Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Room With A View. E.M. Forster.

New York: Vintage Books. 1908.

Why read it? (Novel). The author’s three targets are tourism (in Italy), upper crust Victorian society, and the social equality of women and men. You could sub-title this novel, “A Tale of Two Kisses,” which is what it takes lower class George Emerson to steal upper class Lucy from upper class Cecil Vyse. The novel has a surprise ending. Miss Bartlett, the epitome of an old maid, seems to be fighting to keep George Emerson from courting Lucy. In fact, Miss Bartlett is the person who manipulates situations to enable George and Lucy to get together—so Lucy will not be like Miss Bartlett, an old maid.

Some ideas from the book:

“The Italians are a most unpleasant people. They pry everywhere, they see everything, and they know what we want before we know it ourselves…. They read our thoughts, they foretell our desires. From the cab-driver down….” p. 39.

“Italians are born knowing the way.” p. 78.

“A ‘pity’ in art of course signified the nude.” p. 47.

“We residents sometimes pity you poor tourists not a little—handed about like a parcel of goods from Venice to Florence, from Florence to Rome, living herded together in pensions or hotels, quite unconscious of anything that is outside Baedeker, their one anxiety to get ‘done’ or ‘through’ and go on somewhere else. The result is, they mix up towns, rivers, palaces in one inextricable whirl.”p. 70

“…the electric tram squealing up the new road with its loads of hot, dusty, unintelligent tourists who are going to ‘do’ Fiesole in an hour in order that they may say they have been there….” p. 72.

8 “It is delightful to advise a new-comer….” p. 8.

8 “And, indeed, a perfect torrent of information burst on them. People told them what to see, when to see it, how to stop the electric trams, how to get rid of the beggars, how much to give for a vellum blotter, how much the place would grow upon them.” p. 8.

“It’s very naughty of me, but I would like to set an examination paper at Dover, and turn back every tourist who couldn’t pass it.” p. 22.

“Then the pernicious charm of Italy worked on her. Instead of acquiring information, she began to be happy.” p. 24.

Victorian Society and Ideals:
“Of course, he despised the world as a whole; every thoughtful man should; it is almost a test of refinement.” p. 107.

“No, Lucy, he stands for all that is bad in country life. In London he would keep his place. He would belong to a brainless club, and his wife would give brainless dinner parties. But down here [in the country] he acts the little god with his gentility, and his patronage…and everyone—even your mother—is taken in.” p. 120.

“But Mr. Eager proceeded to tell Miss Honeychurch that on the right lived Mr. Someone Something…and that the Somebody Else’s were farther down the hill.” P. 71.

Cecil: “I have no profession. It is another example of my decadence. My attitude—quite an indefensible one—is that so long as I am no trouble to anyone, I have a right to do as I like. I know I ought to be getting money out of people, or devoting myself to things I don’t care a straw about….” p. 104.

George: “You cannot live with [Cecil] Vyse. He’s only for an acquaintance. He is for society and cultivated talk. He should know no one intimately, least of all a woman.” p. 193.

George: “He [Vyse] is the sort who are all right so long as they keep to things—books, pictures—but kill when they come to people.” p. 194.

“…the novel that he was reading was so bad that he was obliged to read it aloud to others. He would stroll round the precincts of the [tennis] court and call out: ‘I say, listen to this, Lucy. Three split infinitives.’ ” p. 182.

“You will never repent of a little civility to your inferiors. That is the true democracy.” p. 20.

Mrs. Honeychurch: “Well, I like him…. I know his mother; he’s good, he’s clever, he’s rich, he’s well connected—Oh, you needn’t kick the piano! He’s well connected—I’ll say it again if you like: he’s well connected…. And he has beautiful manners.” p. 97.

“Life, so far as she troubled to conceive it, was a circle of rich, pleasant people, with identical interests and identical foes. In this circle, one thought, married and died.” p. 127.

“But there is a right sort and a wrong sort, and it’s affectation to pretend there isn’t.” p. 131.

“Mrs. Vyse managed to scrape together a dinner party consisting entirely of the grandchildren of famous people. The food was poor, but the talk had a witty weariness that impressed the girl. One was tired of everything it seemed. One launched into enthusiasms only to collapse gracefully, and pick oneself up amid sympathetic laughter.” p. 140.

“Yes, but she is purging off the Honeychurch taint…. She is not always quoting servants, or asking one how the pudding is made.” p. 141.

Equality of Women:
“…for you may understand beautiful things, but you don’t know how to use them, and you wrap yourself up in art and books and music, and would try to wrap up me.” p. 201.

“For the only relationship which Cecil conceived was feudal: that of protector and protected.” p. 179.

“But Lucy had developed since spring. That is to say, she was now better able to stifle the emotions of which the conventions and the world disapprove.” p. 188.

“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.” p. 46.

“We are to raise ladies to our level?” Mr. Emerson: “The Garden of Eden…which you place in the past, is really yet to come.” p. 146.

“…men were not gods after all, but as human and clumsy as girls…. To one of her upbringing…the weakness of men was a truth unfamiliar, but she had surmised it….” p. 178.

George: “Cecil all over again. He daren’t let a woman decide. He’s the type who’s kept Europe back for a thousand years. Every moment of his life he’s forming you, telling you what’s charming or amusing or ladylike, telling you what a man thinks womanly and you, you of all women, listen to his voice instead of your own.” p. 194.

George to Lucy: “I’m the same kind of brute at bottom. This desire to govern a woman—it lies very deep, and men and women must fight it together….” p. 195.

“He looked at her, instead of through her….” p. 200.

“From a Leonardo she had become a living woman, with mysteries and forces of her own, with qualities that even eluded art.” p. 201.

“When we were only acquaintances, you let me be myself, but now you’re always protecting me. … I won’t be protected. I will choose for myself what is ladylike and right. To shield me is an insult. Can’t I be trusted to face the truth but I must get it second-hand through you?” p. 201.

“I won’t be stifled, not by the most glorious music, for people are more glorious….” p. 201.

Cecil: “I have never known you till this evening. I have just used you as a peg for my silly notions of what a woman should be.” p. 202.

“…that all life is perhaps a knot, a tangle, a blemish in the eternal smoothness.” p. 32.

“The sadness of the incomplete—the sadness that is often life….” p. 140.

“…it is impossible to rehearse life.” o, 154.

“ ‘Life,’ wrote a friend of mine, ‘is a public performance on the violin, in which you must learn the instrument as you go along.’ p. 236. ”

Lucy struggles to achieve the ability to make her own decisions. She does so against the restraints and requirements of her upper middle class status. The novel reminds me of A Country Doctor by Sarah Orne Jewett, in which the heroine decides, in spite of society’s determination that she marry, to become a doctor. She had to choose between a profession and marriage because women in American society at that time, could not be both. Part of the literature that portrays the steady development of women to achieve equality with men. RayS.

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