I read E.M. Forster's A Room with a View this week. It's been on my "great books" list for a while, but I am just now getting around to it.
In this novel, sheltered young Lucy Honeychurch (what a name!), traveling abroad with her spinster aunt, happens to meet George Emerson and his doting father. Lucy is not quite sure what to make of the pair, as they seem kind enough but are unpolished in their manners and way of thinking. One morning, during a day trip to the mountains, George comes upon Lucy amidst a field of violets and impulsively kisses her.
This indescretion is hurriedly hushed up, and Lucy returns to her home in England. There, she becomes engaged to a respectable young man, a good match by all social accounts, but with whom she has very little in common. Who should happen upon the scene but George Emerson? Lucy finds herself conflicted and confused, unsure of whether to make the socially advantageous match expected by her friends and family or to make a break with convention and think for herself a bit.
While this novel starts out VERY slowly, it picks up speed as one goes along, providing a very satisfying ending. Lucy is so intolerable at the beginning of the book that it is difficult to keep reading, but, thankfully, as she becomes more in command of her own thoughts, she is much easier to relate to. (I find this often with female characters in "classic" literature. It is all one can do to keep from shaking them by the shoulders sometimes. I understand that women were more repressed - oppressed?- when these stories were written, but it can be awfully trying for a modern woman to read such characters. In that respect, reading contemporary novels is sometimes easier.)
I also found the novel's debate about expatriates/natives versus tourists interesting, as the same arguments are traded around travel circles today - i.e. the "ugly American," those who are inseparable from their guidebooks, etc. It's funny to see that people's views on such a subject have really changed very little in the past 100 years!
Though some of this novel is set in Italy, do not expect much of the rich, atmospheric descriptive passages one would hope to find in a contemporary novel of this sort. During the primary character's time there, she is still very much mentally confined, and because we are seeing things through her vision, the novel is more concerned that she see the "right" paintings and statues so that she can say she's seen them. Eeesh.
At any rate, this book is certainly worth reading, and I believe that an award-winning film adaptation of the story was produced several years ago.
(ALSO! I have discovered that there has been a film adaptation of Byatt's Possession, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart! Be still my heart! I will be tracking this down and reporting on it soon!!)