August is the period when I am freest to travel and consequently for this month I chose to read 'A Room with a View' by E.M. Forster. Set at the beginning of the 20th century this is the love story between young, middle class Lucy Honeychurch and the unconventional George Emerson and the battle against personal, societal and familial prejudices and preconceptions.
I have a personal connection with this story as E.M. Forster went to school in Tonbridge, a neighbouring town to Tunbridge Wells, where I grew up. Tonbridge boarding school has a theatre dedicated to the author. Charlotte Bartlett, cousin and chaperone to Lucy on her trip to Florence, lives in Tunbrdige Wells that is described as a 'narrow world' and every time Charlotte referred to her town slightly apologetically, the generalization made me smile. Growing up in Tunbridge Wells I was familiar with the phrase 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells'. Tunbridge Wells is an affluent town in the region of Kent (the 'Garden of England'), previously a popular tourist destination for wealthy Londoners coming to drink its therapeutic waters. In fact the town was once so popular that Queen Victoria herself gave it the prefix 'Royal', an honour reserved for only very few towns. So Tunbridge Wells is a place where you can live a sheltered life and its inhabitants do not have a lot to complain about but they do love complaining if something does not live up to their standards or how things 'should' be. Being British and wanting to avoid direct confrontation at all costs, a resident might write to the local newspaper or even in extreme cases to The Times., signing off as 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.'
I have lived in Italy for 15 years now so the stereotypes and comments on Italy and the Italians also amused me. There are the typical Italian charicatures like the womanizers, romantics and fools but Italy is also referred to as a free and fluid environment without rigid class structure. It is true that being abroad away from the usual constraints and rules of your community can make you feel liberated. No one knows you or expects anything from you so you can be and do what you want. It is not that social conventions do not exist it's just that they are harder for an outsider to perceive. Social status in Italy is very much attached to your appearance and what you have. In England we generally do not attach so much importance to our clothes and more to education, career, language, accent and comportment.
'A Room with a View' is all about prejudice, misconception and the changing societies. Lucy enjoys the company of the Emersons in Florence despite her first impression of them as being unconventional or down-market. I think we could refer to them as 'nouveau-riche'. When George Emerson makes a move on Lucy, Charlotte is shocked because that is not the way a young man should behave and the cousins even feel compelled to leave town. In Rome Lucy meets Cecil who is wealthy, highly-educated, cultured and well-travelled: on paper everything Lucy should want in a husband. Lucy's family consent to their engagement: the only problem is no one likes him! Lucy believes she has everything under control until the Emersons move to her area of England and two worlds collide. When Lucy breaks off her engagement, even the stalwart Charlotte has a change of heart and avoids opposing Lucy getter closer to George. The decision the couple takes at the end of the novel is unconventional but there is a hint that also Lucy's other family members will come round.
The theme of a room with a view is repeated throughout the novel. At the beginning of the story Charlotte complains loudly about the lack of view in her and Lucy's rooms in the pension and the Emersons (who do have a view) offer to change rooms with the ladies. The significance of George offering Lucy a room with a view becomes clear later when Lucy admits that she always pictures Cecil in a room with no view. For me 'no view' means no future, no perspectives with Cecil and in contrast with George Lucy has opened up her horizons and sees an alternative ahead.
For me the novel's main message is that even the best laid plans go wrong. We may like to think we can control every aspect of our lives but then life happens.
'Everything is fate. We are flung together by Fate, drawn apart by Fate - flung together, drawn apart. The twelve winds blow us . we settle nothing - .'
In September I will be reading The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I chose to read this novel this month because this time last year I read Sherlock Holmes so I decided to read a crime novel again this year. I love crime novels and Wilkie Collins' 'The Woman in White' is one of my favourite novels. I will be posting some quotes as I read on Instagram and Fcaebook so please follow me and read along!
Every month, I publish a review of the book I ahve read that month.