A Room with a View was published in 1908. It was one of Forster's earliest novels, and it has become one of his most famous and popular. E.M. Forster was twenty-nine at the time of publication; two earlier novels, Where Angels Fear to Tread and...
A Passage to India arose from his friendship with individual Indians and from his visits to India. During one, he became private secretary to the Maharajah of Dewas – but he wanted to know Indian people and life rather than the tea parties and bridge games of the British people living in India. In the main character, Dr Aziz, Forster brilliantly creates a character from a different civilisation from his own.
George Eliot, who was so moved by this letter that she wished she could remove “the iron mask of my incognito” in order to tell Dickens how much she appreciated his words, read so widely and extensively that her membership of The London Library was something of a necessity. Her essay, completes the section on writing. Unlike Virginia Woolf, who offered only gentle advice, George Eliot is unequivocal in her declaration that writers have an obligation to produce works of the best quality that will benefit others. She states that a writer of merely entertaining and profitable works
“I have observed what seem to me to be such womanly touches, in those moving fictions, that the assurance on the title-page is insufficient to satisfy me, even now. If they originated with no woman, I believe that no man ever before had the art of making himself, mentally, so like a woman, since the world began.”
But he also shares his views on the atmospheres of different kinds of libraries, the ideal bookcases and furniture, his habits when it comes to buying and borrowing books, and the changing character of literature through the ages. The essay is in essence a love letter to the most important objects in his life:
“a sort of Caliban who lives at the farm, and acts as boatman and interpreter. The Norwegian Tourist Club has done so much for the path that I would suggest its doing a little more. A small pension conditional on Caliban’s removal elsewhere would be money well spent.”
In the summer of 1881 a twenty five year old Edward Stanford, son of the founder of the great travel bookshop, sailed around Norway with five companions in the ‘Snark’, a small boat designed by them and helpfully named after Lewis Carroll’s :
However well-intentioned Day and his fellow writers on etiquette may have been their books made easy targets for the pen of the author who would later invent a world where those hosting tea parties had appalling table manners!
Cameron joined the Library in 1856, being nominated by her son-in-law Henry Thoby Prinsep. The association between the Cameron family and the London Library travels through several generations, from her sister Sara’s influential Kensington salon at Little Holland House, to the Bloomsbury circle. At Little Holland House Cameron socialised and formed friendships with many of the scientists, writers, poets and painters she later photographed. Charles Darwin, John Herschel, Henry Taylor, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Anthony Trollope, W.E.H. Lecky, Robert Browning, John Ruskin, Alfred Tennyson and the Prinseps’ artist in residence, George Frederick Watts all sat for portraits by her. Her work reflects the richness of 19th century culture and the diverse circle amongst whom she moved. Like her son-in-law Leslie Stephen, in his editorship of the Dictionary of National Biography and the “Hall of Fame” portraits of George Frederick Watts, Cameron chronicled the influential men of her day. In little more than a decade she produced some of the most compelling portraits of the Victorian age and her work has subsequently fuelled more exhibitions and publications than any other 19th century photographer.
A famous reader was so struck by these social manuals that he was moved to write a little parody. A 17 year old Lewis Carroll wrote his own ; in 1849 and it is included in our volume. In just nine brief rules he manages to poke fun at the absurdity and faddishness of some rules:
At The London Library we firmly believe in keeping the vast majority of our books on the open shelves for our members to discover and enjoy. However, a few treasures are kept under lock and key. One of these is the collection of ca. 5,000 pamphlets bequeathed by Sir Claude Montefiore and the three titles contained in come from this collection.
To a 21st century reader this little book will seem not just dated but almost completely alien and much of its advice is today nothing short of hilariously ridiculous yet precisely because society has changed so much it provides a rare view of a world we would otherwise not be able to understand. Books on etiquette, of which this is a fine and at times very witty example, have captured the social protocol and attitudes of their times in a way that help us imagine and understand the past. Day is still decoding for us just as he decoded for his humbler contemporaries. His books on etiquette are not only revealing, today they are also extremely amusing. But to the right, or perhaps the wrong, reader they were always a great source of amusement.
Day’s main reason for helping a newly-prosperous and bewildered class may have been financial but he claimed to have been moved by a genuine desire to help: