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155 FORSTER'S ARNOLDIAN COMEDY: HEBRAISM, HELLENISM, AND A ROOM WITH A VIEW By Michael L. Ross (McMaster University) In an essay of 1944, E. M. Forster described Matthew Arnold as "of all the Victorians most to my taste: a great poet, a civilized citizen , and a prophet who has managed to project himself into our present troubles, so that when we read him now he seems to be in the room."1 Forster's taste for Arnold dates back to the early years of his career, and its formative influence has not gone unnoticed by critics. Wilfred Stone, quoting Forster's tribute, comments : "Forster is deeply in Arnold's debt. Arnold's words again and again become Forster's, and the notion of a general and harmonious expansion is the very heart of Forster's esthetic ideal. Both are humanists, both are self-divided; Arnold more than any other Victorian helps us grasp Forster's dialectic of experience." Among Förster's works, Howards End (I9IO) has been singled out as eminently Arnoldian in conception and bearing.3 But Arnold's presence is, I believe, equally felt in another of Forster's "rooms": the novel A Room with a View (I908). It is true that Arnold's analysis in Culture and Anarchy of the English class structure, and its relation to the new industrial and commercial society, bears less directly on the earlier novel than on the later one. Yet if A Room with a View is less obviously concerned with the "condition of England," it is all the more concerned with the condition of Englishness. Arnold's appraisal of English cultural tendencies, and in particular his celebrated dichotomy between "Hebraism" and "Hellenism," are closely connected with the assortment of "views" we are given in Forster's novel. In what follows, I will attempt to show how this connection applies to Forster's treatment, in the book, of his characters, of Italy, and of Italian art; and also, how Forster's "dialectic of experience," though it parallels Arnold's, modifies and in some ways contradicts it. In Culture and Anarchy, Arnold repeatedly draws on Swift's metaphor of "sweetness and light" to signify "the central and happy idea of the essential character of human perfection^" an idea whose discovery he attributes to the ancient Greeks. It is, I think, no coincidence that the name Forster was to settle on for his heroine in A Room with a View - Lucy Honeychurch - concisely embodies Arnold 's pair of watchwords. Not that Lucy's actual personality, as we perceive it, can be said to exemplify any "essential character of human perfection"; rather, her name suggests an envisioned ideal toward which she herself only gradually progresses, as she proceeds on a lengthy and often backtracking journey away from "darkness" and into the "light."5 156 It is unlikely that Forster's initial conception of Lucy as a character , or of his "Lucy novel" as a whole, was inspired by his reading of Arnold. The book developed over a number of years along paths of its own, and certainly not as a direct and deliberate response to Arnold's or any other writer's ideas. Yet Culture and Anarchy provides a singularly illuminating context within which to read A Room with a View; and a careful study of the novel suggests that Forster must have been conscious of Arnold's relevance to his cast of characters and their actions. Lucy's name is only one token among many of the novel's close involvement with Arnold's thought, and with Victorian frames of mind in general. The "portraits of the late Queen and the late Poet Laureate" that decorate the dining room of the Pension Bertolini help immediately to establish the ethical and cultural climate that prevails there, and that is encountered repeatedly throughout the story. Arnold's magisterial analysis of mid-Victorian assumptions was familiar enough to Förster to serve him as a precedent for his own satire of Edwardian propriety and convention; yet, as will be seen, Forster implicitly challenges the precedent even while incorporating it into his fiction . We must therefore be wary of assuming, as Stone does, a near...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 155-167
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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