“A Room With A View” is a sappy, sentimental romance novel and I’m surprised not only by how much I enjoyed it, but also by how much it’s stayed with me over the past few days. I saw the movie with my friends the other weekend, loved it, read the book in a day, and boom, that’s all she wrote. OK, so I haven’t technically finished the book yet, but that’s only because it got lost behind the couch for a few days. I still basically consider it read.
To be fair, you really can’t reduce this novel to the base level of “just” a romance novel (or “silly novel,” as my mother calls them–she should know, her personal collection crowds an entire bookshelf). E.M. Foster examines a lot of good juicy bordering on modernist themes here: passion versus convention, individualism vs. classism and conformity, seeing versus blindness. The romantic triangle is beside the point; its primary function is to act as the catalyst, what shakes the heroine out of her thought-deprived stupor. When George walks up to Lucy in the field and kisses her without asking I felt like I was listening to Radiohead’s “Airbag” on OK Computer. The kiss serves the same function as a car accident or a nuclear explosion: you’re really forced to sit up, open your eyes, and look at your life, really look at it and the choices you’ve made about how to live it day-to-day. And how often, honestly, do most of us do that?
I think the fact that this novel is about so much more than just the romance or the love triangle is what ultimately elevates it to the level of Literary Classic, as opposed to “just” a love story (although don’t get me wrong, that’s all well and fine too!). It’s interesting that E.M. Foster wrote a book with such a strong, Go With Yourself, Pro-Individual theme when he couldn’t even date who he wanted to, what with the whole gay thing. The book’s message actually still feels surprisingly avant-garde to me, even in this day and age. I still think that breaking off your engagement would still be a brave and exceedingly difficult thing to do, even today, and the fact that Lucy did it back then? And then she ends the novel (sorry for the spoilers) by choosing the socialist, lower class guy? Still pretty gutsy, both then and now.
(I also want to say that I just love how “socialist” is used by the other characters as a way of describing how inappropriate George is, along with his job at the railway as a clerk and his dad’s love of all things Emerson. All these qualities could still be used as cons against a person even today, I think. How many mothers would approve of George Orwell?)
George is by far the most enjoyable character, even though he’s not that well sketched out. You could even argue that he’s two-dimensional. He has about two big scenes and that’s about it, but oh, what scenes they are! While reading I kept wanting to skip ahead to find the pages where he appears.
Believe me, while I thoroughly enjoyed the swoony escapism of George on the page, I still found myself slightly resisting what he represents. It’s awfully darn convenient, after all, to just have someone swoop out of nowhere and fix your life for you, represent the long sought-after solution. It’s also kind of lame to have a happy ending basically equal marriage (to his credit E.M. Foster was also apparently painfully aware of this “happy marriage ending” problem; as quoted by the handy introduction, he rants in a long paragraph about how “marriage is most certainly not an end, either for herself or for her husband.”)
That’s why I prefer to not think that the happy ending of the novel is the fact that George and Lucy get together, in the same way that I don’t like to think of Eat Pray Love as a happy book because Liz Gilbert ended up with a nice dude. Instead, I’d rather think of RWAV as a happy novel because, as with Eat Pray Love, in the end Lucy is choosing HERSELF, her needs and her wants, and putting herself first as opposed to what her family and friends and social class tells her to do. I feel like even if Lucy and George end up eventually breaking up, the battle is still won and victory is still decisively hers.
There is also something rather yummy and juicy and escapist to me about a character like George, in the sense that he represents such doey-eyed idealism. When he tells Lucy that Cecil will never love her the way that he Loves her, you can hear the capital L. I especially love their post-Italy reunion scene in England, in which George is frolicking about naked post-skinny dipping, and greets her “with the shout of the morning star… How often had Lucy rehearsed this bow, this interview! But she had always rehearsed them indoors, and with certain accessories, which surely we have a right to assume.” Foster’s prose is positively ecstatic during this scene; you can tell he just loves the idea of everything having been stripped away from George and him encountering her with literally nothing between the two but glorious nature (in contrast to stick-in-a-butt fiance Cecil, whom Lucy can only picture in a room, never outside one).
This is the passage immediately following the skinny-dipping greeting scene:
That evening and all that night the water ran away. On the morrow the pool had shrunk to its old size and lost its glory. It had been a call to the blood and to the relaxed will, a passing benediction whose influence did not pass, a holiness, a spell, a momentary chalice for youth.
“A holiness, a spell, a momentary chalice for youth.” I love that. I got the same feeling the other day when reading the last entry in my childhood diary, which I kept on and off between second grade and tenth. The entry was about a hug between me and this soccer-player guy I’d apparently had a huge crush on back in the day but whom I’d otherwise forgotten. This is the last sentence of the entry, and of the diary itself: “It was just a moment, as everybody has. It may mean nothing to him or even to me in the future… but as of now it meant everything to me.” Reading this to myself last night, I was surprised by how touched and moved I felt, by how affected I was back then. I love how in life you have these random little moments that just stay with you, and seem more than anything else to be a celebration of life and youth of being young, happy and free and able to enjoy these random meaningless things like running around naked and shouting after skinny dipping. It makes me want to hug myself. It makes me listen to the Clash and Nirvana turned up so loudly in the car I worry that I’m going to go deaf.
Would George and Lucy be in downtown Portland right now, camping out with the Occupy protesters? Methinks yes. Sometimes I wonder if listening to the angry rock songs of my “youth” so much lately is the one way that I’m expressing solidarity with the Occupy campers. I haven’t gone down to the camps, only driven by them. They remind me of the ants that crawled all over me on the table in Indonesia, the ones I got rid of by pouring water all over them. Together, we all multitudes, but all it takes is some water to sweep us all away. God, that sounds pretty horrible. No wonder I find the teeth-gnashing idealism of George so idealism and heartening. For God’s sake, he climbs a tree and shouts out what he believes in to the Italian countryside: “Truth! Courage! Beauty!” My God, it’s like he’s reading the mission statement from Moulin Rouge (talk about another extended exercise in romantic earnestness!). If anyone did this today, they would still seem just as crazy and bizarre, if not more so. I still can’t tell if I would either be annoyed by encountering a George-like person in Real Life or if I would have a crush on them. Ha, ha, ha.
I recommend the book and highly recommend the movie. Daniel Day Lewis is particularly delicious—just check out the way he chases off the fly in the clip above. What else needs to be said about Lucy’s choice, honestly?
George’s theme song? “The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.”