Okay, I’m kind of cheating here. I haven’t (re)read this recently. But I was talking with my best friend the other day about the classes we’d taken in college and realized that it had been ten years, almost exactly, since I’d read this book for the first time. And since it is my stated favourite book of all time, I thought I should write something to mark a decade of its being in my life.
It was J-term of my freshman year, and I was taking Reading Fiction. It was the perfect class for me: it combined my favourite professor with my favourite activity (reading books and then talking about them). I don’t remember exactly what else we read in that class: A Lesson Before Dying, I think, and at least one other. I do remember A Room with a View.
It’s not the absolute best book ever, as many critics have pointed out. Most don’t even consider it Forster’s best book – they usually pick Howards End or A Passage to India. But I just fell in love with A Room with a View. It could be that I identified quite strongly with Lucy – she was about my age, wide-eyed and eager to learn but with a strong sense, almost an oppressive sense, for what “should” be done (stimulated, of course, by Charlotte and Cecil and, to a lesser extent, her mother and Freddy). She also was an amateur musician, who used the piano in particular as a way to find an emotional balance. Sound familiar?
Three years later, when it came time for me to decide on a project for my senior paper, I decided to write about A Room with a View and the other “early” works of Forster (i.e. everything except A Passage to India, which I didn’t finally get through until last year sometime), and the way that they used specific musical pieces as themes within the books as well as structure. It probably wasn’t the most innovative thing ever, but I noticed that each of the books featured music in a significant way, usually a particular piece or style of music, and that piece or style of music was also reflected in the structure of the book.
When I was thinking about doing a Master’s degree, I thought about the periods of literature that I enjoyed and was obsessed with: medieval literature, especially Robin Hood, and early 20th century literature with Forster. That’s why I decided to do the degree I did – the idea was that by studying both periods, I could more easily narrow my interest. Well, I certainly did that: I realized that Forster was essentially the only one of that era that I wanted to study further, but I was fascinated by the many, many works of Middle English that I encountered. I realized that I was more interested in Virginia Woolf, for example, when she was writing about Forster, and Elizabeth Bowen when I could compare her to Forster, and Joyce not at all.
I recognize that it’s not the best book ever. The film version is certainly not spectacular, although it’s not bad. It’s a bit obvious with some of the symbolism (like, say, the view). But every time I read it, I find more things to analyze and enjoy in it. Like Forster’s use of light and shadow with George, for instance. It has entered my consciousness in a lot of ways – I don’t have it completely memorized, but I know it well enough that passages of it go through my head simply by seeing the title. I also kind of annoyed my companions when we were in Florence by pointing out places that were significant from the book. I freely admit that Santa Croce was one of my favourite places in Florence not just because of the artwork and the tombs and the Dante statue, but because it was the church that Lucy went to with her Baedeker.
It’s been a couple of years since I last read A Room with a View; it may be about time for me to read it again.