How did I come across this book? It’s a funny story, really, when you think about it. I found the book by stumbling upon the movie first. After watching only a few minutes of it, I was so taken in by the slightly pretentious language, by the fine irony , omnipresent in the dialogues, and by the skilfully outlined characters, that I simply had to stop the movie and order the book. Maybe you’ll realise how hard my fight was, when I tell you that the first part of the book/movie is set in Florence, at the beginning of 20th century. However, I promised myself to watch the movie after reading the book, and so I was able to push that ‘turn off’ button on the remote control.
So I immersed myself into the story of young Lucy, who is travelling to Italy with her fussy, spinster cousin Charlotte. In Florence, they are thoroughly disappointed to discover that they had not been given a room with a view , as promised, by the cockney Signora of the pension where they are boarded. They complain about it during dinner, and a very gentle, though queer gentleman and his son, George, offer their own room with a view to the ladies. The over-particular Charlotte naturally feels compelled to refuse, because ‘it would not do’. However, persuaded by a clergyman they happened to know, the ladies finally accept , to the reader’s great joy and relief. In the romantic atmosphere of Florence, Lucy and George come to know each other better, and , drawn together by a very tragic event which happens in the Piazza della Signoria, seem to be set on the path of falling in love with each other. A trip in the country later, a field full of violets, and the two kiss.
You might think that that’s the end of it. But you’re wrong. The kiss is witnessed by cousin Charlotte, who interferes in the already consecrated finicky style, and manages to turn everything upside down. One chapter later, we find Lucy to be engaged with the pedantic, dull, difficult Cecil. A catastrophe! How will sensitive, dark George and the indecisive Lucy ever find the way to each other again? Here the element of suspense intervenes. I’ll let you walk the humpy road to the end of the novel , and find out for yourselves what happens.
Forster’s heroin has no clue herself of what she wants, until it is almost too late. That would be, in my opinion, a minus point for the book. Lucy is far too undecided to be a believable character. I know that we, women, are supposed to be whimsical. A little tip for the male writers: when we oscillate between two extremes, we do so mostly with the full force of the conviction that we are doing the right thing. Every single time when we change our mind. Lucy not only goes with the flow, but doesn’t stop for even one second to analyse her own feelings, or ask herself what she wants. I mean, come on- that is such a masculine feature. Women just don’t work that way.
On the plus side, the portrait of the spinster , personified through Charlotte, is truly a work of art in itself. Charlotte has her own very functional autonomous psychology, and functions so well as a character , that she jumps out the page. And all in all, the book works, in the end, it is funny, and subtle, and reads very nicely.
My conclusion? Of course I watched the movie, too , in the end, if only for the beautiful images of Florence, but the book was really worth reading.