Friday, March 09, 2007

Reading. Forster.

I come back to A Room with a View at least once a year, usually when I am traveling; I never get on a plane without my battered (it's the second one; the first copy which saw twelve countries in eight years was lost on a campus quad my sophmore year of college) paperback. I have read it so many times that I know entire passages by heart, can imagine in my mind the city of Florence as Forster writes it (and as I would see it nearly a century later), and the lush expanse of the Sussex Weald when our characters return to England. In its simplest form I suppose you would call it a love story, between a young woman and a young man, but it is something beyond that, a love story between a young man who knows who he is and what he wants and a young woman who has to learn the same, and along the way, finds love.

The young Lucy Honeychurch goes to Italy with her cousin Charlotte Bartlett, and there in the Pensione Bertolini she meets the Emersons, George and his father, the novelist Eleanor Lavish, and the elderly Miss Alans, people whose lives would not have intersected with hers at home in England. If she had stayed back in England, Lucy might have become another narrow-minded upper-middle-class wife and mother like her own - or worse, like her future mother-in-law, Mrs. Vyse - the only clue to something deeper in her soul being her music - but she is transfigured by Italy.

Back in England, Lucy becomes engaged to the arrogant, stuffy, extremely proper Cecil Vyse, who has seen some transformation worked in her by Italy; he thinks that he can marry, elevate her, form her into his idea of the ideal wife. But he is all wrong for her, because he doesn't really see Lucy for who she is, or more importantly, who she is capable of becoming. As George tells her, "[Cecil]'s the type who's kept Europe back for a thousand years. Every moment of his life he's forming you, telling you what's charming or ladylike, telling you what a man thinks womanly; and you, you of all women, listen to his voice instead of your own."

It is the young George Emerson, who caught Lucy in his arms as she fainted at the sight of a man being murdered in the Piazza Signoria, George who kissed her in a field of violets that carpeted the Italian countryside, who tells her that, unlike Cecil, he wants to have her own thoughts even when he holds her in his arms, who loves her in a better way than Cecil ever could. But Lucy is not ready to understand that deep down, she loves George, and that with him, she will achieve a kind of freedom of the soul that she found in Italy, that he will be her 'room with a view,' so she plans to travel abroad again, hoping to find peace in the far distant point of Constantinople. But it is old Mr. Emerson who at last makes her understand that in loving George, she will find herself, and fleeing across the world will not accomplish anything.

On the surface it is a love story, but it is something beyond that. I always feel as though I see my own soul more clearly when I read it, that I know myself a little more deeply when I look up and realize the hours have slipped by, that Lucy and George have at last found their way back to each other, and are back in Florence once more, whispering to one another in the window of their room with a view.

Forster, E. M. A Room With a View. Vintage International, 1989. pp 191-192.

No comments: