To say I enjoyed A Room With a View wouldn't be quite the truth. To say I learned from it wouldn't be quite true, either. A few minutes after reading this book, I'm still muddling through my thoughts about it, trying to figure out what exactly it means to me.
By way of summary, A Room With a View is a novel about upper-middle-class society in Edwardian England (this precise information was stolen from the back cover), following the adventures of Lucy Honeychurch as she travels to Italy, falls in love with the beautiful but oh-so-improper George Emerson, and then travels back to England and gets engaged to someone else.
I went into this book with few expectations. To be honest, I knew absolutely nothing about it, and absolutely nothing about E. M. Forster, other than that he was a Modernist. I guess I was expecting something a little more similar to Mrs. Dalloway, which certainly wasn't what I found. There's no stream-of-consciousness to be had here. To be honest, I'm still a little uncertain what Modernism actually is, which I suppose is what drew me to the Modern March event. I could describe aspects of Modernism; I could answer a question about Modernism on a test (and I have), but seriously, what is it? (Yes, that's a rhetorical question; if you answer it, I'll feel stupid.) I'm not sure that even the Modernists themselves knew.
But anyway, on to the book. Once my expectations had been shattered and I realized that this is not, in fact, an experimental novel, I started to actually have an experience with this book that I might even say I will treasure for the rest of my life.
It certainly can be helpful to read criticism of novels and read about their authors before beginning; it can be good to know what other people think about it, to go armed into the novel, if you will. If you're armed, you can participate in the battle of literary argument about what the book is about, what it's saying, what the author is trying to say, whether it's right or wrong, whether it's good or bad. And being part of that battle can be a very rewarding thing.
But I didn't do that. I didn't read criticism, or summaries, or author's biographies, or even so much as a Wikipedia page. I scarcely skimmed the back cover (and promptly forgot it before I turned the first page). I jumped into the book without sword, gun, or armor, completely unprepared and unwilling to fight. Completely vulnerable to whatever the book had to throw at me.
And an extraordinary thing happened. I didn't come out of the book with any message spelled out, any "this is what the book is about" epiphanies. I wasn't actually looking for it this time. I wasn't looking for anything except to read and to feel and to discover. And that is what happened.
And I think this was the perfect book for that experience to happen, because this book made me realize how little literary snobbery matters and how if a book, or a person, or a place is beautiful to me, then it has value. Nothing can be beautiful and worthless. If I find beauty, I should cling to it, not let others wrench it out of my grasp or tell me I should look at it differently.
And of course, the book itself was so beautiful. I really, really wished it weren't a library book so I could write in it. I think I would have underlined every other sentence. The writing and the story were so simple, yet so deep I feel I could explore them for the rest of my life, just re-reading and thinking through them.
I know this post seems almost worshipful of this book, and maybe it is, but I think it's not so much the book I'm in awe of--although I do really think it was an amazing book--as it is the experience I had with it. A Room With a View has the wonderful quality of being brilliant only when it is read; it has no brilliance unless a mind thinks through it and finds something brilliant in it. In fact, maybe that's true about all classics, but this one has no "moral of the story" to force upon its reader, no announcement of grand themes or schemes that will change the world.
Or maybe it does, and I just didn't notice it because I was too busy using the gorgeous prose as a gateway to a conversation with deity.
Whatever this book is, it is beautiful. I still have no idea what else it is; as this post makes clear, I'm still winding through the dark passages of my mind trying to come to a conclusion about what this book could be, but I keep being distracted by little golden thoughts that keep popping up along my way. Even if this book has no other value, it is valuable to me for sending me on this journey of thought.
If you've read A Room With a View (or even if you haven't), I'd love to know what you think of it. What did you get from it? Was your experience anywhere near what mine was? Or what other books have given you this experience?