Italy: You Got the Music in Me

In The Art of Travel, 6. Book #1, Florence by sabeena1 Comment

I originally planned on discussing the role of feminism and windows in A Room with a View by E.M. Forster, but those are just two aspects of the book. Although it’s certainly not my favorite book in the world, it is certainly a classic for a reason. It captures Italy in a way that most artists do – As a place of discovery, of movement, of discovery. Lucy’s life is desperate to change, needing a break from the boring old England. It is when she comes to Italy the murder happens in Piazza Signoria (super close to where I live, it’s wild), and she is passionately kissed. Before the murder that seems to change a lot for her, she thinks to herself: “The world … is certainly full of beautiful things, if only I could across them” (Forster 26). But her, mother, “Mrs. Honeychurch disapproved of music, declaring that it always left her daughter peevish, unpractical, and touchy” (Forster 27).

With that said, the presence of Italy throughout the novel is subtle, and it never overtly says Italy is this life-changing place when it actually is changing Lucy. The characters do travel, whether that’s through Florence into places like Fiesole, which are the mountainous regions above the city filled with ruins, or the importance of place when it comes to her interactions with George. Forster does say how the characters have changed with their scenery, as “In London he would keep his place. He would belong to a brainless club, and his wife would give brainless dinner parties. But down here he acts the little god with his gentility, and his patronage, and his sham aesthetics, and every one–even your mother–is taken in” (Forster 72).

With all that positivity, Forster does use the characters to say some rather unkind things about “The Italians are a most unpleasant people. They pry everywhere, they see everything, and they know what we want before we know it ourselves. We are at their mercy. They read our thoughts, they foretell our desires” (Forster 23). Although Forster does oppose Mr. Beebe’s perspective throughout the novel, just the mere fact that Forster attempts to burst the bubble created by himself, is an interesting act. I think that is something that is certainly challenged here – So many Americans and expats think that this country is perfect, but with further examination, Italians are just people too. Forster uses Mr. Beebe, the seemingly wonderful reverend, to perhaps critique the church and ideals surrounding it. I believe this connects to Forster’s own personal life and feeling of exclusion as a gay person, but also perhaps a critique of the elitist British society attitude Forster came from and that many of these characters perform.

One of my favorite aspects of this novel was the presence of Lucy’s sexual liberation and connection to the Birth of Venus. The Birth of Venus, a famous painting housed here in Florence’s Uffizi, depicts a naked woman, which at the time was quite taboo. After the murder scene, George tosses Lucy’s blood-covered Birth of Venus postcard into the Arno River. That image is interesting, representing Lucy’s charge of her sexuality, and George the one that changes that for her. That is a pertinent image when examining the expression of female sexuality here in Florence, which is difficult to put language to, but certainly different from the U.S. I’ve seen the expression of femininity here in Florence much more overt than in other parts of the world. Forster is certainly outspoken about quite a few things in A Room with a View, but I don’t think the British society he lived in at the time even noticed …

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Comments

  1. Hi Sabeena!
    I like how you write that the presence of Italy, though not overtly specified, subtly changes Lucy. I feel that is how it goes when you’re living in a different place- you never quite realize how much it changes you. I also think it’s interesting that Forster doesn’t try to sugarcoat his opinions on the Italians- he tells it straight and doesn’t glorify them. I’ve always wanted to read this novel and now perhaps I will! I hope you enjoy Florence!

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