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181 "VACANT HEART AND HAND AND EYE": THE HOMOSEXUAL THEME IN A ROOM WITH A VIEW By Jeffrey Meyers (Tufts University) Like Howards End. A Room With A View (I9O8) is structured by a series of contrasting characters, settings and values which heighten the dramatic tension and enforce the theme. In the first novel the Schlegel-Wilcox opposition suggests a number of thematic polarities: feminine-masculine, culture-business, socialism -capitalism, country-city, tradition-change, private-public, intuition-calculation, homes-houses. In A Room With A View there are similar polarities: Emerson-Eager, George-Cecil, Lucy-Charlotte , Mrs. Honeychurch-Mrs. Vyse; Italy-England, Surrey-London; and classical-medieval, passion-intellect, instinct-convention, truth-lies, outdoor-indoor, sunlight-shadow. The views, music and violets are symbols of the first group while snobbery, hypocrisy and repression define the second.1 The one major character who does not fit into this somewhat schematic pattern is the Reverend Beebe, who unlike the other "fixed" characters, begins in the vital first group, changes radically and unexpectedly, and ends in the second rather morbid group. The interpretation of Beebe1s character represents a central critical question in the novel.2 Beebe is first presented in an entirely sympathetic light. He gently explains to Lucy and Charlotte the disinterested motives of the eccentric Mr. Emerson and smooths the way for Lucy to accept the room with a view. He is associated with music and pleasant memories, suggests a fine outing, and is so liberal and enlightened, so tolerant, sympathetic and goodhumored (in contrast to the pompous and priggish snob Reverend Eager) that Lucy happily exclaims,"No one would take him for a clergyman."3 The least attractive aspect of Beebe's personality Is his peculiar attitude toward women. "Girls like Lucy were charming to look at, but Mr. Beebe was, from rather profound reasons , somewhat chilly in his attitude towards the other sex, and preferred to be interested rather than enthralled" (p. 38), and when Charlotte irritated him at the Pensione he inwardly cursed the female sex. He tells Freddy in his ambiguous "funny way, when you never quite know what he means...1Mr. Vyse is an ideal bachelor ...he* s like me - better detached1" (p. 98), and Charlotte complains that neither Beebe nor Eager is "a real man!" (p. 89). The "Twelfth Chapter" (which like the central "Fourth Chapter" In Part I has no descriptive title) contains the naked bathing scene whose strong homosexual overtones explain Beebe's character. Before the swim begins Beebe gives a thinly veiled plea for homosexual love by categorically stating, "We despise the body less than women do. But not until we are comrades shall we enter the garden" of Eden (p. 146). This is a dominant Idea of Walt Whitman 182 whose considerable influence on Förster (and on D. H. Lawrence) goes far beyond "Passage to India." As Lawrence writes of Whitman , "The strange calamus has its pink-tinged root by the pond, and it sends up its leaves of comradeship, comrades from one root, without the intervention of woman, the female. So he sings of the mystery of manly love, the love of comrades. Over and over he says the same thing: the new world will be built on the love of comrades."^ An interesting analogue for Förster's bathing scene is the eleventh "sexion" of Whitman's "Song of Myself" in which the twenty-eight naked men, exposing their parts in the sun, are entirely self-contained and completely indifferent to the woman's passionate desires. Twenty-eight young men bathe by the shore, Twenty-eight young men and all so friendly Twenty-eight years of womanly life and all so lonesome. She owns a fine house by the rise of the bank, She hides handsome and richly drest aft the blinds of the window. Which of the young men does she like the best? Ah the homeliest of them is beautiful to her. Where are you off to, lady? for I see you, You splash in the water there, yet stay stock still in your room. Dancing and laughing along the beach came the twenty-ninth bather. The rest did not see her, but she saw them...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 181-192
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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