In middle school, A Room With a View was my favorite novel. It was one of only three books that I have ever finished and began again immediately (the other two being Ulysses and One Hundred Years of Solitude). I read every novel by Forster that was in the Snohomish County Library and decided that when I grew up I wanted to live in Edwardian England.
It soon became apparent that this was impossible.
I have thought a lot about why Forster was able to woo me so effectively when I was younger. Then, last night, I picked up “Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural” – a Modern Library compilation of short fiction by some fantastic and some unlikely authors.
The first story I flipped to was Forster’s “The Celestial Omnibus.” Like I said, it’s been a while since I read any Forster having, for the most part I think, outgrown him. And once again, I was wooed. My reading was limited during my Forster-era to what was available in the public library so I had never encountered any of his short fiction.
“The Celestial Omnibus” is adorable, frustrating, fantastic, honest, and a little unnerving. Forster, who was awkward, shy, and wrapped up in an English social cocoon for his entire life, was in the perfect position to write about people becoming free. When he wrote about the Mr. Emerson’s, Margaret, Mrs. Moore, or Alec he was seeing them from the perspective of someone who couldn’t (and wouldn’t) ever behave like them.
He says in his introduction to Maurice that when he thought of the character he wanted the eponymous character to be everything he (Forster) was not. Thinking about the rest of his works, I think it’s apparent that this is what Forster did in all of his novels. All of Forster’s protagonists move out of the constraints, manners, and obligations that bind them, and achieve a great moral freedom.
A lot of characters do that.
A lot of authors do that.
Almost every book ever written is about someone becoming free in one way or another.
Why does E.M. Forster do this better than a significant number of other people?
I think it’s because becoming free in the way his characters do is magical and foreign to him. So that is the way he writes about it: like it is magic.
Maybe I should advertise Love in the Time of Dinosaurs as a rewriting of A Room With A View. I’d buy that.