Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Room With a View by E.M. Forster

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?


  1. I have yet to read this, though I did see the movie long ago. I think part of the Modernist movement was to try to break away from having messages or morals in stories, and just try to portray life as they saw it. Readers can find a moral or not, as they choose.

    Anyway, I love beautiful writing, so I'll try to find this soon.

    1. I hope you like it. And I agree with you about Modernists. It can be really refreshing to read something that doesn't have a clear moral, especially after the Victorians.

  2. This has always been one of my favorite movies--because it is so true, and so beautiful. I have read some Forester (though not this one) and plan to read more. I didn't realize he was a modernist and am excited to learn that as now he can be an option for my Modern March reading.

    1. I really want to see the movie (especially now)! I was happy to learn that as well. :)

  3. I found your post via A Modern March, and couldn't agree more. It's hard to read a classic without any context, but I think it pays off. I read Anna Karenina earlier this year, amazing unspoiled, and there is that great moment, when you just get lost in the words without any self-consciousness. I like the way you describe that experience.

  4. I read this last week, on your recommendation, and I loved it! Thank you so much for convincing me to read it!

    I wasn't looking for anything except to read and to feel and to discover. And that is what happened.

    And that is exactly what the whole book is about, isn't it? Allowing yourself to feel and discover, not just do what you think people think you should do.

    I'm still winding through the dark passages of my mind trying to come to a conclusion about what this book could be,

    Have you come to any conclusions yet?

    I posted my review of this here, but in a word, I thought this book was delightful. If I used other words, they would be "enlightening" and "heart-warming." :-)

    1. I think my conclusion, actually, would be exactly what you just said (and what I sort of attempted to say), which is to say "allowing yourself to feel and discover, not just do what you think people think you should do." But I think that more than just that, which could be a "lesson" of the story (which I doubt is what everyone in the world gets from it), it's simply a beautiful book, with a beauty that stands on its own. It doesn't need a moral attached to it in order to be beautiful. I think Lucy herself describes it very well when she says that George and his father might not be very much like everyone else, but they are sort of beautiful, aren't they? (I'm sorry I don't own the book and can't quote it directly.) We don't always have to find a meaning in order to enjoy beauty. Which is a huge part of the Modernist movement, of course.

  5. Your style is really unique compared to other people I have read stuff from.
    Many thanks for posting when you have the opportunity,
    Guess I will just bookmark this site.

    my web site: Controller Death Match

    1. Thank you! Best compliment I've had all day. :)

    2. I believe I've been receiving multiple comments from you, and while I'm grateful for the comments, I haven't been posting them because they seem like spam. If you want to continue commenting, please do not include your website at the bottom. I already visited this website and it's not related to this blog. My blog is not the place for you to advertise. Thank you.