Travelling with E.M.Forster

The following article first appeared in The Independent newspaper in March 2016.

On my first visit to Italy I was 13. It was on a Schools Abroad trip, on which we spent a night in the port of Brindisi, where I and my fellow schoolmates were sexually harassed by scary sailors, made sick by the stink of diesel and where nothing could have been further from the Italy of Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson. The next time I went to Italy I was about to go to university – I was in love with life, in love with travelling, in love with love and more than ready to fall in love with the Italy I knew from the works of E M Forster. It is a love affair that has never ended.

The British Institute in Florence, Italy, displaying copies of my book Moustaches, Whiskers & Beards - Facial Hair in Art.
The British Institute in Florence, Italy, displaying copies of my book Moustaches, Whiskers & Beards – Facial Hair in Art.

I first read A Room with a Viewat the age of 14 – and have continued to do so, on a regular basis, ever since. I turn to it whenever I need comfort reading; it’s the literary equivalent of hot buttery mashed potato on a miserably cold day. Despite having read it so many times, I seem to discover something new each time I read it.

Lights on the River Arno, in Florence, Italy, at night.
Lights on the River Arno, in Florence, Italy, at night.

The first time I visited Florence, I felt I knew it already. Seeing the Arno and knowing this was the same river on which Lucy, Charlotte and the Emersons also gazed, gave me a thrill of connection to a past age. In 2015 I gave a talk on my biography of Princess Louise at the British Institute in Florence. Stepping into the building, on the banks of the Arno, was to enter a world where nothing seemed to have changed since Princess Louise’s time (incidentally, a woman whom Forster knew). I felt as though I’d stepped into the Florence the Rev Eager would recognise, and was sure I could discern some of his “flock” in the audience.

There are so many books one should never re-read: books that spoke soulfully to your younger self seldom work when read again (most notably, for me, Paolo Coelho’s By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept).A Room With A View, however, has entertained me at all stages of my life so far. Wherever I’ve travelled, I’ve encountered Forster’s characters. In Jordan, I could discern Mr Beebe and Mr Emerson visiting the temples of Petra. Last year I was in Norway when I saw a family sit down for a picnic – and they actually possessed “mackintosh squares”. I have visited churches, temples and mosques all over the world and have lost count of the times I have been informed “this was built by faith”, to which I always intone in my mind Mr Emerson’s words: “Built by faith indeed! That simply means the workmen weren’t paid properly.” So far, I have managed to prevent myself from saying it out loud. I hope E M Forster would smirk a wry smile at that.

3 February 2021 horizontal rule

Dickens & Zoom

Can you spot my big blue Charles Dickens book getting pride of place in this BBC video? I’m very proud! The updated version is available from the online giftshop at The Charles Dickens Museum and all good bookshops. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/entertainment-arts-55861947

Book jacket for 'Charles Dickens' by Lucinda Dickens Hawksley
1 February 2021 horizontal rule

1 December: Dickens’s Lost Portrait

This portrait of Charles Dickens was painted at the exact time he was writing A Christmas Carol, in 1843 – and then lost for almost 175 years. Join me to discover what was happening in Dickens’s life while he was working on his most famous Christmas book. I’ll also tell you about the talented female artist who painted his portrait and how she helped to inspire his writing. Fnd out the remarkable story behind the “lost portrait”, how it was re-discovered and how it can help us understand the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim.

The talk is taking place at 6pm UK time, and is joinable from all over the world. Tickets are on sale via Eventbrite, but the event will be on Zoom.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/begin-your-festive-season-with-dickenss-great-great-great-granddaughter-tickets-129469267063

The Lost Portrait: portrait of Charles Dickens, painted by Margaret Gillies in 1843, exhibited in 1844, then ‘lost’ for amost 175 years.
17 November 2020 horizontal rule

Dickens for 2020

Yesterday I popped in Carlton Books to fetch my very first author copy of my fully updated book about Charles Dickens. I think it is beautiful! Well done to all the team at Carlton, who have created a really lovely book.

Some of you may remember that this first came out in 2012, for the Dickens Bicentenary. This new version (priced £20 and coming out in September) is being published to commemorate the next Dickens anniversary: 2020 marks 150 years since his death. I’m already taking bookings for events, so please get in touch with me or my agent(s) to find out more.

The book jacket for my new book Charles Dickens: The Man, The Novels, The Victorian Age.
26 June 2019 horizontal rule

© Lucinda Hawksley 2021. Last updated 19 February 2021.