Friday, December 12, 2008

A Room With A View, The New York Times and Travel Guides

So I saw this article in the New York Times about using E.M. Forster's A Room With A View as a guide to exploring Florence. L and I will be visiting Florence during the holidays, and because using A Room With A View as a guide book sounds sooo cool, I got myself a copy of the Penguin Modern Classics version from the English bookstore around the corner and started to read.

My only exposure to E.M. Forster prior to reading this book was the 1980s version of A Passage to India which was immensely watchable, though sort of sentimental. Unlike other books from the early twentieth century, I found this book surprisingly light in style, and refreshingly free from a palpable attempt at self-importance. It's also a great love story, absent the "chick lit" ending. I've been trying to find an essay that E.M Forster wrote in the New York Times sometime in the 1950s to commemorate the 50th year of the book's publication, but so far I haven't been able to find it online (any leads will be much appreciated!).

My version of the book came with - yay! - footnotes, which described the places that Lucy Honeychurch wandered through. I compared the list of places mentioned in the book and my "Rough Guide to Florence", and not surprisingly, the places where Lucy Honeychurch complained about awful tourists are still listed among the Guide's "Must See's". In fact, a few days before I started reading the book, I made reservations (upon the recommendation of Wikitravel and other travel guides) to stay at a hotel near the Church of Santa Croce, which Lucy Honeychurch first visits. Guide books are thrilled about it. Rough Guide says:

"Santa Croce has long served as the national pantheon: the walls and nave floor are lined with the monuments to more than 270 illustrious Italians..."; "the two chapels on the right of the chancel are entirely covered with frescoes by Giotto."

1000 Places to See Before You Die is also ebullient:

"Built by the Franciscans between 1294 and 1442 but with a 19th century facade, cavernous Santa Croce is a chockablock with 14th century frescoes and the tombs of famous Florentines..."

But then Lucy Honeychurch/E.M. Forster had this to say about it:

"A black and white facade of surpassing ugliness"; "how like a barn"; "how very cold".

Heh.

I take comfort in the fact that, in spite of all that has been said and written, L and I, like Lucy Honeychurch, can always rely on the theory that too much information might ruin the experience, and we hope that "...the pernicious charm of Italy work(s) on (us), and, instead of acquiring information, (we will) beg(i)n to be happy." 


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