Monday, 10 August 2009

More of our adventures tomorrow. For now, something beautiful.

I know it's an odd pairing, but J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and E. M. Forster's A Room with a View are the two most resonant coming-of-age stories I've ever encountered, and I return to both just as naturally as their words and scenes drift into my mind. I've reread A Room with a View about once a year since first picking it up by chance when I was 14; I never enforce this ritually, it just happens that there's always a season when I need the book, and as soon as I drift into it again life fits back into place.

Every time this happens, I also come out with a new appreciation for Forster. First published in 1908, A Room with a View's prose sounds typically British and a little old-fashioned, even for its time. But that's not enough to distract the reader from the exquisite lightness with which he drops truths into the story, like feathers. They speak directly to the heart about the longing to be alive just as youth lifts its veil to the world. In two delicate phrases, Forster captures the spirit of adolescence with George and Lucy's first exchange:

...his voice was perplexed and sorrowful. Lucy, too, was perplexed...

Short of posting the entire book, below are some of my favorite passages from the first two chapters:

"Charlotte, don't you feel, too, that we might be in London? I can hardly believe that all kinds of other things are just outside. I suppose it is one's being so tired."

Generally at a pension people looked them over for a day or two before speaking, and often did not find out that they would "do" till they had gone.

am so glad to see you," said the girl, who was in a state of spiritual starvation, and would have been glad to see the waiter if her cousin had permitted it.

The father did not see [her bow]; the son acknowledged it, not by another bow, but by raising his eyebrows and smiling; he seemed to be smiling across something.

Was this really Italy?

Lucy was pleased, and said: "I was hoping that he was nice; I do so always hope that people will be nice."

There was a haze of disapproval in the air, but whether the disapproval was of herself, or of Mr Beebe, or of the fashionable world at Windy Corner, or of the narrow world at Tunbridge Wells, she could not determine. She tried to locate it, but as usual she blundered. ...And the girl again thought: "I must have been selfish or unkind; I must be more careful..."

Charlotte's energy! And her unselfishness! ...So Lucy felt, or strove to feel. And yet - there was a rebellious spirit in her which wondered whether the acceptance might not have been less delicate and more beautiful. At all events, she entered her own room without any feeling of joy.

"I only know what it is that's wrong with him; not why it is."
"And what is it?" asked Lucy fearfully, expecting some harrowing tale.
"The old trouble: things won't fit."
"What things?"
"The things of the universe. It is quite true. They don't."

"Make him realize that by the side of the everlasting Why there is a Yes - a transitory Yes if you like, but a Yes."

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