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[397] A Room with a View – E.M. Forster

” It isn’t possible to love and to part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. ” (XIX 189)

Visiting Italy with her prim and proper cousin Charlotte Bartlett as a chaperone, Lucy Honeychurch encounters the seemingly uncouth, ill-bred and unconventional Mr. Emerson and his son, George. Deprived of a room of a view that she has reserved at The Bertolini, the Emersons offer to exchange with her but she refuses lest the men, obviously of a class below her, shall take advantage of her acceptance. A Room with a View chronicles how a fortuitous collection of people in an Italian pensione shall become enmeshed in each other’s life beyond their wish and expectation. For a while the story concerns itself with various subtle and intricate questions about the British class consciousness, snobbery, patriarchalism, self-love, and convention—all taken up for comic and satirical purpose.

It is obvious enough for the reader to conclude, ‘She loves young Emerson.’ A reader in Lucy’s place would not find it obvious. Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practise . . . She loves Cecil; George made her nervous; will the reader explain to her that the phrases should have been reversed? (XIV 132)

As the rector Mr. Beebe has wisely observed, “Italy is an euphemism for Fate,” the story itself requires a good deal of ingenuity from fate and coincidence. Contrived as Lucy is to avoid further contact with George Emerson, he comes to her rescue twice. She is lost at Santa Croce without a map after her companion jilted her. Then she is strayed by her evening wandering, where her flighty recklessness crosses with a quarrel the ends with a murder. As if fate hasn’t enough of its mischief, the Italian cab driver, half-conversant in English, leads her to the wrong “good man,” by which she means the clergyman. Up on the hill the view forms at last, but at the same moment the ground gives way, and with a cry she falls out of the wood. Light and beauty (physically and figuratively) envelop her. Onto an open terrace she falls. It is at this idyllic setting where George Emerson seals her fate with a kiss. Obviously the heroine doesn’t adopt the same romantic opinion, since his behavior is an outrage, a breach of propriety and act of impudence to her.

The contest lay not between love and duty. Perhaps there never is such a contest. It lay between the real and the pretend, and Lucy’s first aim was to defeat herself. As her brain clouded over, as the memory of the views grew dim, and words of the book died away, she returned to her old shibboleth of nerves. (XVII 150)

Upon her return to England, she is engaged to Cecil Vyse, who encompasses the weaned generation of Brits who are running out of tricks in the hat. A supercilious aesthete who “can’t know anyone intimately,” (XVII 160) he is the subject of Forster’s mockery. Every moment of their meeting he is forming Lucy, imposing his taste on her, and obliging to introduce her into more congenial circle. A Room with a View indicts such generation of people who, dying of manners, are determined to go on snubbing reality. Lucy is raised in a way that she neither trusts her emotions nor encourages her own thoughts. She cannot see her intentions and her emotions don’t match; her conscious and subconscious are in dispute. In breaking off the engagement with Cecil she has done the right thing; but it takes a fair amount of lying (in the sense of denying her emotion for George Emerson) and an accident or two to put her in the right. For in most of the story Lucy has an undeveloped heart, and that her engagement to Cecil based on his status, class, and taste is another example of convention’s prescribed notions. She has to trust her emotions and learns the difference between what she feels and what she has been taught to feel.

In spite of a lighter style, Forster lays down most of his key themes in this novel. A Room with a View is a comedy of manner that mocks those who follow neither the heart nor the brain. They yield to the only enemy that matters—the enemy within. Over time they are being censured as their pleasantry and piety show cracks, the wit becomes cynicism, and their unselfishness hypocrisy. Full of puns and metaphors, the book is a stunning study of contrasts in values.

206 pp. Penguin Classics softcover. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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16 Responses

  1. I haven’t read this, yet, but have read other Forster. I enjoyed Passage to India but not overly so. I think I might try this next. Thanks for the review.

    • I read Maurice, Howard’s End and A Room with a View, but not A Passage to India. I need to put that on my list. Maurice is way ahead of Forster’s time and it wasn’t published until 1971.

  2. Wonderful review, Matt! I must revisit this soon… have you read HOWARDS END? It’s my favorite Forster.

    • I have forgotten the details of the book, which is still a pleasant read years after I have read it for the first time. Forster is one of the wittiest social commentator.

  3. Argh, I love this book so much. An Everyman’s Library edition is coming out in October- I can’t wait to have one of my favorites in such a beautiful edition!

    • Not that I don’t like Jane Austen, but E.M. Forster is even a greater social critic when it comes to the British class consciousness and status. He is very satirical.

  4. This is another one that I need to read. I made the mistake of seeing the film first and wish I had waited so I could experience the story as the author meant it before cluttering my head with the ideas that the movie makers had about the characters.

  5. This is one of my favorites, I love your description of Lucy’s development. I reread A Room with a View every year or two, so it’s getting close to time to revisit it…and maybe to rewatch the film, which is one of my favorite adaptations.

    • Compared to Howard’s End and Maurice, A Room with a View is much lighter in style but I’m most impressed that E.M. Forster lay down most of his important themes in this slim volume. It’s very well-done, very much plot-driven and character-driven.

  6. I believe they filmed in Florence as well as in England.

  7. […] [397] A Room with a View – E.M. Forster […]

  8. […] begging to be re-read because the book doesn’t finish what it has to say. E.M. Forster A Room with a View is a comedy of manner that mocks those who follow neither the heart nor the brain. They yield to […]

  9. […] Honeychurch from E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View makes an impression that outshines any of the Jane Austen heroines. Lucy shines because she is […]

  10. […] possess any allure. In the capacity of a romance novel that is not strictly “romance,” A Room with a View is the perfect romantic story disguised in literary fiction that explores the changes that were […]

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