Sunday, April 17, 2011

Book #47 - A Room with a View (E.M. Forster)

For the first time since I started with this blog, I find myself somewhat at a loss for words to discuss a book. I just pounded down an ice cold Modelo Especial with a slice of lime, and yet the inspiration has not welled up within me. Perhaps I need another...

Nope, that didn't work. All it did was make me a little loopy and cause me to surf the web for 37 minutes, looking at videos of beagles howling on YouTube. But now I must focus, and write about this book. OK, focusing. Still focusing. Any minute now. Damn.

Part of the problem may be that it took me a month to read this book. Normally that wouldn't be an issue, but this book is not very long...just over 200 pages. And during those 200 pages I traveled to Savannah, Jacksonville, Orlando, and Cincinnati. So my mind was focused on my sojourn through the American South and Heartland rather than on "A Room with a View". But I digress. Again.

Seriously, though, beagles are damn cute when they howl, especially beagle puppies, and they can really let those howls rip. And it seems like every beagle owner on the North American landmass has posted at least one video of their beagle howling away. And speaking of beagles, if you haven't seen this video of a beagle performing a seemingly impossible escape from his cage, then you're in for a treat:

Please note that there are absolutely no beagles whatsoever in E.M. Forster's "A Room with a View". None. Zero. But I digress. "A Room with a View" is the story of Edwardian England society. The main character, Lucy Honeychurch, is an upper middle class single woman who travels to Florence with her older, straight-laced cousin Charlotte Bartlett. In Florence they meet George Emerson and his father. George is a lower middle class free-thinker, an atheist, a veritable hippie on the scale of Edwardian England society. Lucy is thrown together with George on several occasions, and she unwillingly falls in love with him. Thinking George is beneath her station (and in the powerful eyes of Edwardian society he definitely is) she returns home and becomes engaged to Cecil Vyse, a rich dude and a consummate boor. Cecil ends up boring Lucy, and she finally realizes the error of her ways and admits her love for George. They go back to Florence and are happily in love, despite the fact that almost everyone they know is totally against their getting together, since George is beneath Lucy's station. The End.

So why is it so hard for me to write about this book? Mainly because I kept reading passages and thinking that I just didn't get it. There were passages that I thought were clearly meant to be fact, I would read them and think "Wow, this is probably hilariously funny", and yet I felt like I wasn't in on the joke, because I didn't know what the hell the joke was referring too. At other times, the characters would act in a way that seemed absurd, and I had no idea what their motivation was. And then there were times where one of the characters would say something and I would think "I have no idea what that means. Is that even English?". Is this the boozing and blogging finally getting to me? Is my middle-aged brain becoming ravaged by early onset Alzheimer's? Possibly. But it's also possible that this book is too much of its time and place for me to understand all of its nuances. And that's too bad. It was like trying to read a book through a layer of fog. I'm thinking I need to check out the 1986 Merchant Ivory film version, which may make everything plainer for me.

However, despite my bitching and moaning, there was the basic theme that cut through the occasional obtuseness of the writing. Forster is clearly supporting Lucy in her ultimate breakthrough against Edwardian society conventions. She loves George, but is hindered in her acceptance of this (to put it mildly) because society is vehemently telling her this is not an appropriate match. Lucy goes along with society until the very end, when she has her epiphany, and finally realizes she loves George, and has the courage to act on her feelings. Love, in the end, triumphs over all...although the lives of the two lovers will not be easy because they have been shunned by some of their friends and family. While the writing in this novel, I think, suffers a bit too much from time and place, at least for me to enjoy it fully, this theme of love is timeless. We all know, or have experienced, romances that have died, love that has faded or been cast aside, because of external or internal forces...society doesn't approve, the family doesn't approve, one of the lovers feels guilty or overwhelmed, etc. etc., and these forces thus act on one or both of the lovers to keep them apart. Relationships are hard enough without forces acting against them. Yet some people manage to persevere, accept their love, and prosper in their relationship. Forster applauds them, and so do I. Love really can conquer all, if two people have the strength and courage to see it through. Where there's a will, there's a way. Maybe I'm just an optimist at heart, but I believe if two people really want to make it work, then it can be made to work, even if it seems like it should be impossible. I think that beagle who escapes from his cage would agree.


Eric said...

You know, I didn't love A Room with a View either. I wrote my blog entry on it here with some of my thoughts:

I did, however, like some of Forster's other novels, particularly, A Passage to India and Howard's End.

Pam said...

I also read Room with a View and it was just okay for me also. It was my first Forster so maybe that was the reason. Also I wanted to slap Cecil around. But anyway. I also agree that beagles are damn cute. I can see how you were distracted!!!