A Room With a View by E.M. Forster
A Room With a ViewLucy Honeychurch is visiting Florence, Italy, with her older aunt. Charlotte Bartlett is her chaperone because one doesn’t travel around alone even if it is the early 20th century and things are more modern. Lucy is a mild girl, going where she is told, doing what she is told. But she is tiring of that. She wants something to happen in her life.
When they first arrive in Florence, Charlotte complains that they’ve been giving inferior rooms at the long term hotel. An older, unconventional gentleman, Mr. Emerson insists the two women take his and his son’s rooms. Charlotte refuses at first, then after a talk with the parson also visiting, Mr. Beebe, they agree. Mr. Emerson and his son George are different from the other residents. They are not of the same social class and are ridiculed behind their backs. But when a man is murdered in front of Lucy on a Florence street, it is George Emerson who is there to calm her down and take her back to the hotel.
Lucy gets herself twisted up, not sure what she wants (at the end of the book Mr. Emerson calls her muddled). One day she, Charlotte, Mr. Beebe, and George are part of an afternoon outing. She finds herself momentarily alone with George and he kisses her. She is shocked and Charlotte comes up, preventing any further conversation. Lucy and Charlotte abruptly leave for Rome.
Upon their return to England, Lucy finally accepts Mr. Cecil Vyse’s proposal of marriage. She tells herself she loves him even though he seems to ridicule her mother and brother. When Cecil brings the Emersons into the village to rent a house, Lucy is thrown again. She doesn’t want anything to do with them.
E.M. Forster is poking at the class divisions and education. Lucy is unformed, a product of the Victorian era. Charlotte is the domineering spinster aunt keeping Lucy out of trouble. She witnesses the scandalous kiss and won’t let Lucy forget it even as she swears Lucy to secrecy. The Honeychurches are not from the cream of society, but of the genteel upper middle class. A woman is to marry or become like Charlotte. No other choice is expected.
A Room With a View has a number of layers Forster delves into. There is the class differences. Cecil Vyse is from the city and feels slightly superior to Lucy. Yet he is a bore who talks about the way things should be, yet does little about them other than shaping Lucy to his point of view. The Emersons are outside of any class and are looked on with veiled contempt. Even so, they are the people who attract Lucy the most.
E.M. Forster also uses A Room With a View to talk about religion. Mr. Beebe is a parson and seems to believe in God, but is not overly reverent. His God is in church. He lives alone and doesn’t understand the passions that are between men and women. That doesn’t stop him from giving advise as he feels warranted. Forster makes Mr. Beebe and his faith an amusement for the reader. The church doesn’t need to be taken seriously.
This novel also shows the quandary Lucy has as she learns who she is. She spends her thoughts deluding herself. Of course she is shocked by the kiss. Yet George Emerson remains in her memory. She has no direction, no sense of herself. A Room With a View gives the reader a chance to see how she grows into herself and becomes a fully formed person with her own thoughts and opinions.
Despite all the prodding E.M. Forster does to make the reader aware of the social problems and foibles of the time, this story stays light. It focuses on Lucy the whole time. Except for George Emerson, her life is quiet and goes where others want her to go. She is discontent but won’t admit it. Her trip to Italy is the most exciting that has happened to her. Back in England she returns to her country life. The conflict in this book is internal. A Room With a View doesn’t deal with hugh social issues but instead the small ones that affect us every day in our lives. The book never gets emotional, intense or disquieting.
A Room With a View is a social commentary of post-Victorian England. It makes its point and is a good read as well.