It started my freshman year of high school. As a way to procrastinate studying for my first ever midterms, I decided as a study break I was going to read a book. I went into my father’s office which held our big family bookshelf and began to browse. For some reason E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View caught my eye. It is a mystery as to how that book wound up on the shelf as neither of my parents have read it or even seemed to remember procuring it. It is also a mystery as to why I was attracted to it in the first place. The cover was pretty nondescript and I had never heard of it before but the story sounded sweet and simple and the perfect cure for my built up study anxiety and the pressure I felt to perform on my first ever “big test.”
I was hooked after the first few lines. The book opens with Charlotte Bartlett’s lament: “The Signora had no business to do it,” said Miss Bartlett, “no business at all. She promised us south rooms with a view close together, instead of which here are north rooms, looking into a courtyard, and a long way apart. Oh, Lucy!”’ Somehow the fact that two ladies were given the wrong rooms on a trip to Florence and that seemed to be the biggest problem in their lives seemed perpetually more interesting than Algebra II.
I was pulled in by Lucy Honeychurch and the rules of propriety that cousin Charlotte imposed upon her. How ultimately at it’s heart, A Room With A View is about a young girl who is testing the boundaries and finding love that is a little unexpected but still falls into the realm of acceptability.
By the end I was completely enamoured by the British society novel. I loved that there was a world with concrete rules (even if all of my favorite characters pushed the boundaries or even broke them). I also loved that there were women writers and women characters that I could relate to, that wanted something more out of life and were willing to flout expectations, although they don’t usually push the envelope TOO much.
I didn’t read more immediately because I didn’t know what to read and when midterms had ended I didn’t feel the same intense desire to escape. By my senior year of high school, I was back to British literature and my world opened up. Even still I love a classic
British novel. I can read Jane Austen endlessly. I love the cultural clash between John Thornton and Margaret Hale in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. I have read and reread Jane Eyre, a novel that is somehow gothic horror, feminist, and traditionalist all rolled into one.
The British novel that takes place in the countryside and provides social commentary of a specific time can always relieve my stress and transport me out of my own world for a while. I learned this at 14 and at 32 it is still my go to stress relief, exemplified most recently when I read The Summer Before the War instead of grading research papers.