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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Catherine Morland's Two Rooms With a View

In Austen L, Ellen Moody wrote some interesting comments about EM Forster and Jane Austen which I have responded to as follows:

[Ellen] "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."

Yes, Ellen, I am certain you are correct that Forster was intentionally alluding not only to NA, but also to Emma (and probably some of the other Austen novels too, if examined more closely still) in Room With A View.

"More than half-way through the book I can see he means Charlotte Bartlett to be a modern variant on Miss Bates"

And her name anagrammatically incorporates, including the first two letters in proper sequence, the name of Miss Bates.

"-- of course Charlotte told Miss Lavish, amid all her talk it just slipped out (rather a blabberer, p 191)"

That is a telltale detail.

"and several times there are remarkable incidents thickly rich with allusions to Northanger Abbey (one on a hyacinth or bunch of them)."

Which shows that Forster was sensitive to the way that JA used these seemingly trivial details like the hyacinth in a subtly thematic way.

"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!"

And perhaps also a suspicion of Forster's about the cause of death of the great Mrs. Churchill as well!--and Honeychurch sounds a bit like Churchill.

"why has no one written an article?"

Because, ironically and astoundingly, most academic literary scholars pay little attention to the deeper significance of allusions! I find that the vast majority of the time, even when allusions are noticed, they are rarely treated as being significant, and are often speculated to be unconscious or peripheral, unless the allusions are so heavy-handedly specific that they cannot avoid being noticed by everyone.

My experience from all my research is the complete opposite of that academic norm--i.e., I have found that most of the great writers, especially JA, used subliminal allusion pervasively, as a way both of deepening their own stories, as well as writing veiled commentaries on the works they have so subtly alluded to.

I see Forster doing all of that in Room With A View.

"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)"

And there I strongly disagree with you--I think that Austen's apparent disapproval of Marianne is only on the surface--beneath, I claimn that JA is intensely sympathetic to Marianne, indeed Marianne _IS_ Jane Austen! But S&S is written from Elinor's point of view, and Elinor does not really understand her sister at all!

"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"

And I violently disagree with your reading of Austen there, too, Ellen. JA very intentionally but subliminally depicts Catherine's blossoming sexuality in NA, and knows exactly what she is doing as she does so! She is the opposite of narrow minded, she is actually a strong advocate of women's having sexual freedom. I don't know whether Forster recognized that, and maybe _he_ thought he was correcting JA's deficiencies, but if so, the joke was on him, as he was merely making explicit what was subtly implicit in Northanger Abbey, in terms of female sexuality.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: I even wonder if the title of Forster's novel derives at least in part from the following two scenes in NA (if you look at the words I've capitalized), each of which literally describes "a room with a view", one in Bath, the other at Woodston:

2: Mrs. Allen was so long in dressing that they did not enter the ballROOM till late. The season was full, the room crowded, and the two ladies squeezed in as well as they could. As for Mr. Allen, he repaired directly to the card–room, and left them to enjoy a mob by themselves. With more care for the safety of her new gown than for the comfort of her protegee, Mrs. Allen made her way through the throng of men by the door, as swiftly as the necessary caution would allow; Catherine, however, kept close at her side, and linked her arm too firmly within her friend’s to be torn asunder by any common effort of a struggling assembly. But to her utter amazement she found that to proceed along the ROOM was by no means the way to disengage themselves from the crowd; it seemed rather to increase as they went on, whereas she had imagined that when once fairly within the door, they should easily find seats and be able to watch the dances with perfect convenience. But this was far from being the case, and though by unwearied diligence they gained even the top of the ROOM, their situation was just the same; they saw nothing of the dancers but the high feathers of some of the ladies. Still they moved on — something better was yet IN VIEW; and by a continued exertion of strength and ingenuity they found themselves at last in the passage behind the highest bench. Here there was something less of crowd than below; and hence Miss Morland had a comprehensive VIEW of all the company beneath her, and of all the dangers of her late passage through them. It was a splendid sight, and she began, for the first time that evening, to feel herself at a ball: she longed to dance, but she had not an acquaintance in the ROOM. Mrs. Allen did all that she could do in such a case by saying very placidly, every now and then, “I wish you could dance, my dear — I wish you could get a partner.” For some time her young friend felt obliged to her for these wishes; but they were repeated so often, and proved so totally ineffectual, that Catherine grew tired at last, and would thank her no more.

26: “We are not calling it a good house,” said he. “We are not comparing it with Fullerton and Northanger — we are considering it as a mere parsonage, small and confined, we allow, but decent, perhaps, and habitable; and altogether not inferior to the generality; or, in other words, I believe there are few country parsonages in England half so good. It may admit of improvement, however. Far be it from me to say otherwise; and anything in reason — a bow thrown out, perhaps — though, between ourselves, if there is one thing more than another my aversion, it is a patched–on bow.” Catherine did not hear enough of this speech to understand or be pained by it; and other subjects being studiously brought forward and supported by Henry, at the same time that a tray full of refreshments was introduced by his servant, the general was shortly restored to his complacency, and Catherine to all her usual ease of spirits.The ROOM in question was of a commodious, well–proportioned size, and handsomely fitted up as a dining–parlour; and on their quitting it to walk round the grounds, she was shown, first into a smaller apartment, belonging peculiarly to the master of the house, and made unusually tidy on the occasion; and afterwards into what was to be the drawing–ROOM, with the appearance of which, though unfurnished, Catherine was delighted enough even to satisfy the general. It was a prettily shaped room, the windows reaching to the ground, and the VIEW from them pleasant, though only over green meadows; and she expressed her admiration at the moment with all the honest simplicity with which she felt it. “Oh! Why do not you fit up this ROOM, Mr. Tilney? What a pity not to have it fitted up! It is the prettiest ROOM I ever saw; it is the prettiest ROOM in the world!”“I trust,” said the general, with a most satisfied smile, “that it will very speedily be furnished: it waits only for a lady’s taste!”“Well, if it was my house, I should never sit anywhere else. Oh! What a sweet little cottage there is among the trees — apple trees, too! It is the prettiest cottage!” “You like it — you approve it as an object — it is enough. Henry, remember that Robinson is spoken to about it. The cottage remains.”

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