A Room with a View
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- This article is about the book. For the film, see A Room with a View (film).
A Room with a View is a novel about a young woman in the sexually repressed culture of Edwardian England written by English writer E. M. Forster. When Lucy Honeychurch travels to Italy with her cousin, she meets George Emerson, a bohemian and an atheist who falls in love with her. Upon her return to England, she is forced to choose between free-spirited George and her less emotional fiancé, Cecil Vyse. The story is both a romance and a critique of English society at the beginning of the 20th century. Merchant-Ivory produced an award-winning film adaptation in 1985.
Lucy Honeychurch is a young English woman touring Italy with her older cousin, Charlotte Bartlett. They are staying in Florence at an Italian pensione catering to British guests. Upon arrival, Lucy and Charlotte are disappointed by the rooms' poor views, its Cockney proprietor, and English-style furnishings.
As they peevishly complain to each other at dinner, a fellow pensioner interrupts to offer his and his son's (George) rooms which have views of the Arno. Charlotte ungraciously refuses, thinking it would place them under "an obligation." But later that evening, another guest, a clergyman named Mr. Beebe, convinces her to accept the Emersons' offer.
Although a bright and talented girl, Lucy is young and not very inquisitive. Her quiet inner passion shows itself one rainy afternoon in the pensione's drawing room, where she plays the piano. Mr. Beebe, who had seen her perform in Shropshire, England, is impressed by the emotion she brings to her playing. Mr. Beebe fancies himself less straitlaced than his fellow clergymen. He holds an amused disdain for the old-fashioned conventions that Charlotte and the Miss Alans (elderly sisters staying at the pensione) maintain. He relishes the differences between Lucy's inner passion and outer mundane life and thinks her "promising."
Lucy continues to bump into the eccentric Emersons in Florence. Although their manners are awkward and they are deemed socially unacceptable by the other pensioners, Lucy likes them. One afternoon, as a restless Lucy tours Florence on her own, she witnesses a murder. George happens to be nearby and catches her when she faints. As they make their way back along the river, they have an oddly intimate conversation. She is puzzled by her burgeoning feelings toward George and decides to avoid him.
However, they both end up on a carriage ride as part of a larger group for a picnic in the Fiesole hills. As the party scatters to explore the landscape, Lucy finds herself wandering into George. He kisses her, but they are abruptly interrupted by Charlotte. The next day, under Charlotte's watchful eye, Lucy and Charlotte leave for Rome.
In Rome, Lucy spent time with a man named Cecil Vyse, whose family is friendly with the Honeychurches. Cecil proposed to Lucy twice in Italy; she rejected him both times. As Part Two begins, Lucy has returned to Surrey, England to her family home called Windy Corners. Cecil is proposing yet again and this time, she accepts.
Cecil is a sophisticated and "superior" Londoner who despises the ways of the country gentry. However, he is a very suitable suitor in terms of social rank and income and Lucy attempts to uncomfortably smooth over the differences with Cecil and Windy Corner society.
As a promise to Charlotte, she never told anyone about her kiss with George. The local vicar, Mr. Beebe, arrives to announce that new tenants have leased a local cottage. The new tenants turn out to be the Emersons. Fate takes an ironic turn as Freddy befriends George and soon invites him to play tennis one Sunday at Windy Corner.
Although Lucy is initially mortified at the thought of facing both George and Cecil (who is also visiting Windy Corners that Sunday), she resolves to be gracious. The unathletic Cecil refuses to play tennis and instead delights in annoying the others as they play by reading aloud from a badly written novel called, "Under the Loggia." Lucy soon realizes that Miss Lavish (a writer-acquaintance from the Florence pensione) is the author. Unknowingly, Cecil reads a passage aloud to all present that retells her kiss with George. George catches Lucy alone in the garden and kisses her again.
Furious with Charlotte for betraying her secret to Miss Lavish, a flustered Lucy forces her cousin to watch as she tells George to leave and never return. George argues with her saying that Cecil only sees her as an object "for the shelf" and will never love her enough to desire her independence; while George loves her for who she is. Lucy is moved but remains firm, and sends George away broken-hearted. Later that evening, after Cecil rudely declines again to play tennis, Lucy sours on Cecil and realizes that she must break off her engagement to him.
In the wake of these tumultuous events, she decides to flee to Greece. But shortly before her departure, she accidentally meets with Mr. Emerson in Mr. Beebe's study. Mr. Emerson is not aware that Lucy has broken up with Cecil and Lucy cannot lie to the old man. Mr. Emerson forces Lucy to admit out loud that she has been in love with George all along.
The novel comes to a close in Florence, where George and Lucy are spending their honeymoon. Not having her mother's consent, Lucy has eloped with George. Although things are tense with her family for the moment, the story ends hopefully with Lucy reading a letter from Freddy, and the promise of a life filled with love for her and George.
The main themes of this novel include oppressed sexuality, freedom from institutional religion, growing up and true love. It is written in the third person omniscient, though particular passsages are often seen "through the eyes" of a specific character.
A Room with a View is Forster's most romantic, optimistic book and typifies his body of work. He utilizes many of his trademark techniques, including contrasts between "round" and "flat characters". "Round characters" are characters whose ideas and inner-self develop or change in the plot, whereas "flat characters" remain constant, offering familiarity and often being a source of humour.
Published in 1908, the novel touches upon many issues surrounding society and politics in early-20th-century Edwardian culture. Stark differences between conservative and radical thinking are observed, as well as Forster's own labelled differentiation between Medieval (Mr. Beebe, Miss Bartlett, Cecil Vyse) and Renaissance characters (Lucy, the Emersons).
Lucy personifies the young and impressionable generation emerging during that era, during which women's suffrage would gain strong ground. Forster, manifesting his own hopes for society, ends the book with Lucy having chosen her own path--a free life with the man she loves as opposed to marriage to a man considered more "suitable." The novel could even be called a Bildungsroman, as it follows the development of the protagonist.
Binary opposites are played upon throughout the novel, and often there are mentions of "rooms" and "views". Characters and places associated with "rooms" are, more often than not, conservative and uncreative — Mrs Honeychurch is often pictured in a room, as is Cecil. Characters like Freddie and the Emersons, on the other hand, are often described as being "outside." This represents their forward-thinking and modern character types.
Also, Forster contrasts the symbolic differences between Italy and England. Forster idealized Italy as a place of freedom and sexual expression. Italy promised raw, natural passion that inspired many Britons at the time who wished to escape the constrictions of English society. Whilst Lucy is in Italy, her views of the world change dramatically, and scenes such as the murder in the piazza open her eyes to a world beyond her "protected life in Windy Corner."
Allusions/references to other works
- Forster's title was borrowed by Noel Coward for a song, "A Room with a View," in his 1928 musical revue, This Year of Grace.
- Towards the end, Cecil quotes a few unidentified stanzas ("Come down, O maid, from yonder mountain height", etc.). They are from Tennyson's narrative poem, "The Princess."
- While visiting the Emersons, Mr. Beebe contemplates the numerous books strewn around, including A Shropshire Lad, by A.E. Housman. Lamenting George's "unconventional" literary collection, he remarks to Freddy Honeychurch, "I fancy they know how to read — a rare accomplishment. What have they got? Byron. Exactly. A Shropshire Lad. [pause] Never heard of it."
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
Merchant-Ivory produced an award-winning film adaptation in 1985.
- A Room with a View, available freely at Project Gutenberg
- The text
- Plot summary and links