Is there a book that has made you do something you wouldn’t do otherwise? For me, it’s E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View. I went to Florence in 2013 because I promised myself I would—that was more than 20 years ago, when I first read the book and then watched the James Ivory movie of the same title.
Mind you, I’m married to an Italian-American; that’s reason enough for us to visit Italy. But we could have gone to Rome or Venice. Instead we headed to Tuscany.
A Room with a View, first published in 1908, is a novel about an English girl named Lucy Honeychurch, who falls in love during a trip to Florence and is transformed by her Italian experience. The book, set during the Edwardian era, is decidedly not E.M. Forster’s best. But falling in love, with a person or a book, has nothing to do with picking the best. It’s about the spark and the spontaneous connection. Well, it’s easy to fall in love with the novel’s characters, its joyously romantic world view, and its light-hearted spirit and humor.
Then there’s Italy. The book piqued my interest about the place, but the 1986 movie gave me a visceral impression that has stayed with me all these years. Italy is beautiful, but viewed through the camera lens of James Ivory, it’s unforgettable. The film’s cast was perfect. Who could forget the fresh-faced Helena Bonham-Carter, the uncharacteristically funny Daniel Day-Lewis, and the puckishly handsome (and nude) Julian Sands? Maggie Smith and Judi Dench lent their tremendous talents in supporting roles. All in all, the movie reinforced my affection for the book.
Making E.M. Forster’s Italy Mine
We didn’t stay in a pensione, but in a 17th century apartment with cathedral ceiling and very narrow and steep stairs. Like Lucy and her cousin, Charlotte Bartlett, we didn’t have a room with a view. But we only had to get out of the apartment, walk a few minutes, and voila—we were on a street along the Arno.
We strolled along the river at dusk in July, when the water was tranquil, the surrounding streets were surprisingly empty, and the hills in the distance were dotted with lights from houses and buildings. At that moment, it finally hit me: I was in Florence and I was enjoying the view of the Arno! It was magical. But the sight of a U.S. Army Jeep and soldiers on the premises of the U.S. Consulate reminded me that I was very far indeed from E.M. Forster’s Florence.
In A Room with a View, George Emerson kisses Lucy on a Fiesole hillside blanketed with violets. We didn’t go to Fiesole, but instead, we went to Siena and San Gimignano in the Chianti region. There were no violet-filled hills, but we saw an undulant Tuscan countryside lined with proud cypress trees and covered with glorious sunflowers.
Like E.M. Forster’s characters, we visited Santa Croce and we ogled Michelangelo’s David. We wandered in little alleys that had distinct Florentine smells. We lost ourselves in the beauty and exhilaration that were an inherent part of our Italian experience.
Sure, the hordes of tourists were annoying and the euro made everything exorbitant. But, hey, I was (and still am) in love with Italy, thanks to E.M. Forster. More than 100 years after A Room with a View was first published, it continues to delight and touch readers like me. Such is the power of a good book.
What about you? Is there a book or a movie that has affected you in a similar way? Share your experience in the comments section.
All photos by Vincent Fazzi.