On making amends: Scenes from Forster’s A Room with a View
by Andrew Taggart
The following are two excerpts from E.M. Forster’s novel A Room with a View (1908). Midway through the novel Cecil asks Lucy if she will marry him. She says yes. In the first scene, Cecil and Lucy, recently engaged, are walking home through the woods; they come upon the Sacred Lake. In the second scene, Lucy is quarreling with her mother Mrs. Honeychurch about her pedantic cousin Charlotte. Where the first scene does away with the friendliness of life, with the last tenderness of youth, the second intimates that all things can be set to right.
‘Up to now I have never kissed you.’ [Cecil says to Lucy]
She was as scarlet as if he had put the thing most indelicately.
‘No–more you have,’ she stammered.
‘Then I ask you–may I now?’
‘Of course you may, Cecil. You might before. I can’t run at you, you know.’
At that supreme moment he was conscious of nothing but absurdities. Her reply was inadequate. She gave such a businesslike lift to her veil. As he approached her he found time to wish that he could recoil. As he touched her, his gold pince-nez became dislodged and was flattened between them.
Such was the embrace. He considered, with truth, that it had been a failure. Passion should believe itself irresistible. It should forget civility and consideration and all the other curses of a refined nature. Above all, it should never ask for leave where there is a right of way. Why could he not do as any labourer or navvy–nay, as any young man behind the counter would have done? He recast the scene. Lucy was standing flower-like by the water; he rushed up and took her in his arms; she rebuked him, permitted him, and revered him ever after for his manliness. For he believed that women revere men for their manliness.
They left the pool in silence, after this one salutation. He waited for her to make some remark which should show him her inmost thoughts. At last she spoke, and with fitting gravity.
‘Emerson the name was, not Harris.’
‘The old man’s.’
‘What old man?’
‘That old man I told you about. The one Mr Eager was so unkind to.’
He could not know that this was the most intimate conversation they had ever had.
‘Yes. I really can’t stop now. I must dress too.’ [Lucy says to her mother]
‘How’s Charlotte?’ [her mother asks.]
The unfortunate girl returned.
‘You’ve a bad habit of hurrying away in the middle of one’s sentences. Did Charlotte mention the boiler?’
‘Don’t you remember that her boiler was to be had out in October, and her bath cistern cleaned out, and all kinds of terrible to-doing?’
‘I can’t remember all Charlotte’s worries,’ said Lucy bitterly. ‘I shall have enough of my own, now that you are not pleased with Cecil.’
Mrs Honeychurch might have flamed out. She did not. She said: ‘Come here, old lady–thank you for putting away my bonnet–kiss me.’ And, though nothing is perfect, Lucy felt for the moment that her mother and Windy Corner and the Weald in the declining sun were perfect.
So the grittiness went out of life.