1000 Books In 10 Years; Vol. 12: A Room With A View, by E. M. Forster

Queen Victoria has passed seven years since, and with the emergence of authors like D. H. Lawrence, the likes of James Joyce and American authors like Upton Sinclair, it seemed like the needless long prose of the Victorian literature was all but dead. E. M. Forster however, like a corpse reaching beyond the grave decided to publish A Room With A View, a class conscious romance with feminist overtones that takes place under the guise of exaggerated social conformances, much along the lines of Pride and Prejudice or North and South, but what sets it apart from these pieces, is its critic of Victorian manners and their flawed, unnatural, nature and how they ultimately serve as lies that dilute innate human response.

The novel is slow, needless to say, since it is set very much in the Victorian tradition, and its character development is not on a par with Jane Austen’s romance novels, and even less efficient than Elizabeth Gaskell’s character development in North and South, indeed, the novel male’s protagonist doesn’t really become arrive until late in the novel, when the young Mr. Emerson tells Lucy, the novel’s female protagonist, that he wants her to “have [her] own thoughts” and that while he concedes that he is a “brute at bottom”, he also does not want to “govern a woman” and fights that urge in favour of a woman’s autonomy. This though is three quarters into the novel, and Mr. Emerson finally arrives at that point, Lucy never really seems to reach the potential that both her suitors project onto her as she gives to Cecil’s persistence, and only rejects him once Emerson explains Cecil’s flawed nature.

Cecil is the perfect example of Victorian manners gone bad. He judges others on their ’breeding’, wants a woman to possess and mould, and has mastered the learned decorum with which he uses as a measuring stick against others. His desire for Lucy is one based on pride, one which saw Lucy become “more desirable” as he was “about to lose her” (yes, yes, “you don’t know what you want, ’til its gone”, as the wise and wild lead singer of Cinderella once sung), and that he “desired her untouched”, a tragic example of a primitive and prideful patriarchy.

As with many works at the time, it indulges in existentialist. George Emerson Sr. seems to be of the mind that we don’t have complete autonomy over ourselves, but rather that we are pawns of fate, and that we are “flung together by Fate” and “drawn apart by Fate”, a idea that flies in the face of existentialist theory which suggests we must recognize what autonomy, and only when we accept responsibility for our choices do we become free. Emerson Sr. suggests we are slaves to fate, while his son, as mentioned, recognizes his natural desire to dominate as flawed and seeks by his own efforts to free himself of those shackles and be his own person. One of the novel’s clergymen likewise argues Emerson Sr.’s view, arguing that one should “attribute nothing to fate” and that we should not say “‘I didn’t do this’ for you did it”, suggesting we should take ownership over our choices.

Forester, like many contemporary authors, also delves into the debate of the real. Lucy, who has become invested in the learned manners of Victorian culture, finds it difficult to interact with people who speak bluntly of their sincere feelings. When Emerson Sr. speaks with her of his son’s feelings for her, she has no response, and the author writes of her frustration: “If only she could remember how to behave!” Clearly Lucy has become so used to repressing her feelings through learned behaviour, that she has no clue how to express them, and Emerson Sr. then tells her: “When love comes, that is reality… Passion does not blind. No. Passion is sanity.” This seems to fly in the face of the reserved Victorian manners that have been ingrained in Lucy, and indeed earlier in the novel, when Lucy has relieved herself of her engagement, she decides to “follow neither her heart nor her brain, and march to [her] destiny by catchwords”, a mentality that is no surprise considering that Lucy made it clear earlier in the novel that she thought it was “difficult… to understand people who speak the truth”. Indeed, Forster seems to suggest that the culture of Victorian manners were far removed from reality and that many of those who considered themselves refined, were actually just repressed. No wonder Dickens wrote all that needlessly long prose!

The novel does have something to offer outside of the romantic Victorian clichés that it indulges in, and does put itself apart from the type of novels that it is akin to. Its critique of Victorian manners, and suggestions that the emerging middle class (and perhaps the working class) while different that the ruling classes, were at least more in touch with their feelings, and potentially more progressive in their views of women and equality in a men’s life (though the middle class characters are representative of the best of the middle class, and not a typical representation). It is easily on a par with Gaskell’s North and South, and has perhaps more to offer than Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and even if Emerson Jr. doesn’t have a name as cool as Mr. Darcy, he’s still worthy of the Colin Firth treatment!

The best line of the book: “I do detest conventional intercourse.” I couldn’t have said it better myself!

If you liked this:

North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell: There is a passage in A Room With a View in which the “Miss Alans” are referred to as being on the way out, where as the Emersons are on their way up. The family at the center of Gaskell’s novel seem to be a reflection of that sentiment. Couple with feminist overtones and a strong sense of class-consciousness, Gaskell’s novel is essential reading for anybody who enjoyed A Room With A View. A little longer, but the lovers of Gaskell’s novel, who are separated class, standing and “breeding” (whatever that means), but protagonists are well rounded and fully developed early on in the novel, something that is lacking in Forester’s work until the final act. Oh, and it is not the “North and South” you may be thinking of… it is England industrial north an rural south, not Americas

Bostonians, but Henry James: Perhaps James would have been better off to borrow Gaskell’s title for his epic romance. Also saturated with heavy feminist overtones, as a young female orator makes the rounds promoting women’s independence, a man from the south, who represents the retarding weight on the progress of America shows up and the two are draw together. Polar opposites in every respect, the two eventually spurn social expectations for love, much like those lovers of Forester’s novel. A little on the long side, it having been a serial, and James stretching it out for the extra buck, the ending, makes wading through all that needlessly extended prose worthwhile.

Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier: Another class crossing romance. Some much that is present in A Room With A View is present in Rebecca, the European tours, the wealthy and their life of leisure, and a young girl of working class ‘breeding’ whose beauty entices a wealthy widower. Ripe for feminist readings and ample material for the class-conscious, there is also a bit of mystery added to spice up what would have likely been an otherwise dull narrative.

Pride and Prejudice (and pretty much any other Jane Austen nove), but Jane Austen: The young Mr. Emerson and Darcy… so alike. Strong, silent types who are awkward when it comes to social conformity. Perhaps not as class-conscious as the aforementioned novels, it still bears a striking resemblance to Forester’s work, and likely served as a template of sorts, be it consciously or unconsciously, for the romance that unfolds in A Room With A View.

Up Nest: Night, but Elie Weisel

Words I Though I’d Look Up:

Reticent: Reserved or silent.

Squalor: Shabbiness or moral degradation.

Diphtheria: Infectious disease of the throat.

Parapet: A low wall or protective wall or earth put by as a safeguard for sudden drops.

Desultory: Random, from the Latin to ‘leap’.

Worriting: A variant or worrying.

Rectory: A rector’s house? Rector being a cleric of the Anglican church.

Charlatan: To babble, from the French/Italian, meaning to ‘babble’.

Maundering: To say something vaguely, or to move without purpose.

Row: A group of things or people placed in a line.

Prig: A smug douche bag.

Cerise: A vivid, pinkish red.

Tawdry: Gaudy and shabby with the heir of pretension, or just a moody bastard.

Wan: Pale and indicative of low spirits.

Garnet: A dark hue of red, or a stone of the same colour that is somewhat valuable.

Weald: Red irritated skin, so coloured because of a blow or itching.

Butterworth: Butterwort is a carnivorous bog plant? Hmm… Butterworth? I thought the surname would have an interesting story, but apparently not. It is only defined as a surname, or name of towns. Perhaps a town with a bog was named after the carnivorous plant indigenous to that town.

Benediction: Expressing approval, or a prayer for such.

Shibboleth: Catchword or saying. I think I looked this one up already on the last book? Oh well, I forget easily. Its from the Hebrew (surprise!) for ‘stream’.

Ostentatiously: Rich and showy.

Phemia: Refers to speech, but more commonly used as a name.

Iniquitous: Utterly harmful and wrong! Just plain wrong!

Antecedents: Something coming before (such as a clause expressing a condition).

Vex: To disturb one. From the Latin to disturb.

Tacit: Implied, but not expressed, from the Latin for ‘silent’.

Effusively: Expressive and unrestrained.

Virago: From the Latin for man/husband, it is used either to define a courageous or brave woman, or used to describe a pejorative term. Hmm…

Tyre: Rubber edging of a wheel.

Woebegone: Sorrowful.

Ingenuously: Innocent and unworldly, seeming honest.

Drawing-room: Not actually a room in which to draw. Rather, it is shortened form the term ‘withdraw’. A room where guests would ‘withdraw’ to for entertainment. It is essentially a fancy word for a living room that rich people with big houses use to sound important and distance themselves form us cockneys.

Filial: Of children, to parents, from the Latin for daughter/son.

Sward: An area of grass.

Cad: Short for caddie, refers to one who is crass or unlike a gentleman. Apparently to right people, being compared to the guy who drivers you around is an insult, because we working class people are such brutes!

Rivulet: Small flower or stream, from the French for river.

Fastidious: Demanding or delicate, from the Latin for disgust?

Contretemps: A quarrel or mishaps, from the Latin meaning “against time”.

Fructify: To become productive. From the French/Latin for fruit.

Dryads: A device or substance that assists drying.

Desideratum: Something desired.

Adroitly: Skilful or quick=witted.

Erudition: Scholarship.

Promontory: Projecting point of land (or organ of the human body… hmm… I wonder which organ that could be referring to?).

Miscreant: INFIDEL!!!! Somebody who does wrong.

Garrulous: Talking too much.

Reticules: A woman’s handbag.

Baize: a green woollen cloth.

Apoxyomenos: Grecian sculpture of an athlete.

Incommode: I thought this would me “in the bathroom”, but is just means inconvenient.

Lunette: Window in a domed ceiling, a semi-circle type thingy. You know what I’m taking about.

Meringues: Whipped egg whites.

Frescoes: Painting done on fresh plaster.

Sepulchral: dismal, or relating to burial vaults.

Portentous: Significant or pompous.

Sedulously: From the Latin “without deception”, it means to work persistently.

Benignly: Harmless or kindly.

Pension: A family owned guest house, like a bed and breakfast.

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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