Lucy Honeychurch is a young woman; vulnerable, delicate, strong and obstinate all at once, encompassing strong traits of an Austenesque character. Her mother has taught her all that she ought to know about society; her place within it as a young woman, as a wife and most importantly, an awareness of how one is in accordance to men. Lucy desires to be equal with men but finds herself pulled back by her initial beliefs as Cecil believes himself to be the modern man, but it only takes a moment or two to realise that there hasn’t been any true advancement in thought as he too wants women to think and act the way that he desires.
E.M.Forster (1879-1970) was a member of the Bloomsbury group, although not a central figure, he was of the same mindset, it was said that, “…his respect for nonconformity, his belief in the sanctity of the individual and his love of rural traditions, of art, the inner life and personal relations all gave him an essential accord with Bloomsbury”. Forster famously burnt his trousers in Monk’s house, the home of Virginia Woolf whilst trying to dry them; “I like Forster very much, though I find him whimsical and vagalous to an extent that frightens me with my own clumsiness and definiteness,” Woolf wrote.
Forster’s preoccupation and worries around individual right and the importance of equality between sexes deepens and expands throughout the text. He tries to move away from the desperate and strict thoughts and ideals of Victorian England held by the likes of Mrs Honeychurch, Miss Bartlett and Cecil by breathing modernism and movement by heart through the Emersons and even Mr Beebe who wants only the best for Lucy who is young and has become caught between two ways of being. Forster also draws up characters such as Miss Lavish, a novelist who tries desperately to be sensational, and acts out of free will, yet there is something confining about her. Forster makes it abundantly clear; that everything must come naturally, nothing can be forced or faked.
Breaking away is not easy however, we witness this as we watch Lucy bumble and stumble between two clashing worlds. Both Lucy & her aunt do and say not what they truly believe or instinct, but by what society approves, they are always in turn obligated to doing what is right by societies’ standards. Lucy’s first attempts to break away are quashed by her very self, “…she was accustomed to have her thoughts confirmed by others or, at all events, contradicted’ it was too dreadful not to know whether she was thinking right or wrong.” As she takes one step forward, we watch her two steps back straight after, the seed of individualism and self-belief is planted but we are destined to wait and find out what will aid its growth.
Forster’s writing is all-consuming as we glide and fall directly into a world which appears old, yet so appropriate to today. We discover that certain aspects of life have not moved on as much as one would have hoped. I found myself laughing out loud and goading certain characters to get a move on, that was the impact of such a novel.
Amongst strong themes of public versus private and free will versus the collective, what we learn quite rapidly is that men are just as sensitive as women and just as susceptible to the call and claim of love. Once forced barriers are pushed away and trodden upon, we discover that sex is mere biology and Mr Beebe is right when he says; “Does it seem reasonable that she should play so wonderfully and live so quietly? I suspect that one day she will be wonderful in both. The waters-tight compartments in her will break down, and music and life will mingle.”