Pattern and Rhythm - Only Connect!
By Kate Miller
According to E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel, “a work of fiction, like
a painting, possesses a pattern; contains a rhythm as a piece of music contains rhythm, and that is where beauty is to be found, where wholeness resides. ” Art can therefore be defined as observable recurring patterns and rhythms. Whether or not you understand Shakespeare, you can appreciate the beautiful rhythm in its iambic pentameter. Whether or not you appreciate a Jackson Pollack painting, you can sense the pattern in his art. A Room with a View, by E.M. Forster, and The Quiet American, by Graham Greene, both possess countless instances of pattern and rhythm, which contribute to their aesthetic beauty and wholeness, forcing readers to connect the dots and find meaning. In A Room with a View Charlotte’s interventions in the developing love between Lucy and George, as well as the circularity of the novel are prominent patterns, and Forster’s rhythm can be found in the repetition of views, stained glass, and crossing barriers. In The Quiet American patterns include flashbacks, the mystery structure of the novel, and the coupling of beauty and death, while rhythm is present in the recurrence of Pyle’s dog and glassless windows.
In A Room with a View various patterns force readers to trace their connections to understand the whole of the novel and draw meaning from the text. At the end of the novel George explains to Lucy how Charlotte’s interventions were the driving force behind their love. He reasons that it is possible, “That from the moment we met, she hoped, far down in her mind, that we should be like this – of course, very far down. That she fought us on the surface, and yet she hoped . . . Look how she kept me alive in you all summer, how she gave you no peace” (204). In retrospect, I have found numerous examples of Charlotte intervening on the lover’s behalf. She is present at their first kiss, and Lucy describes her as standing “brown against the view” (66). Although, as George points out in the final chapter, Charlotte did attempt to keep George and Lucy apart twice, once by rushing Lucy off to Rome, and then in aiding Lucy’s plan to go to Greece with the Misses Alans, in a closer second reading I discovered that Charlotte is actually the miracle that brought them together. During Lucy’s engagement, Charlotte continuously reminds her of the “incident” with George. She writes about George in a letter, discusses him with Lucy on several occasions, and unknowingly contributes to Miss Lavish’s romantic novel, based on Lucy and George. George further reasons that Charlotte knew that his father, Mr. Emerson, was at the church, where he succeeds in helping Lucy “see all things at once” (199) and accept her love for George. Lucy goes to the church because of Charlotte’s request, and through this request Charlotte gave the lovers a final chance at being together. Thus, throughout the novel, Charlotte’s love for Lucy is stronger than her sense of propriety, and therefore she is instrumental in ensuring that Lucy and George end up together.
Another important pattern is the cyclic structure of A Room with a View. The novel begins and ends in Italy, at the Bertolini Hotel. Furthermore, Lucy and George occupy a room with a view of the Arno River, which was the source of controversy in the opening chapter. This is significant because Lucy and George have both changed, and developed “views” of their own. It is also important to note that the novel beings and ends in the spring. Spring is a time of hope and rebirth. In the novel George and Lucy are in a sense, reborn. Lucy is, because she acquires a view, and George is, because he finds a new reason for living in Lucy. While in Italy Mr. Emerson wonders, “Do you suppose there is any difference between spring in nature and spring in a man?” (62). Just as nature is blooming with new life in spring, George and Lucy are as well. In the closing chapter of the novel it is also spring, and there is a sense of hope in the future, as well as the idea rebirth, because George and Lucy have eloped and are starting a new life together.
In A Room with a View rhythm is present in the repetition of symbols including views, stained glass, and crossing over barriers. It is up to Forster’s readers to decipher the meaning of the symbols, and to identify their importance to the work as a whole. Views are key in describing the nature of people in the novel. There are those that have views, such as Mr. Emerson and George, and those that don’t, such as Cecil. Mr. Emerson’s first words, introducing himself to Lucy as well as Forster’s readers are, “I have a view” (4), to which he adds, “This is my son . . . He has a view too” (4). While Mr. Emerson is referring to the view from his room’s window, the view Forster is implying is much bigger. Views in a room symbolize an understanding of the outside world. They recur throughout the novel. George remarks, “That men fall into two classes – those who forget views and those who remember them, even in small rooms” (154). He also comments that the only perfect view is, “The view of the sky straight over our heads” (154). Contrastingly, Cecil does not have a view. Lucy assimilates him with a drawing room “with no view” (104). At the beginning of A Room with a View Lucy and Charlotte do not have views either. Charlotte also lacks a view at Windy Gap, where she asks, “To be given an inferior spare room – one with no view” (138). According to Forster, the characters with views, George and Mr. Emerson, go against the social standards and beliefs of the era. Lucy acquires a view when she rebels against stereotypes and social barriers, breaking her engagement with Cecil, and admitting her love for George. Furthermore, the same view, from the Bertolini, bookends the novel. Lucy and Charlotte desire it in the first chapter, and Lucy and George share it in the end.
Another recurring symbol in the novel is stained glass. Stained glass represents an unclear or tainted view. The fact that churches often have stained glass is a key part of Forster’s commentary on religion. He implies that religion fragments life, dilutes it’s meaning, and offers no clarity. Mr. Emerson is agnostic, and he is the solitary character throughout the whole of the novel with a desire to live life to the fullest. He rejects the church’s teachings of sin and guilt, and believes that the meaning of life can be found only in loving another person. Furthermore, the drawing room at Windy Corner has “heavy curtains,” thus the “light that filtered through them was subdued and varied” (81). Following this description, Forster references the line from Shelley’s Adonis, “Life is like a dome of many-coloured glass.” Throughout A Room with a View the stained glass is synonymous with a muddled view of life, and a real view, a prefect view, can only be obtained in genuine, unfiltered light. Thus, Forster reminds us that we should attempt to see the world without the hindrance of religion and those who would impose their views on us.
A third symbol that is important to the rhythm of the novel is that of crossing over barriers. In the ninth chapter Lucy, Cecil, and Mrs. Honeychurch discuss fences, which represent the social barriers of the time. Cecil remarks that there are “immoveable barriers” (95) between himself and people of a lower class. Comparatively, Lucy later contemplates that while it may not be possible to knock down social barriers, “you can jump over them” (108) just as you would jump over fences. Tennis is also a metaphor for crossing barriers. The ball crossing over the net is symbolic. As is the fact the Cecil “does not play tennis – at least, not in public” (95), while Lucy and George do. Unsurprisingly, George comments that he is “not bad” (151) at tennis, because he is, of course, the most willing at that point to cross social barriers. Through the use of symbols, including views, stained glass, and crossing barriers, Forster urges his readers to search for hidden meanings in the text, and develop wider, more meaningful views themselves.
Graham Greene’s The Quiet American is also aesthetically dependent on patterns and rhythms. One of the main patterns is the structure of the novel itself. The Quiet American’s plot elements are arranged similar to those of a procedural mystery. First, the question that drives the novel is established. In the opening chapter we learn that an American, Pyle, has been murdered, and the mystery is who has killed him. Later, Fowler, the narrator, and the French chief of police, Vigot, discuss who might have killed Pyle. They name a number of possible suspects, including the Vietminh, the Vietnamese police, the Caodaists, the Hao-Haos, the French police, or even Fowler himself. Towards the end of the novel Vigot comments about Pyle’s death explaining, “I find it interesting, like a detective-story” (162). Through Vigot’s comment Greene reminds his readers that the novel is a mystery, and that they must become invested in it as detectives, piecing together various clues and searching for answers. The use of Fowler’s flashbacks further add to the mystery structure because they tend to reveal clues about Pyle’s character, and who might have been motivated to kill him. At the end of the novel the mystery is solved, and we learn that Fowler did in fact play a large role in the murder of Pyle. The novel’s form is based on Fowler’s stream of consciousness. Granted it is organized and controlled, but it vacillates unhindered between the present to Fowler’s recollections of the past. In the first chapter, Fowler identifies Pyle’s body at the morgue, thus it is the last time he will ever see him. In the immediately following chapter Fowler recounts the first time he ever saw Pyle. This mathematically precise pattern is visible throughout the whole of the novel. Not only does it enhance the mystery, but it also forces the reader to pay close attention to recognize the changes in Fowler’s character.
Another pattern visible throughout The Quiet American is the presence of beauty and life in tandem with death. Rather than being reassuring, Greene’s descriptions of beautiful scenery and peaceful silence are terrifying, because they foreshadow death. While reporting on events in Phat Diem, Fowler describes the silence of the soldiers shortly before they entered a “canal full of bodies” (43). He explains that Phat Diem, “had been the most living town in all the country and now. . . it was the most dead” (39). Fowler describes the landscape of the picturesque Red River from a B.26 Bomber, citing that, “at this hour it was really red. . . as though one had gone back in time and saw it with the old geographer’s eye who had named it first.” (140). Seconds after this beautiful description the plane releases bombs that undoubtedly result in countless deaths and unfathomable destruction. After there is a bombing in the market place of Saigon, Fowler graphically depicts the scene of a Vietnamese woman holding her dead and disfigured baby. He points out that, “She was still and silent, and what struck me most in the square was the silence” (154). These examples of silence and beauty are offset by death. Perhaps Greene’s intention with this pattern was to point out how closely death and life are intertwined, and how quickly life or beauty can be destroyed.
In The Quiet American Greene also uses the repetition of symbols to construct the rhythm of the novel. One of the recurring symbols is Pyle’s dog. Pyle’s dog, a black chow, which Fowler describes as “a too black dog” (20), is also missing at the beginning of the novel. A parallel mystery to Pyle’s murder is the mystery of what happened to his dog. Fowler sarcastically suggests to Vigot that the mystery of Pyle’s murder could be solved by analyzing, “the earth on its [the dogs] paws” (20). Ironically, after the dog is found dead, Vigot does find a clue from on its paws. He explains to Fowler that “it stepped on cement” (162), and that there has been construction outside Fowler’s apartment since Pyle’s death. Thus, he concludes that Fowler saw Pyle on the night of his death, although he previously claimed he did not. The last time Fowler saw Pyle alive, was the night of his murder, and his dog was in fact with him. Perhaps Greene chose to use the dog as a symbol in reference to the story Silver Blaze, in which Sherlock Holmes solves the mystery of a stolen horse by observing that the guard dog does not bark. Holmes concludes that the thief was not a stranger, but someone with whom the dog was familiar. Similarly, Fowler, a friend of Pyle, aided in his murder, and the dog bears witness.
Just as A Room with a View used stained glass in reference to religion, Fowler discusses the absence of glass in Vietnam. He first draws his readers’ attention to the glassless windows in the Cathedral at the annual Caodaist festival in Tanyin. He describes the building as, “a cage for air with holes. . . and a man makes a cage for religion in much the same way – with doubts left open to the weather and creeds opening on innumerable interpretations” (79). Fowler goes on to explain that, “My wife had found her cage with holes, and sometime I envied her” (79). His wife’s “cage with holes” is Christianity. Near the end of the novel Fowler has dinner at a restaurant that also lacks glass windows. He explains that, “There were no window-panes, for fear of shattered glass” (174). Thus, the absence of glass is reassuring in a time of war and continual bombings. A faith without holes or doubts seems logically strong, however Fowler does not believe in God, therefore this type of faith does not exist in his mind. Just as stained glass represents the shortcomings of religion in A Room with a View, perhaps the absence of glass represents the openness to doubt and interpretation to which every religion is beholden.
In Howard’s End, another novel by E.M. Forster, he urges readers to, “Only connect!. . . Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height.” It is the task of readers to find the patterns and rhythm in literature, to seek out the art, beauty, and meaning. It doesn’t matter that Beethoven’s 5th Symphony has a recurring rhythm if a listener does not hear it. If you can’t observe rhythm, it will not exist for you. Only once you are able to connect the patterns and the rhythms in A Room with a View and The Quiet American, will their aesthetic beauty be visible. In Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations Joe explains the importance of making connections in everything we read. Although Joe himself only knows a few letters, he explains, “When you do come to a J and O, and says you, ‘Here, at last is a J-O, Joe,’ how interesting reading is! ” Meaning can only be found when readers are willing to pull out important patterns and rhythms and connect them. I remember the first time I saw a Jackson Pollack painting. At first I examined it at close range, inch by inch, and it appears to be nothing but a chaotic jumble of paint splatters. But then, when I stepped back, I realized each line and each layer is part of a larger pattern. The chaos became order. When I read those lines in Howard’s End I draw advice that not only pertains to observing the rhythms and patterns in art, but those in life. “Only connect!. . . Live in fragments no longer. Only connect. . .” Only once we connect will we be able to see beauty in anything, and only then will we be complete.
© Kate Miller