Thursday, December 2, 2010

I'm an existentialist. Of course I don't believe in Italy

I've been reading E.M. Forster's A Room with a View for nearly a week now.  I'll probably finish it today or tomorrow.  (I'd be done sooner if I hadn't thrown The Song of Roland into the mix.)  It has been an interesting read, to say the least.  Forster is one of those authors that I had a natural aversion to before I'd read anything by him.  Often, I follow my instincts and avoid that author and his works.  Sometimes, however, I force myself to read something by him--usually the shortest work.  This is, of course, one such occasion.  Other similar instances involved such authors as James Joyce, J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, and even Charles Dickens
Now, forcing myself to read an author I don't want to read isn't always such the resounding success as my foray into the world of Dickens.  Take Salinger for an example: I had never read anything by him but always knew I'd hate his works; I found Franny and Zooey for a dollar and read it in a couple of days, only to find my original opinion was an understatement of my true hatred for that man's works. 
Luckily, Forster is not turning out so bad as all that.  I'd not say he's turning out like Dickens did though by any means.  It's a nice middle ground.  I like the story he's crafted and the characters he's populated it with, but his writing leaves something to be desired at times.  Some brilliance does shine through though.  Through dialogue mostly.  A wonderful example of this is this quote by George Emerson: "It is Fate that I am here.  But you can call it Italy if it makes you less unhappy."  I love that quote. Another highlight is the conversation between Cecil and Lucy wherein Cecil explains that when he thinks of her he thinks of a view, and when she thinks of him, she thinks of a room--a room without a view.  It's also said later that there are two types of men in the world: those who remember views and those who don't.
This room and view comparison is, in my opinion, a metaphor for two types of people.  The first being people who are closed off within society, with no access to the aesthetic life.  The view is that aesthetic life, but it is also the future--a wide open expanse with limitless possibilities.  You'll find none of that back in the room.  And so, it is a conflict between the passed and the future.  Which is interesting, considering the title: A Room with a View.  Obviously, this is a combination of both the passed and the future.  The societal safety of an enclosed room with the aesthetic freedom of a view.
There is another aspect of the room and view comparison.  It is stated at a certain point that Lucy says to Cecil, "I won't be stifled, not by the most glorious music, for people are more glorious, and you hide them from me."  This is easily a call-back to the notion that Cecil is a room without a view, and he would bring Lucy into the room if she would let him.  He would surround her with beautiful things--books, art, music--but he would keep her from people.  People are the one thing Cecil cannot stand.  He grows tired of every person he meets in the book.  Forster isn't saying we shouldn't surround ourselves with these beautiful things, but we should never remove people--the view--because people are the most beautiful things.  (As a misanthrope, I'm a little inclined to disagree, but I'm just stating what I think Forster was saying in the book.)
George Emerson seems to embody this notion.  His father is obviously a radical and a very strange man.  George takes after him somewhat, though he is different in many aspects.  He's described as "ill-bred" and that he "didn't do," but he is easily the most likable character and  obviously has better morals and understanding than the well-bred Cecil, who finds amusement in putting everyone down, so long as they hold nothing for him to gain.  George seems like what one would get from a cross between a country squire and a liberal-minded aristocrat: he is philosophical and gentlemanly, but he'll kiss the girl he loves regardless of her fiance being present not a minute earlier, because he "loves passionately."
I think this is what Forster was hoping for the future gentleman to be like.  Free of many Victorian restrains, replacing them with true morals and true philosophy rather than hypocrisy and regurgitated knowledge.  (I must point out that I do not hold the Victorian lifestyle to be nearly as bad as many of Edwardians and Modernists did, but that's neither here nor there.)  If Forster had understood the Medieval mind better, he would've called George medieval rather than that cold and cynical Cecil.
Or maybe I'm over-analyzing the whole damned thing, and it's just about a girl growing up and falling in love.


  1. It may have been over-analyzing, but I really liked it nonetheless. It made me wanna read a book I'd never been interested in before - so thanks!
    I was, however, shocked to find out you don't like Salinger! Well, granted, I've never read "Franny and Zooey", but "A Catcher in the Rye" is easily in my top 5. You should totally give it a go.

    "people are the most beautiful things. (As a misanthrope, I'm a little inclined to disagree...". He, and I'm very much inclined to agree with you!...

  2. Oh, addendum: that quote about Italy is really funny - and the title of your post, brilliant.

  3. If Salinger had written essays on philosophy, I think I wouldn't have minded his ranting about intellectualism and spirituality nearly as much. As a fiction writer though, his characters just came off as angry for no real reason and entirely too full of their own brilliance. I don't know. Maybe we were supposed to hate them.