I missed the new production of E. M. Forster’s A Room With a View on PBS on Sunday night, so I can’t comment on its success or lack of it. But it would be easy to misread Forster as a romanticist — just as it’s easy to misread Jane Austen that way — based on A Room With a View. David Garnett avoids the trap in his Great Friends: Portraits of Seventeen Writers (Atheneum, 1980). Forster was a social reformer, notes Garnett, the late author of Aspects of Love and son of the Russian translator Constance Garnett. All of his novels are about “the tyranny of conventions, the subjection of women and the indifference or contempt of the British upper middle class for all people of different race or origin.”
Forster typically assaults his society by bringing in an outsider who exposes its hypocrisy. That role goes in A Room With a View to old Mr. Emerson, whose son George comes between Lucy Honeychurch and her attachment to the dull Cecil: “Mr. Emerson is the touchstone who shows up the values of the conventional middle classes as genteel nonsense and brings the book to a happy ending by telling the heroine that, ‘Love is of the body’ – which she doesn’t understand at once, but which makes her see that the engagement she had accepted would not do.”
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.