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20/30 Day Book Meme: Romance Novels

Day 20: Favorite romance book

I have never been a romance reader and will never be one. Strictly speaking, if romance novel in this prompt refers one pulled out of the romance aisle at the bookstore, I don’t have anything to offer. I have attempted to read out of my comfort zone, literary fiction and literature, and venture into sci-fi, mystery and true crime fiction, which all to a different extent afford satisfaction. But not romance. It doesn’t possess any allure. In the capacity of a romance novel that is not strictly “romance,” A Room with a View is the perfect romantic story disguised in literary fiction that explores the changes that were occurring in ways of thinking. E.M. Forster is the master critique and observer of England during the Edwardian period. In this short novel with quick turn of events, he lays down most of his key themes. A Room with a View is a comedy of manner that mocks those who follow neither the heart nor the brain. They yield to the only enemy that matters—the enemy within. Over time they are being censured as their pleasantry and piety show cracks, the wit becomes cynicism, and their unselfishness hypocrisy. Full of puns and metaphors, the book is a stunning study of contrasts in values. Previously, I have picked Lucy Honeychurch as my favorite female character for her self-enlightenment and transformation from a girl who lives according to social conventions and expectations to a woman who acts on her own desire and heart. Until she finds her real self, she cannot see her intentions and her emotions don’t match; her conscious and subconscious are in dispute.

Another romance novel that comes to mind, although on the grim side, is The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham. A newly-wed couple moves to Hong Kong for the husband’s post in the British colony. The wife begins an affair with a businessman whom she met at a dinner party. When the husband finds out, little did she expect that instead of divorcing her, Walter forced her to go with him to Meitanfu, a Chinese city laying in the deadly grip of pestilence, where cholera had claimed the lives of 100 a day. Vengeance? Pay back? Does he ever condone her offense? The tragedy is not the fact that she cheated on him, but the fact that she alone had been blind to his merit and that he loved her more than he ought to. She wished to extricate from her unhappy situation with no intention of causing him pain. It’s the most bittersweet romance novels, but written in literary grace.

[397] A Room with a View – E.M. Forster

” It isn’t possible to love and to part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. ” (XIX 189)

Visiting Italy with her prim and proper cousin Charlotte Bartlett as a chaperone, Lucy Honeychurch encounters the seemingly uncouth, ill-bred and unconventional Mr. Emerson and his son, George. Deprived of a room of a view that she has reserved at The Bertolini, the Emersons offer to exchange with her but she refuses lest the men, obviously of a class below her, shall take advantage of her acceptance. A Room with a View chronicles how a fortuitous collection of people in an Italian pensione shall become enmeshed in each other’s life beyond their wish and expectation. For a while the story concerns itself with various subtle and intricate questions about the British class consciousness, snobbery, patriarchalism, self-love, and convention—all taken up for comic and satirical purpose.

It is obvious enough for the reader to conclude, ‘She loves young Emerson.’ A reader in Lucy’s place would not find it obvious. Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practise . . . She loves Cecil; George made her nervous; will the reader explain to her that the phrases should have been reversed? (XIV 132)

As the rector Mr. Beebe has wisely observed, “Italy is an euphemism for Fate,” the story itself requires a good deal of ingenuity from fate and coincidence. Contrived as Lucy is to avoid further contact with George Emerson, he comes to her rescue twice. She is lost at Santa Croce without a map after her companion jilted her. Then she is strayed by her evening wandering, where her flighty recklessness crosses with a quarrel the ends with a murder. As if fate hasn’t enough of its mischief, the Italian cab driver, half-conversant in English, leads her to the wrong “good man,” by which she means the clergyman. Up on the hill the view forms at last, but at the same moment the ground gives way, and with a cry she falls out of the wood. Light and beauty (physically and figuratively) envelop her. Onto an open terrace she falls. It is at this idyllic setting where George Emerson seals her fate with a kiss. Obviously the heroine doesn’t adopt the same romantic opinion, since his behavior is an outrage, a breach of propriety and act of impudence to her.

The contest lay not between love and duty. Perhaps there never is such a contest. It lay between the real and the pretend, and Lucy’s first aim was to defeat herself. As her brain clouded over, as the memory of the views grew dim, and words of the book died away, she returned to her old shibboleth of nerves. (XVII 150)

Upon her return to England, she is engaged to Cecil Vyse, who encompasses the weaned generation of Brits who are running out of tricks in the hat. A supercilious aesthete who “can’t know anyone intimately,” (XVII 160) he is the subject of Forster’s mockery. Every moment of their meeting he is forming Lucy, imposing his taste on her, and obliging to introduce her into more congenial circle. A Room with a View indicts such generation of people who, dying of manners, are determined to go on snubbing reality. Lucy is raised in a way that she neither trusts her emotions nor encourages her own thoughts. She cannot see her intentions and her emotions don’t match; her conscious and subconscious are in dispute. In breaking off the engagement with Cecil she has done the right thing; but it takes a fair amount of lying (in the sense of denying her emotion for George Emerson) and an accident or two to put her in the right. For in most of the story Lucy has an undeveloped heart, and that her engagement to Cecil based on his status, class, and taste is another example of convention’s prescribed notions. She has to trust her emotions and learns the difference between what she feels and what she has been taught to feel.

In spite of a lighter style, Forster lays down most of his key themes in this novel. A Room with a View is a comedy of manner that mocks those who follow neither the heart nor the brain. They yield to the only enemy that matters—the enemy within. Over time they are being censured as their pleasantry and piety show cracks, the wit becomes cynicism, and their unselfishness hypocrisy. Full of puns and metaphors, the book is a stunning study of contrasts in values.

206 pp. Penguin Classics softcover. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]