To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child , a garden patch, or a redeemed condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Book review - 'A Room With A View' (EM Forster)

This is the first Forster novel I've completed in full (not counting Forster snippets read somewhere or parts of movies watched), so these are my first impressions. (And thanks to the kind soul who gifted this classic to me.)
The first half or so of the novel seems quite slow in taking off (and not only by today's standards). The actual happenings seem to consume less ink than the ruminations of the characters (and, in some cases, of the author), especially while the action is centred in Florence. It's only towards the end of that sojourn that things start happening, bringing into focus not only the slowly developing love story but also the sharp distinctions in mores and behaviour between the English middle class landed gentry and the upcoming citizenry. Overall, the treatment in the first half of the novel seems excessively verbose.
It's when the action (!) shifts to Surrey that Forster seems to come into his own, etching out in sharp detail the internal struggles and frustrations of the lead character (Lucy) who, while seeming to conform to the expected behaviour patterns of the day (including submitting to and supporting the sometimes obnoxious behaviour of her beau), actually has a rebel inside wanting to break free. The entry of George Emerson, with whom she had a brief 'encounter' in Florence, into the scene and his passionate courting of Lucy only provides the trigger for her to break off her engagement. The scene where she explains her reasons to Cecil is almost a cry out by Lucy, notwithstanding his nuanced imputation that she's speaking someone else's words. The few chapters upto this stage bring out the feminist slant of Forster's writing, and could be considered quite bold not only for his times but decades thence.
A modern story might have ended with Lucy sticking to her resolution to go abroad again and thus plowing her lonely furrow (perhaps remaining a spinster a la her cousin Charlotte, as insinuated by her mother). However, in perhaps a doffing of hat to the conventions of the day, she is eventually 'won over' by George, with not a little help from his free and frank father Mr. Emerson, and the novel ends with the married couple coming back to the Florence 'pension' (hotel) where they originally met.
Readers of other classics authors may find this novel a bit more 'ruminating' and with less 'action' than a novel on the same times by, say, Hardy or Tolstoy. But Forster's novel does throw light on the struggles, internal and external, which women of that day faced in the initial days of asserting their individuality, if from the perspective of a privileged class.

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