Wednesday, November 30, 2016

He cursed his love of metaphor - some Forster metaphors - (Untrue; but then, so is most information.)

He cursed his love of metaphor…  (Ch. 8)

Just one of many ways the reader is warned to suspect, or perhaps even despise, Cecil, the heroine’s fiancée and secondary obstacle to her marrying the right fellow.

The narrator, of course, the Forster figure, loves metaphor.  See that passage about violets I quoted yesterday.  Or watch the tourists in Florence:

… the ladies bought some hot chestnut paste out of a little shop, because it looked so typical.  It tasted partly of the paper in which it was wrapped, partly of hair oil, partly of the great unknown.  (Ch. 2)

She watched the tourists [see?], their noses as red as their Baedekers, so cold was Santa Croce.  (Ch. 2)

I guess it is just possible that the last metaphor is meant to be Lucy’s – someone has just run off with her guidebook, so it is on her mind.  The narrator, though, is generally extremely intrusive, constantly correcting his characters:

The men on the river were fishing.  (Untrue; but then, so is most information.)  (Ch. 2)

The first sentence is supplied to Lucy by the similarly intrusive lady novelist Miss Lavish; the parenthetical is the narrator’s.  I have no idea what the men on the river are doing.  I didn’t see them when I was in Florence.

He also loves to pour on the rhetoric, to empurple the scene – violets, etc. – as in this description of fairly ordinary curtains that are the light that they are not quite blocking:

A poet – none was present – might have quoted, “Life like a dome of many coloured glass,” or might have compared the curtains to sluice-gates, lowered against the intolerable tides of heaven.  Without was poured a sea of radiance; within, the glory, though visible, was tempered to the capacities of man.  (Ch. 8)

Pure narrator, a bit of a smart aleck.

I only thought the narrator really overdid it one, near the end of the novel as Lucy in some sense hits bottom.  “She gave up trying to understand herself” – she gave up on Bildung – “and joined the vast armies of the benighted, who follow neither the heart nor the brain, and march to their destiny by catch-words.”

They [soldiers in this army, meaning almost everyone] have sinned against passion and truth, and vain will be their strife after virtue…  They have sinned against Eros and against Pallas Athene, and not by any heavenly intervention, but by the ordinary course of nature, those allied deities will be avenged.  (Ch. 17)

This was the only time I shouted to the narrator “Get out of the way!”  I wanted to see Lucy, not this stuff.  The main sin against truth here is that the narrator appears to be serious.  The metaphor in the last line of the chapter is more chilling: “The night received her, as it had received Miss Bartlett thirty years before.”  But that is because I have spent all too much time with the narrow Miss Bartlett, and know fear that Lucy really could will herself – exile herself – into that life.

But this is a jolly book, full of Italy, full of life, and everything works out; even Miss Bartlett turns out to be more alive than she seems – she has, after all, been to Italy.


  1. The narrator of A Passage to India is far less intrusive, but of course it's not such a comic novel.

    I had intended to re-read Room With A View between volumes II and III of Proust, but I couldn't find our copy. It will have to wait. I haven't read it since my freshman Intro to Fiction class, back in the 80s.

  2. Something about the subject of the novel or his experiences in the years he stopped writing fiction or I don't know what make A Passage to India something quite different than the earlier novels. I wish there were more like it.

    Long, long time since I read that one, too.

    Alongside Proust, that's a good idea, a good palate cleanser. I did not mention a favorite fragment, when Forster arranges his characters in a carriage by means of "The necessary uproar ensued" - efficient!