misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

E. M. Forster's A Room with a View: partly a rewrite of Austen's Northanger Abbey

Dear friends and readers,

After watching Andrew Davies's 2007 Room with a View, I became convinced his character depiction of Lucy Honeychurch was precisely that of the character he gives Catherine Morland in the 2007 Northanger Abbey: literal words, tones, stances, kinds of scenes, and I've begun reading Forster's novel. I've discovered that Forster himself is at times thinking of NA: young girl introduced to the world, under care of chaperon, meets young man (George) whom she is strongly attracted to.  It's not out of sight as Howard's End has long been seen as a rewrite of S&S.  I'm also aware the book is homoerotic (as are the movies adapted) and Forster has other concerns beyond Austen, but this blog right now is just about Austen and Forster.

Elaine Cassidy as Lucy Honeychurch (a Catherine Morland character)

More than half-way through the book I can see he means Charlotte Bartlett to be a modern variant on Miss Bates -- of course Charlotte told Miss Lavish, amid all her talk it just slipped out (rather a blabberer, p 191), and several times there are remarkable incidents thickly rich with allusions to Northanger Abbey (one on a hyacinth or bunch of them). The role was played by Maggie Smith in the Merchant-ivory movie; the conception of a nervous, talkative, repressed woman enacted by Sophie Thomson is closer to the book and Forster's allusions to Miss Bates. Astonishing: the reported murder of Mrs Emerson by Mr Emerson: this is a parody of Catherine's belief that the General murdered his wife! why has no one written an article?

The Emersons (2007 Davies's film)

As seen in the Merchant-Ivory film, Daneil-Day Lewis as Cecil Vyse is a kind of Henry Tilney character:  James Ivory in his JI in conversation describes him thus:   "a charming person when he wanted to be, someone who was a great talker ... charming and beguiling a younger person, flattering her " (p. 202)

Daniel Day Lewis as Cecil Vyse: he conveyed the beautiful vulnerability and hurt of the character

Perhaps because unlike S&S this is a critique of the previous Austen book (though Howards End is much more deeply sympathetic to Helen than Austen to Marianne, and more critical of Margaret's marriage for position than Austen of Elinor's which is not):  in Room with a View, through Forster's close rewritings, we see how narrow minded and unconscious is Austen's approach to the urge to be free; she does not see it's sexual frustration that partly leads to Catherine's desire of craving to be frightened. She does not link sexual desire here as Atwood in Lady Oracle also does, but from another angle.  Both Atwood and Forster's books show the limitations of Austen.  Forster's rewriting does not so much validate Catherine's urge towards experiencing the gothic as shows it's a false route to liberation -- where in Room with a View we see "begins in recognizing the inhibition that stifling social conventions impose on the expression of desire" (see A. A. Markley 288).

The book is allusion rich; for example, Lucy is in danger of choosing the ascetic life out of obedience to convention -- which is what we see Mr Beebe and Cecil Vyse have done (subtext they do so because they are gay, Mr Beebe knowingly so); she must not and when at the penultimate chapter she plays Lucy Ashton's song from Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor she is voicing what she should not do:

Look not thou on beauty's charming.
Sit thou still when kings are arming;
Taste not when the wine-cup glistens
Speak not when the people listens, Stop thine ear against the singer,
From the red gold keep thy finger;
Vacant heart and hand and eye,
Easy live and quiet die.

This singing to a piano is found in18th century works; Austen alludes to Robin Adair in Emma and its is sung in the 1972 Emma. It's telling that Forster alluded to Bride of Lammermoor in another of his novels; Lucy in that novel is a person whose sexual body is threatened and all her tastes violated; she is destroyed as someone whose real nature is ignored and/or exploited. She yearns to live quietly as Forster eventually partly did.

The problem is if you want to be free, how to do it?   especially if you are gay. In Forster's Room with a View Mr Beebe given profound lines which could be applied to women in S&S; Mark Williams chosen for both this role and that of Sir John Middleton: we must be true to the inner self (not distinctions of superficial manners/class). Nuanced rich ethical point of view consonant with Austen in the novels (not the letters at all though). I did find a study which traces the development of the novel from this ethical point of view from Austen to Forster (by Valerie Wainright) but no article directly connecting Forster's novels to Austen's. Someone on Facebook suggested to me this is a book topic.

Forster is one of those who found Austen's letters anathema upon his first reading: he saw in them such spite and such a different woman than he had conjured up. Whether later he thought more about it (that these are a remnant, really aimed at the mindset and chosen by the mindset of Cassandra) I don't remember.

The two perspectives (the movies and the recreative book, Room with a View) are at utter loggerheads with Juliet Stevenson whose complete reading of the book I and Izzy have been listening to in the car.  Steventon makes the text out as hard satire and it at times works very well, with Catherine as not such an appealing naif and Isabella as a hypocritical even dangerous horror (Isabella will not give up the idea that Catherine encouraged John, her brother). It makes the kind of interpretation I favor (taking the gothic seriously) harder to believe in.

The film may also be studied as an instance of Davies's sophisticated film-making: it opens in the present day of the film, 1922 and in the opening phase of the film and near quite late, there are turns back to the year 1922 in order to show continuity of memory -- as for example when Lucy learns that Charlotte told Miss Lavish about the moment in the meadow, and goes to Charlotte's room to confront her, Charlotte's room at the English Windy Corner is lit and photographed so as to remind us of the women's room with a view and without one at Pension Bertolini.  It closes with the two lovers really making love in front of that window (with us recalling "alive alive") and then symbolic death scene of George stretched out like a Christ figure; cut to 1922 as she stands by the window and hears the drivers' voice calling her. Perhaps it's too much to have them holding hands as that becomes a bit frivolous to think ah, she is now finding a new partner. The replacement motif is unfortunate, but I admit it fits and was done softly without aggression.

I've also discovered that this is not Davies simply changing the text, tampering with it. There has been published the previous versions of the novel where in fact it ends very sadly, with the death of George, and some of Davies's interpolations come from this earlier version of the novel -- which is much franker sexually as Passage to India in the first version has Aziz try to describe what he imagines was the rape scene on the stand.

I might go on to read Forster's life of Marianne Thornton, a woman of the same class as Austen who lived at the opening of the 19th century to its middle or his (to me probably uplifting and comforting, wonderful) Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson after or during the time I listen to Daniel Deronda.  Then I'd post regularly on these on Trollope19thCStudies.  I'm not sure when Foreman's World on Fire (on the US civil war through British eyes, so it must include Trollpe's North America) will be coming out in the US in paperback.

Sources for this include:  E. M. Forster's Reconfigured Gaze and the Creation of a Homoerotic Subjectivity by A. A. Markley, Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 47, No. 2 (Summer, 2001), pp. 268-292; and E. M. Forster: A Room with a View by Oliver Stallybrass, The Review of English Studies, New Series, Vol. 29, No. 115 (Aug., 1978), pp. 359-360), the Merchant-Ivory Room with a View and Davies's 2007 film.

Tellingly for me, the British TV DVD is sold together with Davies' Northanger Abbey, as a pair! like S&S is sold with Miss Austen Regrets in the UK

Tags: andrew davies, emforster, film adaptation, jane austen criticism, jane austen films, jane austen novels, jane austen sequels, jane austens letters, women's art, women's novels

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