E. M. Forster
Originally published in 1908. One of Forster’s earlier novels, published before his first major success, Howard’s End and well before his masterpiece, A Passage to India. I haven’t read either of these yet but they are both on the Guardian list.
The version I read was part of a compilation published in 1993 by Gramercy Books. It also contains Howard’s End and Where Angels Fear to Tread. Approximately 150 pages.
Phew. At first I thought I had run into my first Guardian 1,000 reads that I really didn’t like. The story of a young middle class English girl who almost marries the wrong man is so full of obnoxious characters that I thought I wouldn’t be able to stomach it.
First of all, the girl herself, Lucy Honeychurch, is so self-centered and clueless that you want to shake her. She is completely stifled by her conventional and stultified family and friends. The plot of the story is simple: Lucy travels to Italy with a hysterically repressed older gentlewoman-cousin. She meets a variety of equally parochial English folks who are barricaded in their pension hotel and only venture out with the safety of a guide-book or with fellow-English travelers. These are all people who could travel around the world and never see a thing because their minds and hearts are closed to anyone different from themselves.
But Lucy and her cousin run into two original and free thinking characters: a father and son, who immediately insist on changing rooms with them because the older gentleman hears the two ladies complaining that their room lacks a view. This overture throws the chaperone cousin into a tizzy but she accepts despite her horror at this incredibly unconventional offer.
Throughout the rest of the book, the concept of a “view” comes up time and time again to symbolize how open to others, differences and new ways of thought an individual can be. The father and son have a view but they can give it away happily because they are already in possession of open and generous hearts. Other characters are blind to the views around them — despite how glorious the sights may be — because of their conventional and bigoted opinions. Or for others, like Lucy’s mother, the view represents a privileged way of life:
“Very well. Take your independence and be gone. Rush up and down and round the world….Despise the house that your father built and the garden that he planted, and our dear view– and then share a flat with another girl.”
Lucy returns from Italy and gets engaged to a horrific prig — Cecil Vyse. By the way, some of the names in the book are wonderful — Honeychurch elicits thoughts of sweetness and spiritual life. A kindred spirit who helps Lucy understand herself is Rev. Beebe — and I wondered if he is meant to be the bee to her honey. The horrible fiance, Vyse, wants to trap Lucy in a vice-like grip of conventionality and mean spiritedness. Another character who urges Lucy to see and live more sports the surname, Lavish. Fun stuff.
Coincidentally, the free-thinking father and son return to England and rent the villa near Lucy’s family home. As Lucy gets closer to the son, she begins to question the view she thought she had of her future life.
So, what view will Lucy choose: the prescribed and unchanging view of her parents, the closed wall of her fiance and his clique, or the free independence of seeing the world anew and being open and loving to the opportunities it presents? I had a fun time finding out the answer, although I can’t say the ending was a big surprise. This wasn’t one of my favorite Guardian Challenge titles, but I’m certainly glad I read it and I know it has changed my view as well.