There are books that are so familiar that I think I must have read them when I haven’t. That’s true of many of Dickens’s novels, and it’s also true of E M Forster’s novels. I think I’ve read Howard’s End, when I haven’t (but will), because I saw a play with that name, presumably a dramatised version. I remember nothing about the play except its title, and perhaps I didn’t ever see it. I think that I read Room With a View and A Passage to End because of the Ivory Merchant films, which at one time seemed to be everywhere. I don’t think I even say the films, although perhaps I did.
I thought Room With a View delightful. It’s partly a comic novel that pokes fun at Victorians and the British in Italy, longing to be bold, colourful, swashbuckling, and poetic like Italians but always held back. But it’s also a love story in which Lucy, a young girl “who has played too much Beethoven” (a clue there), has to decide between a snobbish aesthete to whom she’s engaged and a free thinking, lower class young man who boldly kisses her. The novel is erotic in a wonderfully understated way. I hardly realised this until, as is my want, I copied out the passages that I’d marked as I read the book—see below.
I knew that Forster was homosexual (to write gay seems anachronistic) because I saw the film of Maurice in New York with Chicken and remember the New York audience clapping when a doctor advised the young Maurice to go to the Continent where they are much easier about homosexuality than in Britain. What I didn’t know was that Forster was “out” to his friends, had a long term relationship with a policeman whose wife seemed to accept it all, and died in the home of the policeman and his wife aged 91.
These experiences seemed to lead to his setting a high store on romantic and erotic love.
Quotes from the book:
Pull out from the depths those thoughts that you do not understand, and spread them out in the sunlight and know the meaning of them.
The kingdom of music is not the kingdom of the world; it will accept those whom breeding and intellect and culture have alike rejected. [I thought of the Sex Pistols here.]
Does it seem reasonable that she should play so wonderfully, and live so quietly? I suspect that one day she will be wonderful in both. The water-tight compartments will break down, and music and life will mingle.
Mistrust all enterprises that require new clothes.
We must discover nature. After many conquests we shall attain simplicity. It is our heritage.
Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice.
Love felt and retuned, love which our bodies exact and our hearts have transfigured, love which is the most real thing that we shall ever meet, reappeared now as the world’s enemy, and she must stifle it….The contest lay not between love and duty. Perhaps there is never such a contest. It lay between the real and the pretended.
They have sinned against passion and truth, and vain will be there strife after virtue. As the years pass, they are censured. Their pleasantry and their piety shows cracks, their wit becomes cynicism, their unselfishness hypocrisy; they feel and produce discomfort wherever they go. They have sinned against Eros and Pallas Athene, and not by any heavenly intervention, but by the ordinary course of nature, those allied deities will be avenged.
Passion does not blind. No. Passion is sanity, and the woman you love, she is the only person you will ever really understand.
Worse than death, when you have made a little clearing in the wilderness, planted your little garden, let in your sunlight, and then the weeds creep in again.
Life is a public performance on the violin, in which you must learn the instrument as you go along.
You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you.
I only wish poets would say this, too: love is of the body; not the body but of the body. Ah! The misery that would be saved if we confessed that.
He had robbed the body of its taint, the world’s taunts of their sting; he had shown her the holiness of direct desire.