Classics Club #1: A Room With A View – E. M. Forster

In July 2018, I joined the Classics Club. You can see my full list of books to read here

I’ve set myself a loose goal of reading one of my Classics Club picks a month and July’s book was A Room With A View. I’m sure many of you are already familiar with the premise but for those still TBR, it goes a little something like this.

In Part 1, Lucy Honeychurch is touring Florence with her ‘dismal’ cousin Charlotte (I’m totally stealing ‘dismal’ from the BCC of my copy because it’s such a perfect word to describe her!). This half of the book focuses on their experiences with the other guests at the Pension Bertolini, including romantic novelist Eleanor Lavish, the usually taciturn Mr Emerson, who is prone to bursts of alarming eloquence, and his son George, gripped by passions that unsettle Lucy’s otherwise orderly middle-class life and end up contributing to her impulsive dash to Rome. In the second part of the book, Lucy – now back in England at her family home, Windy Corner – has become engaged to the rather loathsome Cecil Vyse but all is turned inside-out again when the Emersons arrive once more, this time as tenants of Sir Harry Otway, an acquaintance of Lucy’s family.

Forster’s central theme is the so-called ‘undeveloped heart’ of the English middle classes, here represented by Lucy who slowly comes to know herself better until she has the strength to fly in the face of convention. She’s sympathetically drawn, a little serious, a little naive, but you can see that her cooler outer demeanour hides a warm heart, increasingly confused by what is expected of her and frustrated by society’s limitations. Charlotte is a masterpiece of calculated deference and uses both extreme politeness and subservience as weapons of control. I love her and yet also wouldn’t want to spend more than a couple of minutes in her company!

In fact, pretty much all of Forster’s characterisations are glorious – love them or hate them. He’s such a light, witty writer with impeccable comic timing.

‘Do you, by any chance, know the name of an old man who sat opposite us at dinner?’

‘Emerson.’

‘Is he a friend of yours?’

‘We are friendly – as one is in pensions.’

‘Then I will say no more.’

He pressed her very slightly, and she said more.

Forster has the ability to pinpoint the essence of a person in a few deft sentences. Within a few pages of meeting Cecil (who really is loathsome), we get this ‘Of course, he despised the world as a whole; every thoughtful man should; it is almost a test of refinement.‘ and we know exactly what sort of man we’re dealing with. And of course Cecil is the kind of man who proposes to ‘rescue’ Lucy without once realising that the alternative he is offering her is just another sort of prison with different furnishings.

Lucy’s problem is that she is used to being told what to think and feel, either by books or other people: ‘There was no one even to tell her which, of all the sepulchral slabs that paved the naves and transepts, was the one that was really beautiful, the one that had been most praised by Mr Ruskin.’ So when it comes to matters of her own heart, it’s no wonder she finds herself completely unable to interpret her own emotions.

As the story progresses, we are eager to see her figure out what we already know, to expand her ‘undeveloped heart’ and break free from the confines of Victorian expectations and niceties. And I was totally up for the ride. This was a joy to read. The only part that fell slightly flat for me was Lucy’s central love story, perhaps because Forster just does humour better than straight-faced passion. Hateful though they are, I did find Charlotte and Cecil more fun to read about. Plus there’s a suggestion that Charlotte may just have come good at the end…  Ultimately I will never tire of reading about Victorian English people being terribly terribly English both at home and abroad.

So there we have it. My first Classics Club read! Just in time for me to get going on the August spin – Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front.

 

Classics Club Spin – August 2018

It’s time for my first ever Classics Club spin!

‘How to’: It’s easy. At your blog, before next Wednesday 1st August 2018, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list. 

This is your Spin List.

You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the month. On Wednesday 1st August, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by 31st August, 2018. We’ll check in here then to see who made it the whole way and finished their spin book!

I’ve only been doing the Classics Club for about a fortnight so I’ve loads to choose from. I opted to read 50 books in 5 years and finished my first one last week – A Room With A View. More on that soon. In the meantime, here are 20 books for the spin list, divided into categories for extra interest.

Five I’m most excited to read:

1. Daphne Du Maurier – My Cousin Rachel

2. Shirley Jackson – The Haunting of Hill House

3. Mollie Panter-Downes – One Fine Day

4. Marilynne Robinson – Housekeeping

5. EB White – Charlotte’s Web

Five from the 20th Century:

6. Willa Cather – O Pioneers!

7. Ford Madox Ford – Parade’s End

8. Somerset Maugham – The Painted Veil

9. EM Remarque – All Quiet on the Western Front

10. Jean Rhys – Wide Sargasso Sea

Five pre-20th Century:

11. Elizabeth Barrett-Browning – Aurora Leigh

12. RD Blackmore – Lorna Doone

13. Voltaire – Candide

14. Ralph Waldo Emerson – The Essential Writings

15. Walt Whitman – Leaves of Grass

Five epic reads:

16. WM Thackeray – Vanity Fair

17. Doris Lessing – The Golden Notebook

18. Seamus Heaney – Beowulf

19. James Fenimore Cooper – Last of the Mohicans

20. Charles Dickens – David Copperfield

In which I join the Classics Club

A big shout-out to Lory of The Emerald City Book Review for this one, because I’ve loved reading her Classics Club posts and it’s through her that I originally discovered the Classics Club.

In short, the Classics Club was created to ‘to inspire people to read and blog about classic books’. Which is a great goal and I’m totally on board. There are plenty of books that I feel are gaps in my reading. In fact, there are some on my list I’m downright embarrassed about.

You’ll note that there’s nothing terribly groundbreaking about much that I’ve included. I think that’s part of the problem. Many of these books are considered such classics, that it’s almost assumed everyone must have read them and you start forgetting that you haven’t yet got round to it. But I also have no intention of reading for the sake of it or because I feel I should. In front of witnesses, I declare my intention never to read Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake, and I’m going to be honest about my plan never to read Dostoevsky again because The Brothers Karamazov pretty much did for me. The books below are there because I think (hope) I’ll love them.

So here’s my accountability. Five years. Fifty books. Some ‘classic’ blogging. [I’ll update the list below with links as and when I review a book. So you can click through to read my verdict.]

Angelou, Maya I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Barrett-Browning, Elizabeth Aurora Leigh
Barrie, JM Peter Pan
Bates, HE Fair Stood the Wind for France
Blackmore, RD Lorna Doone
Carter, Angela Wise Children
Cather, Willa O Pioneers!
Defore, Daniel Moll Flanders
Dickens, Charles David Copperfield
Dickens, Charles Bleak House
Didion, Joan Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Du Maurier, Daphne My Cousin Rachel
Du Maurier, Daphne Jamaica Inn
Eliot, George The Mill on the Floss
Eliot, George Daniel Deronda
Ellison, Ralph The Invisible Man
Emerson, Ralph Waldo The Essential Writings
Faulkner, William As I Lay Dying
Fenimore Cooper, James The Last of the Mohicans
Fitgerald, F Scott The Great Gatsby
Ford, Madox Ford Parade’s End / The Good Soldier
Forster, E.M Howards End / A Room with a View
Gibbons, Stella Cold Comfort Farm
Heaney, Seamus Beowulf
Hemingway, Ernest For Whom the Bell Tolls / East of Eden
Jackson, Shirley The Haunting of Hill House
Jerome, K Jerome Three Men in a Boat
Lee, Harper To Kill A Mockingbird
Lessing, Doris The Golden Notebook
Mann, Thomas The Magic Mountain
Maugham, Somerset The Painted Veil
McCullers, Carson The Ballad of the Sad Cafe
Panter-Downes, Mollie One Fine Day
Perkins-Gilmore, Charlotte Herland
Remarque, Erich Maria All Quiet on the western front
Rhys, Jean Wide Sargasso Sea
Robinson, Marilynne Housekeeping
Salinger, JD The Catcher in the Rye
Spark, Muriel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Steinbeck, John The Grapes of Wrath
Taylor, Mildred Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry
Thackeray, WM Vanity Fair
Voltaire Candide
Walker, Alice The Colour Purple
West, Rebecca The Fountain Overflows
White, EB Charlotte’s Web
Whitman, Walt Leaves of Grass
Wiesel, Elie Night
Wolf, Naomi The Beauty Myth
Woolf, Virginia A Room of One’s Own

Is anyone else taking part already? What are your favourite classics?