Forster’s story of liberation and love.
First, I discovered the book when I discovered the film. It won the Oscar for best costumes in 1986, and they showed pictures of the designs. There was never a more deserved award. The costuming in the film is sumptuous. Every image is an impressionistic painting, saturated with color and light. Once I saw the film, I had to read the book, and I was not disappointed. (This lends evidence to my theory that you should see the film first and read the book next. The film will never quite follow the book, but in masterful hands, it will find a way to pay homage to the book.)
The book and film begin in similar ways, and thus they make the arc of the story promising. It begins with two women who have been traveling and are tired and cranky and arguing in a passive-aggressive way, which Forster describes as wrangling. Lucy and her cousin and chaperone in her travels through Italy are wanting the romantic promise of that land to be realized in the view. Of course, their host has not been sensitive to this need and given them rooms without views. The view begins and ends the book. The view at the end of the book is beautiful, and it is the one that Mr. Emerson, her new husband’s father, gave her because originally she had no view.
The film only lightly touches on how radical Lucy Honeychurch’s marriage to George Emerson is. It makes a note of it, but you must be sensitive to the social subtext to catch the weight of their love from the film. The book makes it more clear, and it also makes it obvious that there is more to love than just the romance of the newlyweds. Lots of loving people had to do their part to make this revolution of contentment and sympathy work, including the woman who initially seems determined to thwart it utterly, Lucy’s cousin and chaperone, Charlotte. Through the course of the story we have seen Lucy transformed not only by Italy but by her own realization of her desires. She seems to do as she is told, to follow the instructions of her community, her family, her fiance, her vicar until George encourages her to move toward him, toward the liberty to think and feel for herself, to know her own heart and to follow it. At the end of the story, the two who are meant to be together ARE together, but they owe it to Charlotte, who loved them in a way deeper than words can express. This is how Forster lands it. “Youth enwrapped them; the song of Phaethon announced passion requited, love attained. But they were conscious of a love more mysterious than this. The song died away; they heard the river, bearing down the snows of winter into the Mediterranean.” The film ends in the same spot, the same beauty, and gives us all hope, even we dried-up old maids. We can still do our part to make this world a loving place. We can find our room!
So…tomorrow I’ll take a look at a bit of US Literature that lands well. I wonder if it will surprise you.
I came to enjoy Forrester after reading this book. A viewpoint from the Victorian age is incredible. Particularly how our views have changed…and in so many other ways how they have stayed the same. We still appreciate the bold and the honesty in people and still look down on those who are lazy and less than honest. We imagine how far we’ve come and in reading Forrester’s work I realize how much has stayed the same.
You’re right. There’s a scene in the book where George tells Lucy that Cecil tries to tell her what to think, and she says he seems to have caught the same disorder. It’s great. It’s so wonderful to see a couple of characters confronting the universal struggle of who should marry whom and why.