It is always difficult to talk about our favourite book: we could be considered too romantic, too naive or even not deep enough if we like something too childish or a cutting-edge best-seller.
As far as my personal experience is concerned, when I say that my favourite book is A Room with a View by the English author Edward Morgan Forster I might in a way be considered a little bit ‘nationalist’, as the story at the very beginning deals with the city of Florence where the main characters meet for the first time. But there is much more than this: the books is at once a mixture of different genres in less than 200 pages: ‘coming-of-age’ novel, romantic story, and even touristic guide in a way, and it can be easily read for the enjoyable way it is written.
Apart from this consideration, there is no doubt, indeed, that in Forster’s work Italy is a symbol more than a real country, as it is perceived as a place where people are free: for the main protagonist Lucy Honeychurch, freedom is metaphorically the chance of ‘looking outside a window’, that is escaping from the rigid rules of a declining Victorian society, and especially from the exhausting ‘tutoring’ of her cousin Charlotte.
Italy represents the place of growing up: Lucy’s sojourn gives her ‘hear and eyes’ (to quote Wordsworth when he talks about his sister) because the beauty that surrounds her is experienced without being analyzed, gets under her skin at the point of being felt and not passively acquired. Indeed Florence, for his artistic history and his picturesque surroundings, is the perfect place for the ‘coming-of-age’ process: Lucy starts to appreciate the inner essence of the city, its colours and its scents as ‘every city has its own smell’ (Forster 1908: 16) only when she decides to wander and fully experience this unique opportunity without being taught and told what to think or say. That is why, when she lets beauty affect her, that she finds love and happiness.
I really appreciated the fact that some characters are the spokesmen of the author’s view regarding tourism in general: what they say is that a country must be lived to be fully experience, not only looked at as if it was a picture, it must be ‘felt on the skin’, as Lucy does: ‘instead of acquiring information she began to be happy’ (Forster 1908: 20). That is true for every country, and in this ‘Consumeristic Era’ we sometimes tend to forget the real purpose of travelling.
Actually what amazed me most was the fact that Forster enables even Italian people to look at themselves with different eyes, as the country is described as a source of light and beauty: not only the people living in Florence are depicted as open and social, but also the landscapes (such as Fiesole’s hills) have ‘blue grounds and golden skies’ (Forster 1908: 71). Furthermore, metaphorically the source of light comes not only from the sun, but from the realization of the character about themselves. That is why the book, in a perfect circular path, opens and closes in Florence, as if stating that it is important to keep in mind what makes us free.
Personally, living in Tuscany I have always given all the shades of the sky and the ground for granted, as well as people’s attitude, but looking at them through someone else’s eyes I can’t help wondering how could someone from a different country have such an insight of a culture and let Italian themselves appreciate the wonders of their own country.
Tuscany: discovering Valdichiana valley
Italy is younger than you think!