Symbolism and narrative

A Room with A View
Chpt 4: Symbolism and
Sequence of events
• Structurally, the novel consists of a series
of encounters where Lucy confronts
different people like the Emersons or Mr
Beebe severally or individually.
• Each encounter forces Lucy to reassess
herself, her values and ideas.
• The novel follows a pattern of education
by having her come to terms with the
experience and ideas of those she meets.
This pattern is repeated throughout the
• One of the most significant
encounters is:
• When Lucy leaves the pension agst
the advice of Beebe and Miss Alan
and enters the Piazza Signoria and
faints after witnessing a murder –
crime of passion => unpremeditated
• The chpt begins and ends with music. ‘River Arno
…whose roar..unexpected melody to her ears’
• From previous chpt 3, Beethoven has rendered
her restless and she is discontented.
• Music is a means of releasing the unconscious
and of knowing one's desires.
• Lucy has been led to live by convention and not
trust her instincts.
• She is full of energy, vitality and natural charm
but this is repressed by excessive middle-class
• Her only outlet is her music.
Lucy’s music
• Opus 111(from sonata 32) – played at Tunbridge
Wells – described by music critics as a piece
where “variations explode as if Beethoven were
some jazzman of the future, breaking the walls of
• Technically challenging piece
• Lucy’s taste is distinct yet ‘troubles’ her – it
creates a “muddle” in her consciousness
• The fact that Lucy chooses complexity over
simple conformity suggests a ‘hidden’ passion
– “Passion was there, but it could not be easily labelled; it
slipped between love and hatred and jealousy…” (p28)
• This slight incident is resonant with
symbolism around which the rest of the
book is built.
• The major symbol is the Piazza itself, and
this is extended by the symbols of water,
blood, Neptune and Venus, light and
• Lucy steps into the Piazza prepared,
without knowing it, for the shattering, at
least temporarily, of the shell of
repression she has built up around
• Inspired by Beethoven's music,
• she does not feel like a passive medieval
lady but rather like a questing knight:
• “She too is enamoured of heavy winds,
and vast panoramas, and green expanses
of the sea. She has marked the kingdom of
this world, how full it is of wealth, and
beauty… (p. 37)
• Yet this is ‘the ideal to which she is bidden
to lift her eyes when feeling serious’ p38
• She is not presented very attractively
here. Much of the narrative
perspective is from her point of view
but the narrator also uses detached
irony to gently mock her naivety.
• Eg ‘though she had spent 7lire, the
gates of liberty seemed still
unopened’ p38
• Desirous of beauty and liberty she has
purchase some photographs of famous
paintings. But they fail to lift up her spirits.
Conscious of the grandeur and promise of
Art, she has yet to appreciate their
meaning and power.
• She continues to seek ‘second hand
experiences through reproductions of art’
• Forster values direct experience - often
profoundly human experience on a grand
scale - over limited and edited accounts of
• She complains self-pityingly that there is no
drama in her life.
• Irony is there are ‘marvels’ before her eyes. BUT
The contents have grown fairly familiar and hence
engendered a measure of contempt.p38
• Lucy is too locked up in herself to see it. Narrator
implies a more experienced person might be
impressed but not Lucy she desired more.
• Lucy – young and impressionable is selfabsorbed => all around her are some of the
greatest works of Art – hands, minds - but they
are not enough for her.
• Foster’s description => emphasizes the ‘wonder’
of the place but Lucy fails to see or feel it’s
splendour. The shadows cast are as much by her
low spiritis as they are by the low sun
• The initial description of the Piazza suggests its
dream-like character as a place of release and the
surfacing of the irrational and the sensual: The
great square was in shadow; the sunshine had
come too late to strike it. Neptune was already
unsubstantial in the twilight, half god, half ghost,
and his fountain plashed dreamily to the men and
satyrs who idled together in its marge.
• The Loggia showed as the triple entrance of a
cave, wherein dwelt many a deity, shadowy, but
im- mortal, looking forth upon the arrivals and
departures of mankind. It was the hour of
unreality-the hour, that is, when unfamiliar things
are real. (p. 48)
• Lucy’s desire for something more is not
slaked but heightened by what she sees.
• Narrator’s description verges on the
romantic poetic. – fountain ‘plashed’
dreamily and Neptune is unsubstantial ;
‘half God, half-ghost ’=> atmosphere is
threatening , majestic and mystery.
• Foster sums up the mood as ‘the hour of
unreality’ stressing the heightening of the
poetic language in the description.
• The environment begins to speak to Lucy
at a deeper level. ‘pernicious charm’ c/r
Chpt 2
• The sexual connotations of the square are
almost explicit in its character as a "cave"
and with the tower of the palace, "which
rose out of the lower darkness like a pillar
of roughened gold.
• It seemed no longer a tower, no longer
supported by earth but some unattainable
treasure throbbing in the tranquil sky". (p.
• More than an inanimate object, it represents a
throbbing and dancing life-force.
• There is a play on the obvious sexual symbolism
of the pillar as a phallic symbol..
• Lucy senses without understanding the forces
that might take hold of her and translate her into
a new plane of being.
• The tower thus expresses Lucy’s anticipation of a
world of emotional and sexual intensity to which
she is still a stranger.
Water and Blood
• The presiding deity of this locale is Neptune, in the midst
of a fountain. Lucy's excursion has been prompted by a
rainy afternoon which has driven her to the piano and
which has left her restless and dissatisfied. Venus, too, in
the photograph Lucy buys, is depicted rising from the
• Water and blood, Neptune and Venus, are linked in the
stream of red blood that emerges from the dying man's
lips and mysteriously lands on Lucy's photographs of the
naked Venus.
• Venus spattered with blood is an appropriate symbolic
extension of the violation of Lucy's naked but imprisoned
self momentarily liberated: "She thought that she, as well
as the dying man, had crossed some spiritual boundary"
(p. 50).
• When Lucy moves into "the lower
darkness" as she enters the Piazza,
she moves into the darkness, as if to
be immersed in water => suggests
dissolving boundaries and freeing
the sensual and irrational self.
• [Lucy's very name means "light"
The murder
• The Narrative perspective is mainly that of
• The man bends towards he with ‘a look of
interest’ as she perceives it –failing to understand
the reason and she feels he has a message for
her, then the trickle of blood streaming from his
mouth reveals the truth of the situation.
• It leads us to feel with vividness Lucy’s
incomprehension, horror and sense of
• The casual spectacle, the trivial argument –her
failure to understand the meaning of the
murdered man’s looks. The repeated word: ‘what
have I done’ to express her experience of fainting.
• Here finally is the experience of Italy she has
been waiting for – a true ‘adventure’ but it is more
brutal and infinitely less amusing than she could
have thought.
• The reality and the mundanity of it is suggested
in the detail ‘unshaven chin’ over which the blood
• There is a strange combination of the
commonplace and the exceptional. Lucy’s exp
and its inconsequentiality is expressed in the
words ; ‘that was all.’
• YET the simple event is transformed when a
‘crowd rose from the dusk’ like an army of
elemental souls rising from the depths to claim
one of their own. – suggesting that Lucy’s exp
has been with the fundamental of human
• In an odd and vivid slide of perception, the
murdered Italian is replaced by George. Clearly
there is a confrontation with death and love
• She retreats quickly when confronted by George
– from ‘nothing ever happens to me’ to ‘what have
I done’ –
• Lucy is beginning to recognize an involvement
and responsibility for her world.
• She is no longer just a tourist but more of an
• The intrusion of reality into her world finds
symbolic representation in the spattering
of blood over her photographs.
• Characteristic of Foster’s style – the
theatrical effectiveness of combining the
casual with the sensational and a careful
rendering of multiple perceptions.
Attempted Rejection of experience
• After Lucy faints in the square, she
absently pretends not to see the hand
George holds out "to pull her up": her
feigned indifference makes "the whole
world [seem] pale and void of its original
meaning," a ghostly and insubstantial
parody of itself that is devoid of value (39).
• It is a denial of reality and experience.
• She also insists on him keeping silent –
trying to appeal to his ‘chivalry’
Attempted Rejection of experience
• Her willingness to set aside her
experience can be seen in her
acceptance of the photographs being
washed away.
• Yet the ‘music’ of the Arno –
continues to play in her ear!
Final thoughts:
• The encounter=> is an initiation into the
wonders and perils of passionate
sexuality as well as cruelty and death.
Lucy begins to feel this.
• Lucy's choice after this scene is either to
allow herself to be absorbed and
transformed by the experience or to reject
it, and for the greater part of the novel she
chooses the latter option because of her
fear of the messiness of blood, sexuality,
and impractical passion.
• In this encounter, in juxtapositioning
architechure, statuary and murder,
Foster put Lucy in the context that
sets the works of civilization and art
against the claims of passion and
nature. This raises the Qn of art in
the human E+ and the relationship
betw art and life.
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