Wednesday, June 13, 2007
A Room With A View: A Psychoanalytical Interpretation
A Room with a View is a 1908 novel by English writer E. M. Forster, about a young woman in the repressed culture of Edwardian England. Set in Italy and England, the story is both a romance and a critique of English society at the beginning of the 20th century. Merchant-Ivory produced an award-winning film adaptation in 1985.
I have a psychoanalytical theory about the story, a summary of which follows. The story's main characters comprise the mother Marian and her two children Freddie (about 18 years old) and a daughter named Lucy (about 20 years old). There is no father; he has presumably died before the story begins. A second grouping comprises an old man, Mr. Emerson and his son George, who pursues and eventually wins over the affections of Lucy. George's mother has apparently died before the story begins. An additional character, Lucy's on-again off-again fiancee, Cecil Vyse, has analytic significance.
It is my proposition that the three young males are in fact dissociated or split images of a single son figure. George is passionate and sexual. He represents the Oedipal self in competition for the affections of Lucy. Cecil is an intellectualized, asexual self -- who gives up Lucy without a struggle. Lucy's brother, Freddie, is a pre-Oedipal self and is depicted in the novel as playful and close to his sister.
Seen in this light, Marian (the mother of Lucy and Freddie) represents the pre-Oedipal mother. Lucy represents the Oedipal mother, who is the object of sexual rivalry. Mr. Emerson represents the pre-Oedipal father. And the sexual George represents an Oedipal self.
The story can be seen as symbolizing a struggle with an incest boundary. Cecil represents an asexual, ascetic, intellectualized defense against Oedipal sexuality. While George represents the expression of Oedipal sexuality. Brother Freddie represents the pre-Oedipal self -- playful and protosexual.
If one views Marion Honeychurch as representing a prototypal mother figure and views the old Mr. Emerson as a prototypal father-figure, then the sexual self (George) obviates incest impulses by his being the actual son of a father figure (Mr. Emerson) who is not in fact the father of George's sexual interest, Lucy Honeychurch. Lucy's actual brother, Freddie, is, analytically-speaking, at a pre-Oedipal (nonsexual) stage. And Cecil represents an asexual, ascetic defense against sexual desire.
That an incest-boundary conflict is an important feature of A Room With A View is strongly suggested by the following:
Though Freddie and Lucy are brother and sister, their closeness, at times, evokes the intimacy of lovers. While the sexually-clueless Cecil and Lucy are engaged to be married, the chaste quality of their relationship suggests the emotional distance of a brother and sister. And while Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson are in fact lovers, at a symbolic level they are brother and sister; the prototypal mother figure Marian Honeychurch complements the prototypal father figure of old Mr. Emerson.
Finally, it is interesting that Lucy and Freddie Honeychurch, Cecil Vyse, and George Emerson are the children of incomplete nuclear complexes. Lucy and Freddie live in a world without a father; Cecil lives in a world without a father; and George Emerson lives in a world without a mother. The story appears to be a creative transformation of E.M. Forster's psychological struggles as a boy whose father died when Forster was a baby and who was raised by his mother and paternal aunts, people who had radically different world views. The story suggests that Forster never developed an integrated image of mother and father--his perception of mother and father remained split and compartmentalized. The tender and conflict-free relationship between George Emerson and his elderly father in the story suggests that Forster had an idealized image of a father-son relationship that was a product of fantasy and not lived experience.
A Room With A View
Lucy Honeychurch is a young Englishwoman visiting Florence, Italy with her older cousin, Charlotte Bartlett. Dining at their hotel, they complain that their rooms lack the views that they were promised. A fellow pensioner, Mr. Emerson, offers them his and his son's (George) rooms, which have views of the Arno. Charlotte ungraciously refuses, thinking it would place them under an unseemly "obligation." Another guest, an Anglican clergyman named Mr. Beebe, convinces her to accept the Emersons' offer.
Although a bright and talented girl, Lucy is young and not very inquisitive. Her inner passion shows itself only when she plays Beethoven on the piano, impressing Mr. Beebe. He fancies himself less strait-laced than his fellow clergymen, and is intrigued by the contrast between Lucy's emotional piano playing and her mundane life.
Lucy continues to bump into the eccentric Emersons in Florence. Although their manners are awkward and they are deemed socially unacceptable by the other pensioners, Lucy likes them. One afternoon, as Lucy tours Florence on her own, she witnesses a murder. George Emerson happens to be nearby and catches her when she faints. As the two make their way back along the river, they have an oddly intimate conversation. She is puzzled by her new feelings toward George and decides to avoid him. However, on a group picnic to Fiesole, Lucy accidentally stumbles into George on a hillside He kisses her, but they are abruptly interrupted by Charlotte. Charlotte makes Lucy promise that she will never tell anyone, even her mother, of what happened, and the two women leave for Rome the next day.
In Rome, Lucy spends time with Cecil Vyse, who she knew in England. Cecil proposes to Lucy twice in Italy; she rejects him both times. As Part Two begins, Lucy has returned to Surrey, England to her family home, Windy Corner. Cecil proposes yet again and this time, she accepts. Cecil is a sophisticated and "superior" Londoner who is eligible in terms of rank and class, even though he despises country society.
The local vicar, Mr. Beebe, announces that new tenants have leased a local cottage: the new arrivals turn out to be the Emersons. Fate takes an ironic turn as Lucy's brother Freddy befriends George and invites him to play tennis one Sunday at Windy Corner. Although Lucy is initially mortified at the thought of facing both George and Cecil (who is also visiting Windy Corner that Sunday), she resolves to be gracious. Cecil annoys everyone by reading aloud from a cheap romance novel that contains a scene suspiciously reminiscent of when George kissed Lucy in Florence. George catches Lucy alone in the garden and kisses her again. Lucy realizes that the novel is by Miss Lavish (a writer-acquaintance from Florence) and that Charlotte must thus have told her about the kiss.
Furious with Charlotte for betraying her secret, Lucy forces her cousin to watch as she tells George to leave and never return. George argues with her, saying that Cecil only sees her as an "object for the shelf" and will never love her enough to grant her independence; while George loves her for who she is. Lucy is moved but remains firm. Later that evening, after Cecil rudely declines again to play tennis, Lucy sours on Cecil and immediately breaks off her engagement. She decides to flee to Greece with friends, but shortly before her departure, she accidentally encounters Mr. Emerson. He is not aware that Lucy has broken her engagement with Cecil, and Lucy cannot lie to the old man. Mr. Emerson forces Lucy to admit out loud that she has been in love with his son George all along.
The novel ends in Florence, where George and Lucy have eloped without her mother's consent. Although Lucy "had alienated Windy Corner, perhaps for ever," the story ends romantically with the promise of lifelong love for both her and George.