A Room With a View vs. Where Angels Fear To Tread
by Carrie Hill Wilner
Salve, Hairpins! We have so much to catch up on. First off, I just wanted to check in — remember back when we read Villette? Did you actually read it? Did you loooooooove it? Do you want to marrrrrrry it? You can’t, it just died. Maybe I should have warned you more that it would ruin your life, but no one would read it then. Here are my discussion questions:
1) Imagine any of your friends coming to you and explaining about this guy, “…and he obsessively cuts all the racy parts out of the books he gives me with a tiny razor, so romantic, right?” Please advise your friend how to proceed.
2) Why do I find the *spoiler* Dr. John Grahmn Isidore Grahmn John John *end spoiler* subplot (and Dr. John himself) so compelling? I mean, he is sort of complain-y eye candy, but has that ever stopped you from finding someone compelling?
3) The idea that everyone around you could be playing a years-long practical joke with kind of minimal payoff, just because they think you’re uptight. Has that ever occurred to you? Did it just? Omg, look, a N U N!
4) What holiday was that? Can we have it here?
5) If all the books were actually the cast of The Leopard, would Jane Eyre be Alain Delon and Villette Burt Lancaster?
Thank you. I will be grading these on the French scale of 9–16. You will get your results back in front of the whole class, when I will also tell you what I think of your personal appearance and your family.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch: So I’d been thinking of E.M. Forster but hesitated because there’s a lot to answer for in the sort of no-dimensonal Italy the Italian novels happen in. Whaaaaatever. It was just February for like a whole month. I hated it. Who cares about creating, what, a safe space for Italy? I care about going to fake Florence in my mind. Hairpin Roadtrip!
If you’ve read any Forster, you’ve probably read A Room With A View. I don’t rememember the first time I read it before rereading it for you guys, but I must have been pretty young, because I don’t think I totally understood Sometimes Men Like Other Men. That understanding really, really, really improves the book. So much so that I’m not ready to wholeheartedly recommend Where Angels Fear To Tread over it, which had been my plan.
Indulge me, Hairpins, the hopeless, needy chaperonne that I am, while I open my Baedeker’s and present you the pros and cons of our potential destinations, forcing you to make up my mind for me. We’re deciding between fake Florence with ARWAV and Monteriano (which is not only fake in the book but fake in reality) with WAFTT. I promise to sigh with disappointment for the whole carriage ride there, whichever you pick.
Best Dissolute Heroine:
Lucy, heroine of ARWAV, is not really that dissolute. On the contrary, really. Her indiscretions, even in the context of her tiny world, are more the sort of things she punishes herself for than the sort of thing anyone else would punish her for. I don’t know, she plays Beethoven sluttily is they main thing I came away with. On the one hand, I love sitting around and stressing about small things that may or may not have happened, on the other, these are so small that it’s kind of like listening to a friend talk about a text she got where the guy said he wasn’t around that night, and she’s like, what does it mean. Does it mean he’s NOT around or not AROUND and you are counting her pores to pass the time. (Bonus skincare tip, your pores will seem smaller if you don’t bore people into counting them.)
Lilia, meanwhile isn’t quite a heroine — non-spoiler, because it’s on the back cover, she dies in the first part of the book — but she’s plenty dissolute. She’s a widow in her early 30s, and I am pretty comfortable suggesting she is not a very good mother. She rass-andomly marries some sort of cute Italian who’s like 15 years younger than she is, and is miserable when he won’t let her have tea parties. She makes her in-laws hyperventilate, and doesn’t seem to have any particular talents or intelligence other than for finding trouble.
WAFTT is really about the millionty chaperon/nes sent after Lilia and her infant to fix up the disasters she’s left behind. I don’t know. They’re all very silly people. The Ambassadors did it better. (Oh, snap!) ARWAV, meanwhile, has cousin Charlotte, who is so viscerally annoying you won’t believe you aren’t actually related.
Point: ARWAV, for making me feel again.
Best Way of Bossing You:
ARWAV is super didactic. There’s a lot of musing about truth and passion and being excellent to each other, and there’s an ACTUAL WISE OLD MAN always telling Lucy what to do. Ahhhh creepy free love Santa, go away! WAFTT emphatically does not stake out a moral position in the same way. There’s the same background noise about how Oh If We Could Be Simple And Happy Like The Italian, although it’s complicated by the fact that the main Italian is, while pretty fucking simple, not that happy.
Point: WAFTT because if I wanted to be bossed at I’d read advice columns all day, especially the ones on this website, seriously all day.
Best Ridiculous Englishness:
I think the part in ARWAV where I cracked up most hardcore is the part where a guy straight up GETS MURDERED on Lucy, like, gets stabbed onto her, and she faints and is flustered and then feels really self-conscious about fainting and being flustered and everyone is like, acting as if they just see murders 100% of the time, buck up. And she ends up falling in love with the one guy who will acknowledge, even briefly, that, you know, bummer.
Meanwhile, WAFTT … I’m trying to remember the exact phrasing in the novel, but after Lilia dies, her in-laws tell her daughter Irma, who’s seven or nine, and the description is something like, “she cried for a bit and asked some stupid questions and then didn’t really care since her mom had been gone for a couple of months anyway so she was basically already dead, and it was time to go play rugby.”
Point: ARWAV, but I could go either way on this one. Dear England, are/were you really like this? Love, Carrie.
Best Worst Thing:
That moment of cruelty to Irma is actually out of place in WAFTT, which I think is luminous in its descriptions of children and babies, its empathy for them, its sense of how they can and can’t transform adults and themselves. Irma’s affection for her Italian baby brother, and the severing of their “correspondence,” are true and truly painful. I found that moment way more excruciating than the actual Worst Thing when it happened, and normally, I won’t read books or watch movies where The Worst Thing happens. (If you’re thinking, The Worst Thing, what? I wouldn’t worry about it. If you are thinking, oh no, not The Worst Thing! Can I still handle this book? I will say probably. It’s not done in a weirdly manipulative way. Plus Villette already ruined your life so who cares?)
In re: A Room With A View. It’s a small story, and it sure seems like nothing that bad happens (you know, not counting the murder that doesn’t count). That said, there’s a lot — a whole lot — of feeling in Beebe’s story if you’re reading him as Forster’s supergay stand-in, which I cannot believe I didn’t prior. I’m sorry! I was like 14! I was distracted by all the violets! And the descriptions of cute boys with their shirts off that went on for pages and pages and pages, and weren’t really a part of the story!
Point: WAFFT, but really, it depends how nuanced you want your tragedy. My personal answer is of course As Dionysian As Possible, Always, but maybe you have better taste than me.
Best Terrible Fop:
Cecil Vyse, who shows up in the second half of ARWAV, is so sucky it’s unreal. Seriously, ugh, he kisses Lucy and like, his monocle or pince-nez or whatever falls off between them and he’s thinking about virginity or maybe not, maybe just the word virgin occurred within 30 pages of his name and it STILL made me feel gross. Ugggghhhh, ugh, ugh, and do you think he says it Cee-cil or Seh-cil? Which makes you puke more? That one.
Philip Herrington, Lilia’s brother-in-law isn’t as bad as Seh-cil in that he doesn’t make you want to check the National Fictional Character Sex Offender Registry (keep our children safe!). He’s worse in how recognizable he is, though, with his weird authenticity fetish, which is totally just an avatar of his obsession with control. I want to just put him in a cage with some non-artisanal pizza and see if he’d rather starve. He’d probably like that, though, because he is secretly — not that secretly — into getting punched in the face. And also why is he taking so long to text back?
Point to: Ahhh. Too hard. Why are you asking such hard questions? WAFTT, I guess, because if I really wanted a campy villain I guess I could find an even campier one than Cecil (in, e.g., Die Hard), and Philip’s not a villain, just ridiculous.
Best Mind’s Eye Candy:
Wait, I mentioned many-page descriptions of cute boys up there, and then totally dropped the ball. A sample forthwith:
He sat near her, astride the parapet, with one foot in the loggia and the other dangling into the view. His face was in profile, and its beautiful contours drove artfully against the misty green of the opposing hills. “Posing!” said Miss Abbott to herself. “A born artist’s model.”
“Hullo!” cried George, so that again the ladies stopped. He regarded himself as dressed. Barefoot, bare-chested, radiant and personable against the shadowy woods, he called:
“Hullo, Miss Honeychurch! Hullo!”
. . . HOW often had Lucy rehearsed this bow, this interview! But she had always rehearsed them indoors, and with certain accessories, which surely we have a right to assume. Who could foretell that she and George would meet in the rout of a civilization, amidst an army of coats and collars and boots that lay wounded over the sunlit earth?
Wounded boots to go please! Point: ARWAV.
Best Fake Italy Overall:
Hang on, I’m counting … OK. WAFFT 5–3. Is that it? But that’s not factoring in the totally ridiculous fantasy-field-of-violets princess scene in ARWAV, so really it’s 5–4. Or we could just play Assassins Creed II and/or Assassins Creed II: Brotherhood and have some stabbing with our fake Italy. What, no, I’d never suggest such a thing. Must have been the N U N.
Previously: Fancy Lady Film Hour: The Leopard.
Carrie Hill Wilner loves to read.