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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Room With A View (1908) by E.M. Forster

Helena Bonham Carter starring as Lucy Honeychurch in the 1985 Merchant-Ivory production of the 1908 novel by E.M. Forster.

Book Review
A Room With A View (1908)
by E.M. Forster

  I'm sure I'm not the only person who associates the books of E.M. Forster with the films of Merchant-Ivory Productions.  In fact, A Room With A View is perhaps the best known of E.M. Forster's books as well as the quintessential movie version of the book.  Released in 1985, the movie version stars Helena Bonham Carter as Lucy Honeychurch, the familiar young female protagonist familiar to readers of any novels at all written before 1908.  The movie version also paired Dame Maggie Smith as Charlotte Bartlett with Dame Judi Dench as the novelist/ troublemaker Eleanor Lavish.  A sterling and iconic cast to be sure, casting being a particular strong point of all of the Merchant-Ivory/Forster adaptations.

 It is impossible to discuss the Novel itself without referring to the relationship between Henry James and  E.M. Forster, which from my perspective looks like the relationship between a master and a student picked up early on.  A Room With A View shows a concern with fashion and style- in the same way that Patrick Bateman's monologue about Huey Lewis and the News functions in the American Psycho novel.  Lucy's prediliction for playing Beethoven on the piano is a central metaphor/plot point, and the idea of Italy as a stylish place for young English heroines to go is developed more like a Henry James novel than any other examples that come before it (Standard English Novel marriage plots taking place in Italy.)

  Forster shows several narrative/stylistic techniques in A Room With A View that are arguably "better" or "more sophisticated" than the techniques of Henry James himself.  For example the A Room With A View starts in what I would call "in situ" by which I mean that all of the pieces have been arranged without any reference in the novel itself.  Forster knows that his Audience knows "how this starts."  You compare that with any James novel and it's clear that Forster has advanced, because omitting the first 40-50 pages of exposition creates a more visceral connection with the reader.

  It also produces a length that is close to the novel equivalent of the three minute formula for a pop song.  You can sit down and read A Room With A View in a sitting if you dig the plot.  You CAN NOT say that for the other novels that were being published around that time.  Even Henry James himself.  From that "in situ" start it is easy to see why A Room With A View  would make a good film adaptation-  Forster saves the adapter the difficulty of pairing down Lucy's back story, a familiar component of similar novels at that time and before.

 I haven't actually watched the movie version but looking at the pictures of Helena Bonham Carter on Google Image Search I'm going to search for it now.

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