This Edwardian social comedy explores love and prim propriety among an eccentric cast of characters assembled in an Italian pensione and in a corner of Surrey, England.
A charming young Englishwoman, Lucy Honeychurch, faints into the arms of a fellow Britisher when she witnesses a murder in a Florentine piazza. Attracted to this man, George Emerson—who is entirely unsuitable and whose father just may be a Socialist—Lucy is soon at war with the snobbery of her class and her own conflicting desires. Back in England, she is courted by a more acceptable, if stifling, suitor and soon realizes she must make a startling decision that will decide the course of her future: she is forced to choose between convention and passion.
The enduring delight of this tale of romantic intrigue is rooted in Forster’s colorful characters, including outrageous spinsters, pompous clergymen, and outspoken patriots.
I was convinced to try this one by a lovely review from Hamlette several months ago. I am so happy I picked it up! Oh my goodness, the things these characters will think and say! I actually read this very slowly because I was reading it aloud to some others. And let me tell you, it is nearly impossible to read this story out loud without having to stop and giggle every few pages! For being published in 1908, the absurdities of these characters can most definitely be related to and enjoyed today.
Lucy herself is wonderful. She is young and confused and still trying to figure out who she is and what she wants from life. She thinks she knows it one moment and then something will happen or someone will say something and she realizes that maybe she wasn't so sure after all. What person, when they're in their late teens and early twenties, knows exactly what they want out of life? Very few, I'd wager. And her dissatisfaction with even the things she did enjoy (like her piano playing) made a lot of sense to me. So much sense that, like her, I can't explain why. The feelings of frustration at oneself but unable to figure out why or what to do about it? I have totally been there.
So Lucy is great. We see most everything from her perspective, so I'd say this is mainly her story. But Mr. Forster likes to switch POV in the middle of scenes unexpectedly. So we get to hear from the side characters also! This may sound strange or off-putting, but trust me it works. And those side characters? They are a hoot and a half! Miss Lavish, cousin Charlotte, Mr. Beebe, the Misses Alan, Mrs. Honeychurch, Freddy, too many to name them all. Lucy's observations of each one of these characters, and even the small moments we might get in a few of their heads, gracious! There aren't really words to describe how funny and nonsensical they are, with their quirks and ideas and whatnot. The characters, on the whole, are what make this story so much fun!
Then you have Cecil and George, the two men vying for Lucy's affections. Both extreme opposites if there ever was! And poor Lucy has quite a time of it between the two of them. George is pretty reticent, so we don't hear from him as much. But he's never far from people's (and by people I mean Lucy ;) minds. And Cecil! He's an intriguing sort. The reader is never sure exactly where to place him. Or at least I wasn't. By turns ridiculous and sassy and awful and nice, he's a hard man to pin down. For that matter, George isn't really any easier though. He says so very little that you have to read between the lines with him. These two men make for lots of confusion for Lucy and lots of humorous moments for us! :D
Mr. Forster has a unique way of writing. As I said above, he likes to switch POV often, and he has a tendency to ramble on during certain passages. I confess to a few moments of skimming the pages because there was a little too much time spent on one thought of description. But those were very minor moments, which did not lessen my happiness with the story. Also of note, it may seem like a romance, which it is, but Mr. Forster also uses his time to point out the absurdities of these people and the kinds of lives they were living. The romance doesn't really become much of the focus until the second half.
So basically, all that was a really long-winded way of saying that I loved this story! I never knew quite what to expect the characters to say or do and I laughed through so many scenes. The offbeat yet hilarious characters will definitely have me returning for visits. If you get the chance, I recommend reading it! So much fun awaits you. :)
"It is fate that I am here," George persisted, "but you can call it Italy if it makes you less unhappy."
On the cornice of the wardrobe, the hand of an amateur had painted this inscription: Mistrust all enterprises that require new clothes.
"Take an old man's word; there's nothing worse than a muddle in all the world. It is easy to face Death and Fate, and the things that sound so dreadful. It is on my muddles that I look back with horror - on the things that I might have avoided. We can help one another but little. I used to think I could teach young people the whole of life, but I know better now, and all my teaching of George has come down to this: beware of muddle."
Conversation was tedious; she wanted something big, and she believed that it would have come to her on the windswept platform of an electric tram.
Happy Charlotte, who, though greatly troubled over things that did not matter, seemed oblivious to things that did...
"A smell! A true Florentine smell! Every city, let me teach you, has its own smell!"
"Is it a very nice smell?" said Lucy, who had inherited from her mother a distaste to dirt.
"One doesn't come to Italy for niceness," was the retort; "one comes for life."
I want you to have your own thoughts even when I hold you in my arms....