Wednesday, April 2

A Room With A View

I had intended on taking a short break from the Book Club before starting on Othello. However, on April 13, Masterpiece will be showing an adaptation of EM Forster's A Room With A View, which makes perfect sense because it's been 15 years since Merchant & Ivory's groundbreaking adaptation. But that one was only the most acclaimed production from two beloved filmmakers...*this one* is adapted by Andrew Davies.

ME: Geesh, why don't you just call it Masterpiece Davies already?
PBS: That's an awesome idea.

So this is the thread where I'll be posting notes as I read A Room With A View. Here's the permanent address of this post:

As before, you can either bookmark it or subscribe to the post's RSS feed. If you'd like to read along and join the discussion, you'll find the reading schedule I'll be following in the first comment of this thread, as well as links to the text. We start tomorrow.


Johnny said...

The book seems super-short, so we're doing two chapters a day for only ten days.

April 3: 1-2
April 4: 3-4
April 5: 5-6
April 6: 7-8
April 7: 9-10
April 8: 11-12
April 9: 13-14
April 10: 15-16
April 11: 17-18
April 12: 19-20

You can find the text on Wikisource or Project Gutenberg:

And here's a copy from The Free Library, which has split the book into chapters:

I literally don't know the first thing about this book. Based on the title and my own wishful thinking, I'm guessing it's about sexy bi-curious female architects, and I'm convinced that I won't be disappointed!

Johnny said...

"How exciting, I no longer have to read those Jane Austen novels, full of emotionally repressed upper-class characters being judged on their manners and etiquette!"

[reads first chapter]

"Oh SHIT."


I *am* surprised that as late as 1908 men were still bowing at compliments from women. Though maybe that's because they were raised on Jane Austen novels.

I have a bit more to say about this, but I have a feeling Forster does, too. So I'll hold off for now.


The bulk of this chapter takes place in Florence's Santa Croce cathedral. Here's some more info:

I'm pretty jealous of Forster: I wish writers could still get away with naming young naïve girls "Lucy Honeychurch," or brash phonies "Mrs. Lavish."

Johnny said...

"All his life the vicar had loved to study maiden ladies; they were his specialty, and his profession had provided him with ample opportunities for the work."


Obviously neither the Austen books nor this are documentaries, but it's interesting how upper-class manners had changed in the 200 years from the Regency to the post-Victorian. The Austen characters lived in a society where the etiquette--though constipated and repressive--functioned to keep the society running.

But here, the etiquette is monolithic, abstract, and arbitrary. Far from helping discourse, the manners of the characters have become so filligree'd and excessive that almost nothing is capable of being talked about. Dig this section, where I *think* we're told that you couldn't say the word "stomach" in polite society, but I seriously have no idea:

[quote] Mr. Beebe smiled as Miss Alan plunged into an anecdote which he knew she would be unable to finish in the presence of a gentleman.

"I don't know, Miss Honeychurch, if you have noticed that Miss Pole, the lady who has so much yellow hair, takes lemonade. That old Mr. Emerson, who puts things very strangely--"

Her jaw dropped. She was silent. Mr. Beebe, whose social resources were endless, went out to order some tea, and she continued to Lucy in a hasty whisper:

"Stomach. He warned Miss Pole of her stomach-acidity, he called it--and he may have meant to be kind. I must say I forgot myself and laughed; it was so sudden. As Teresa truly said, it was no laughing matter." [/quote]

Later, she just refers to it as "the letter S."

"It was unladylike. Why? Why were most big things unladylike? Charlotte had once explained to her why. It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves. Indirectly, by means of tact and a spotless name, a lady could accomplish much. But if she rushed into the fray herself she would be first censured, then despised, and finally ignored. Poems had been written to illustrate this point."


"The whole world seemed pale and void of its original meaning."

Johnny said...

As I've said in the past, the fatal flaw of these Book Club entries is that just talking about how much I unreservedly enjoy a book is tiresome. (And don't we all hope, when starting a book or a movie or anything else, to unreservedly enjoy it?)

Having said that, I'm enjoying the HELL out of this book.

Johnny said...

"The thoughts of a cab-driver, however just, seldom affect the lives of his employers. Once back in the town, he and his insight and his knowledge would trouble them no more."

"Well, I like him," said Mrs. Honeychurch. "I know his mother; he's good, he's clever, he's rich, he's well connected." She paused, as if rehearsing her eulogy, but her face remained dissatisfied. She added: "And he has beautiful manners."


Actually, the Merchant-Ivory film came out twenty-two years ago, not fifteen as I said above. And it stars Helena Bonham Carter as Lucy, which seems wrong to me. Even at twenty, she would have looked too old, not necessarily in years but in that sorta creepy doll-woman look she has.

Merchant-Ivory films have the unfortunate distinction of being synonymous with a genre they popularized and who produced work far better than their imitators. Phish, for example, were many times a better band than the lazy jamming they inspired, but they're doomed to be a codeword for that genre. (I'm not too broken up by it.)

So I guess when we disparage Merchant-Ivory we're not really talking about films made by Merchant-Ivory so much as the sort of inert "prestige" period film that proliferated in the 90s.

Holy shit, look at Merchant-Ivory's filmography. They've made a movie a year for almost 40 years. That's pretty impressive for two black guys from Detroit.

(It's weird that, considering Ruth Prawa Jhabvala's involvement in almost every movie, it's not Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala.) (Hey, you know who I bet agrees with me 1000%? Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.)

Johnny said...

"Cecil had taken to affect a cosmopolitan naughtiness which he was far from possessing."


Also in this chapter: Forster introduces a minor character but tells us he "need not be described."


Whoever you are, I wish you were reading this with me, so you could fully appreciate this stunning end to the chapter:

They left the pool in silence, after this one salutation. He waited for her to make some remark which should show him her inmost thoughts. At last she spoke, and with fitting gravity.

"Emerson was the name, not Harris."

"What name?"

"The old man's."

"What old man?"

"That old man I told you about. The one Mr. Eager was so unkind to."

He could not know that this was the most intimate conversation they had ever had.

"Freddy possessed to a high degree the power of lashing little girls to fury, and in half a minute he had transformed Minnie from a well-mannered child into a howling wilderness."

Johnny said...

"Remembering that she was engaged to Cecil, she compelled herself to confused remembrances of George; he was nothing to her; he never had been anything; he had behaved abominably; she had never encouraged him. The armour of falsehood is subtly wrought out of darkness, and hides a man not only from others, but from his own soul. In a few moments Lucy was equipped for battle."

This is really interesting. The climax of the first part of the novel is Lucy and George kissing in a field of violets. Here, ten chapters later, Lucy fondly remembers "the touch of lips on her cheeks," which makes this modern reader rethink what actually happened in that chapter.

EM Forster has important information for college girls everywhere: "He had a theory that musicians are incredibly complex, and know far less than other artists what they want and what they are; that they puzzle themselves as well as their friends; that their psychology is a modern development, and has not yet been understood."

"He carried her to the window, so that she, too, saw all the view. They sank upon their knees, invisible from the road, they hoped, and began to whisper one another's names. Ah! it was worth while; it was the great joy that they had expected, and countless little joys of which they had never dreamt. They were silent."

Done. This is one of the best books I've ever read, certainly one of the best classics. It ranks up there with Vanity Fair.

Oh, and all those issues I was talking about in Chapter 1? It turns out that it was what the book was all about after all. That sly Forster.