I can’t leave A Room with a View without revisiting one of my favorite scenes from both the novel and the movie: “In Santa Croce with no Baedeker.” Lucy Honeychurch finds herself unaccompanied in the grand church of Santa Croce. Even worse, she has no guidebook. A Baedeker–the equivalent of a Rick Steves guide–would tell her what to see, and how to see it. From the novel A Room with a View by E.M. Forster:
She walked about disdainfully, unwilling to be enthusiastic over monuments of uncertain authorship or date. There was no one even to tell her which, of all the sepulchral slabs that paved the nave and transepts, was the one that was really beautiful, the one that had been most praised by Mr. Ruskin.
Then the pernicious charm of Italy worked on her, and, instead of acquiring information, she began to be happy.
But just when she’s beginning to enjoy herself, the dreaded Mr. Emerson and his handsome but impertinent son George appear. They were baffling enough at dinner the night before:
And Mr. Emerson insists on talking to her in a most alarming way:
I don’t require you to fall in love with my boy, but I do think you might try and understand him…. Make him realize that by the side of the everlasting Why there is a Yes!
Of course what Lucy needs is to learn to say “Yes!” herself.
Santa Croce is a Franciscan church, so it is no accident that E.M. Forster places his characters here. The author wants his stuffy Victorian English characters to unwind in the warmth and charm of Italy. St. Francis is the very warmest and friendliest of saints. Mr. Forster’s characters can well use the directness, humility and freshness of the beloved saint. So, of course, together they look at the glorious Giotto frescoes of the life and death of St. Francis:
In 2010, frescoes of Giotto were “rediscovered” under centuries of neglect and old paint. As far as I can tell, they’re been left alone so far. But there’s a BBC video showing them under ultraviolet light at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8556930.stm.
Surely we’re all a little like Lucy in Santa Croce: instead of constantly acquiring information, we can just look around us and be happy. And surely great art can help make us happy.
Join me next time for more explorations of the art and history of Europe, with some sidetracks into literature too!