19 November 2009


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 4

"I believe it was my photographs that you threw away."

"I didn't know what to do with them," he cried, and his voice was that of an anxious boy. Her heart warmed towards him for the first time. "They were covered with blood. There! I'm glad I've told you; and all the time we were making conversation I was wondering what to do with them." He pointed downstream. "They've gone. The river swirled under the bridge. "I did mind them so, and one is so foolish, it seemed better that they should go out to the sea--I don't know; I just mean that they frightened me." Then the boy verged into a man. "For something tremendous has happened. I must face it without getting muddled. It isn't exactly that a man has died."

You know, I think I've always liked George Emerson.

So now let me dedicate this post and the comments that follow to him . . .


Again, here are some discussion questions for those of us who like them:

1) E.M. Forster may not be very sympathetic to Christianity--or anything he could describe as "medieval"--but he uses a lot of very religious, very Christian imagery throughout A Room with a View.

Last week's discussion prompted me to reread the scene in which Mr. Emerson speaks of baptism and why he had fought so passionately that George might escape it:

"[George's mother] agreed that baptism was nothing, but he caught that fever when he was twelve and she turned round. She thought it a judgment." He shuddered. "Oh, horrible, when we had given up that sort of thing and broken away from her parents. Oh, horrible--worst of all--worse than death, when you have made your little clearing in the wilderness, planted your little garden, let in your sunlight, and then the weeds creep in again. A judgment! And our boy had typhoid because no clergyman had dropped water on him in church! Is it possible, Miss Honeychurch? Shall we slip back into the darkness forever?"


"He was not baptised . . . I did hold firm. . . My boy shall go back to the earth untouched."

[Lucy] asked whether young Mr. Emerson was ill.

"Oh, last Sunday . . . George last Sunday--no, not ill, just gone under. He is never ill. . . He will live, but he will not think it worth while to live. He will never think anything worth while. You remember that church at Florence?"

Lucy did remember, and how she had suggested that George should collect postage stamps.

"After you left Florence--horrible. Then we took the house here, and he goes bathing with your brother, and became better . . ."

Do you think the swim in the pond was meant to be George's baptism (albeit a non-sacramental one), that he might be reborn and finally belong to the light?

2) "It isn't exactly that a man has died." There's also something very Christian, don't you think, in the mysterious transmutation of one's man's death into another man's new life? Yet why wasn't this crucial moment in Florence "exactly" enough to save George's soul?

3) Forster's description of the effect Lucy and Cecil's engagement has on others reminds me of another passage from A Passage to India. Here are both of them together.

A Room with a View:

An engagement is so potent a thing that sooner or later it reduces all who speak of it to this state of cheerful awe. Away from it, in the solitude of their rooms, Mr. Beebe, and even Freddy, might again be critical. But in its presence and in the presence of each other they were sincerely hilarious. It has a strange power, for it compels not only the lips, but the very heart. The chief parallel--to compare one great thing with another--is the power over us of a temple of some alien creed. Standing outside, we deride or oppose it, or at the most feel sentimental. Inside, though the saints and gods are not ours, we become true believers, in case any true believer should be present.

A Passage to India:

[Aziz] had always liked this mosque. It was gracious, and the arrangement pleased him . . . and he tried to symbolise the whole into into some truth of religion or love. A mosque by winning his approval let loose his imagination. The temple of another creed, Hindu, Christian or Greek, would have bored him and failed to awaken his sense of beauty. Here was Islam, his own country, more than a Faith, more than a battle-cry, more, much more . . . Islam, an attitude towards life both exquisite and durable, where his body and his thoughts found their home.

What do you think? Is there enough of a family resemblance? The same nose or chin, at least?

Image Source: A Room with a View by E.M. Forster


Enbrethiliel said...


If I were reading A Room with a View for uni, I'd want to write a 2,000 word essay on the religious imagery in the novel and how it becomes especially intense when it comes to George and his redemption.

Lucy's redemption, on the other hand, is much more "classical" and straightforward--light vs. darkness.

FrB said...

I really must re-read A Room with a View, but I've always thought that there was something missing where George was concerned. He seems to flit in and out of the book, and I'm not at all sure that we quite know enough about his 'redemption' to assess it. I've tended to dismiss him as a two-dimensional MacGuffin... a mere catalyst to Lucy's transformation.

I'm probably being tremendously shallow, but he doesn't fascinate me in the way that Lucy does. One desperately wants to see whether Lucy will live as wonderfully as she plays Beethoven.

Incidentally, speaking of symbolism, is there anything going on with the character names? I know that Forster fixed on Lucy's forename when the novel was just a vague idea. Honeychurch came later in the creative process.

Enbrethiliel said...


On George: I didn't think there was much to his character the first two times I read the book. Like you, I was drawn to Lucy and her story; and I didn't think of him as just as round a character until I started thinking of the baptismal imagery.

Yet you're right that George wasn't as fleshed out as a main character should be. When I read that essay you sent me, A View without a Room, I was shocked at how George turned out. Not that I could have predicted Lucy's or Cecil's future lives, but both seemed to fit with what I knew of the characters. George was more of a revelation, and I think that Forster worked more on his character development in that essay than in the original novel.

On names: The critic who wrote the foreword to my copy of the novel thinks some of the names are deliberately allegorical. Vyse, for example. =P And Eager.

I also think that Lucy really is meant to make us think of light. There is one scene in which she turns off a lamp so she can go to bed, and Forster writes about the darkness swallowing her up as it once did Charlotte Bartlett.

So . . . do you think the novel has a good ending where Lucy is concerned? Does she learn to live as wonderfully as she plays Beethoven? =)

twowaysofrenouncingthedevil said...

I wonder about passages like the baptism one. The way I read it, and liking Forster and assuming an intelligence in him, I almost read this tongue in cheek on the part of the author. Not that he is making fun of the character, but more that I think the author knows better and writes a character that knows better, also, just won't fess up to it. I think the insistence on not baptizing, instead of just considering it meaningless as was mentioned before, points to something, and the water as a symbol can't have been missed by Forster. It's almost like he's saying you have a worldly church that baptizes after a fever, and you have a worldly humanism that is never really satisfied with itself, but then -- well, you have the world and God. And we miss this big world and big God because we're so focused down?
But, then, I just want Forster to be Catholic.

Enbrethiliel said...


Ah, Marie, I've wanted Forster to be Catholic since I first read Howards End in 2004!

It's possible that he would say we're so focussed on the room that we miss the view. We might have another very deliberate contrast between the holy water font in the cathedral in Italy and the pond out in the open in England! I remember the little urchin who wanders in, douses himself in holy water, and then trips over the stone feet of the statue of a bishop. Mr. Emerson does become inordinately annoyed at the statue! =P