Friday, April 28, 2017

A Room With a View, by E.M. Forster [a discussion of love, passion, and light]

When I was a girl, I listened to things on a tape walkman.

Some of you might not know what that is. But one of my favorite things to listen to was the gloriously romantic BBC radio dramatization of A Room With a View. I listened to it again and again and again--the liberal author Miss Lavish, the fussy old maid Miss Charlote, and the conflicted and eligible match Lucy Honeychurch at war between convention and passion, were fascinating.

I didn't think about themes. I just liked a grand, sweeping, passionate love story. But now I'm older, and I think about themes, reading the book for the first time was a great exercise in think-fest and sheer romantic joy.

Actually, I picked up the book because I'm trying to write a love story, and I was admittedly struggling. Coupled with a friend's excellent advice to make the couple fall in love over doing things for each other, I also remembered how engaging I found the love story in A Room With a View and decided to use that for further inspiration.

But it raises questions. Is it subtly anti-Christian? Who was E.M. Forster, and how does his private life affect his books? We'll be exploring all that and more today.

What I Loved 
First of all, I have to admit that I love A Room With a View simply for the story. It's sweet, engaging, passionate without being inappropriate--even the central kiss in the story, though it has a deep affect on Lucy's actions and the actions of people around her, has a clean, soaring passion to it that is neither cheap nor sordid. This is a good pattern for romance, I think, and I would like to pull some good elements from it and imitate it.

The second thing I love about it is watching the transformation of Lucy's character. She's a little bit religious, a little bit educated, but all-in-all a fairly simple girl--until she finds depth of knowledge and love in Italy. Then she starts becoming an adult--especially as she interacts with the Emersons, who eschew propriety, but have gentle, kind hearts, and simply tell the truth wherever they go.

you gotta love a book with chapter titles like "the fourth chapter" "the twelfth chapter". 

It's a story that warns against deceit. Lucy never tells the truth, either to herself, or to those around her. Lucy sees Charlotte lying because she doesn't want to break rules of propriety, and slowly, she starts to imitate her. The more lies she tells herself, the stronger the lies grow, and the more she starts lying to people around her. It is only when she is faced with a person who will not let her lie to herself, that she is forced to confront the truth of her actual wants and feelings--and her journey back to truth is harder than it would have been if she had stood by truth from the beginning.

There is a difference between kindness and fear, between praise and flattery, between lovingly looking to the interests of others and shallow propriety. Underneath the epic love story is a depth of things to think over.

What I Thought About 
Here's where I would maybe have some question marks about Forster. He was a man who, while he remained a bachelor, was a homosexual. Therefore, that raises some questions. While he may not have been inserting that into this heterosexual love story, I'm not sure that he approached either passion or love from a biblical perspective.

Foster is urging his readers to tell the truth: foreshadowing the deep joy of doing so, and the terrible consequences of living a life-long lie. But I think he would also draw the conclusion that if you feel you are homosexual, you need to tell the truth and remain true to that passion to experience ultimate joy.

He's got a split of lie and truth here. First of all, telling the truth is good: we do ourselves only a disservice when we tell lies to ourselves and others about what we are really feeling, loving, and struggling with. 1 John commands us to walk in the light--especially to the point of confession. A person struggling with homosexuality needs to walk in the light and tell the truth and be transparent. The same as a person struggling with anything: depression, jealousy, confusion. Any sin needs to be brought to the light. That is true. The heart of that message in his book is vital. Lies lead to darkness, just like E.M. Forster said--and as he states in his book, when Lucy lies, she enters "the darkness".

Now here's where Christians should differ with Forster. While we need to be honest about what we feel, that does not mean that our passions should govern us. An excellent example is the main couple in The Prisoner of Zenda. No matter how much Rudolf and Flavia loved each other--and admitted it--they had the integrity and self-control to realize that they had a bigger goal than themselves to think about.

All passions should be confessed honestly. Passions that are not in obedience to the will of God should be confessed and forgiven. 1 Peter 2:11 says to, "abstain from the passions of the flesh which wage war against your soul." Ungodly passions must be struggled against, abstained from, and put to death. In contrast, the God-given love between an equally yoked man and a woman, or passion for God and his ways, lived out in obedience to the Scriptures, is a passion that can be whole-heartedly pursued.

In other words, while I think Forster is saying that natural passions should be admitted and pursued, the truth is that Christians should admit and find forgiveness, or admit and pursue, only under the obedience of Jesus Christ and his Word. All other passions other than those which God ordains and sanctions, are opportunities to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Jesus. The flesh must be crucified.

Also, while I love to think that the Emersons were simply against much of the Anglican denomination, I'm not entirely sure they were for the Christian religion. And that puts a little fly in the ointment. While we see Lucy growing into a truthful woman, fiction can easily skew the portrait of reality. A woman can only grow into full truth when she knows Christ, who is the Truth. A woman can only find love when she finds the love of a Savior who came to earth to die for her. And ideally, like Lucy, a woman will find educated, mature, Christian companions, who, in a biblical version of the Emersons, will help her pursue passion, love, and truth in every area of her life.

There's much to enjoy, and much to think over in A Room With a View. While it's tempting to use it as a relaxing novel, the last half of the book is good to read with discernment and evaluation, to sift through the true gold and the fool's gold. It is, to be honest, a truly engaging love story--and as such, I might be returning to it again, even with its imperfections.

What is your favorite love story? Where have you seen good passion or bad passion discussed in literature? Let's chat! 


  1. Great, thoughtful review! This is one I need to read again sometime to further sift out what I think of it. The first time, it was the kind of book that sweeps you along because of the pleasant style and the question of what's going to happen next. (The Honeychurches are one fictional family you feel would be so pleasant to spend an afternoon with.)

    The one thing I remember having a little dissatisfaction with, aside from the slightly problematic handling of the religious element, was this: while the relationship between Lucy and Cecil is so obviously the wrong one, I kept wishing for a little more demonstration of what it was that made the one between Lucy and George so definitely right. It seemed to me that Forster didn't go much beyond just stating a strong attraction between them—I don't recall their actually sharing much conversation within the story, though my memory could be at fault here. It's like, we're told they are right for each other, but not given a whole lot of solid evidence to base that conclusion on. But like I said, I'd have to read it again to see if that impression holds up for me.

    1. The Honeychurches would make a fantastic hang-out spot! I feel like they would be a really popular family for community and church events. They seem so easygoing and hospitable.

      VERY good point about George. I did feel as I read it that he was rather too gloomy sometimes, and wondered how that would work out in a relationship with Lucy. It goes to show that audiences don't like telling without some really good showing to back it up.

  2. This is such a great review!! I haven't read this book, but I am familiar with the title and author.

    One of my favorite classics with a love story and truths is definitely An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott. If you haven't read it, you must! I love the main character's struggle to remain true to herself and the happiness she brings just by being herslef. :)

    I recently researched the newer film rendition of Sense and Sensibility and I think it's a good one that shows the different ways love can be approached. Elinor bottles everything up and Marianne is ruled by her feelings. I really enjoyed watching that version ahain, so I'll have to read the book! ;)

    1. What fantastic examples! I love the contrast of love and passion in Sense and Sensibility. What a great one. And it's been years since I've read Old Fashioned Girl, so I need to put it on the TBR for this summer!


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