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A Room with a View (1908) is one of E.M. Forster's best-known novels. It is a social comedy that follows the romantic life of Lucy Honeychurch, a young English woman in Florence as she battles societal expectations.
Below is a summary of the novel along with an explanation of the book's genre. You will also find a brief exploration of Forster's background, a critical analysis of the text, and some key quotes.
A Room with a View centres around Lucy Honeychurch. She is a young English woman touring Italy with her cousin, Charlotte Bartlett. Charlotte is older than Lucy and very conservative. She is also acting as her chaperone on their journey. Forster is using Charlotte to represent the reserved and restricted nature of English culture. He contrasts this with the much more liberal and emotionally driven Italian culture. We first see the two women in their hotel in Florence. They are unhappy with their hotel room as it has a very poor view of Florence.
Two other guests at the hotel, Mr Emerson and his son George, offer to swap rooms with the two women in order to give them a better view. Charlotte is initially unsure of this as she thinks the Emersons are improper. Mr Beebe, a clergyman also staying at the hotel, convinces them to take the room. The other important guests at the hotel are the Miss Allens, two spinster sisters, and Elinor Lavish, a writer.
Lucy has a number of important encounters with the Emersons, particularly George, while in Florence. The morning after the room swap she takes a trip with Elinor Lavish to Santa Croce, a famous basilica in Florence. Lucy encounters the Emersons here. Mr Emerson voices some very liberal views which shock Lucy. The Emersons are the only English characters in A Room with a View that can fit in with the Italians' relaxed morals.
The next day a murder occurs in a piazza and both Lucy and George are separately present. Lucy is deeply upset by this and faints. George comes to her rescue and brings her back to the hotel. He kisses her on their way home but she chooses to ignore this. It would have been considered improper behaviour at the time. This establishes a more intimate connection between the two.
Lucy is beginning to develop feelings for George. Charlotte does not approve of the Emersons so Lucy keeps her distance from them. A few days later, the characters we have met so far take a trip to Fiesole, a village outside Florence. While there, George is overcome by emotion and kisses Lucy. However, Charlotte sees this and is scandalised. She demands that she and Lucy leave Florence immediately.
The two women go to Rome for some time. Lucy spends time there with Cecil Vyse, a man she knew in England. Cecil is snobbish and arrogant. He proposes to Lucy twice in Rome but she rejects him. Lucy returns to her family home in a rural village in Surrey. Here Cecil proposes again and she accepts. Cecil looks down on Lucy and her family, but he believes he can improve her.
Mr Beebe has now also moved into the village. There is a vacant cottage that he and Lucy want the Miss Allens to move into. Forster introduces an ironic twist here. While in London, Cecil happened to meet the Emersons. He found them amusing and organised for them to move into the cottage. Cecil believed this would provide the village with entertainment. His arrogance is obvious here.
It is quite shocking for Lucy to see George again. He immediately develops a good relationship with her brother Freddy so she sees him often. In one incident, Freddy invites George to play tennis at their home. Cecil reads out a passage from a romance novel that he thinks is amusing. It turns out this is Elinor Lavish's novel. It is describing a fictional version of the moment that George kissed Lucy in Fiesole. It is clear to Lucy that Charlotte has told Elinor about the incident. This inspires George to take Lucy somewhere private, kiss her again, and confess his love.
Lucy is unable to admit her feelings for George and acts scandalised by this. She asks George to leave the village. Lucy also realises that Cecil is truly wrong for her and breaks off their engagement. She then plans to go to Greece with the Miss Allens. Lucy has a surprise meeting with Mr Emerson that changes everything. He tells her that she must confront her real feelings and admit that she loves George. Lucy realises he is right. Lucy and George end A Room with a View married, having eloped to Florence. They are in the same hotel they met in, in a hotel room with a view.
E.M. Forster was born Edward Morgan Forster in 1879 in London. He had an Anglo-Irish mother and a Welsh father. Forster lost his father young to tuberculosis. Forster had quite a privileged upbringing. He attended King's College, Cambridge.
Forster travelled widely as a young man. He spent time in Greece, Italy, and Germany. Forster often worked as a tutor during this time. He also lived in India at various times, working as a private secretary at one point. Forster worked for the BBC as a broadcaster, becoming quite popular. While it is widely known now, Forster kept his homosexuality very quiet during his lifetime. It would not have been considered socially acceptable.
E.M. Forster wrote a number of successful novels in his life. He published his first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread, in 1905. In the next two years, he published The Longest Journey and A Room with a View. Howard's End (1910) and A Passage to India (1924) are two of Forster's best-known novels and are thought to be some of his most refined works. Maurice was published posthumously in 1971 as per Forster's request. Even after Forster's death, it proved to be very controversial as it was a homosexual love story.
E.M. Forster's novels are known for their liberalism. The time he was living in was one in which people were slowly moving away from repressive Victorian ideals. These were very strict and conservative. A common theme in Forster's work is advocating moving away from these ideals and towards more socially liberal ideas. This can be seen in A Room with a View.
Forster spent the latter part of his life in Cambridge after receiving an honorary fellowship. He lived there until his death in 1970.
A Room with a View can be seen as part of the social comedy genre.
Social comedies are humourous and not overly serious. This is the comedic element of the genre. Social comedies typically deal with social conventions. They tend to parody them. Other well known social comedies include Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)
This can be seen in A Room with a View in the character of Cecil Vyse. He is arrogant and obsessed with societal norms. He is also obviously a negative character and one that Forster sets up to be comedic. Cecil is a satire of an obsession with Victorian social ideals.
The fact that Lucy ends up with George, a very liberal man, indicates the kind of society that Forster is promoting in his novel.
A Room with a View is also somewhat of a bildungsroman.
A bildungsroman is a literary genre. Bildungsroman stories tend to focus on a young main character as they grow and develop into maturity. This is often helped along by a series of challenges and issues. Other famous bildungsroman novels include Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South (1854), Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Brontë, and Great Expectations (1861) by Charles Dickens.
A Room with a View follows Lucy Honeychurch as she matures. Much of this is done by her interactions with the Emersons, particularly George. Lucy struggles with social conventions regarding her relationship with George. She is afraid of doing anything improper. Lucy finally admitting her feelings for George shows she has matured and is throwing off these restrictive social norms. Because these revelations come from her romantic relationship with George, A Room with a View is also a romance.
In literature, a romance is a story that centres around a character finding love. This is often preceded by barriers to this love. At times more than one love interest is included, creating a love triangle. This can be seen in A Room with a View between Lucy, George, and Cecil. Famous examples of romances in literature include Sense and Sensibility (1811) by Jane Austen and Gabriel García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera (1985).
We will explore the themes and literary devices of A Room with a View in this section.
Forster sets up a contrast in A Room with a View. The Italian way of life is one that is liberal, open, and very connected to emotion. This is what Lucy experiences while in Florence. Forster sets this up in direct opposition to the English way of life. This is one that is much more restricted and conservative. It is very concerned about what is and isn't proper by society's standards. This was relevant at Forster's time of writing as people were starting to question strict social norms that had characterised the Victorian period of the 19th century.
The Emersons are shown to be the only English people that understand the Italian way of life. This often shocks other English people, like Lucy. The Emersons are also mocked and looked down upon for not following English societal standards. This can be seen in the incident where Cecil invites them to stay in the vacant cottage. He does so because he sees them as entertainment.
In her romantic choice between George Emerson and Cecil Vyse, Lucy has a choice between these two ways of life. This means the theme of love is important here too. Cecil represents the restrictive ideas that this English society believed in. He looks down on Lucy and her family but believes he can improve her. This is based on the social norms that he believes in. Cecil is used to privileged London society and he sees Lucy's rural village as unsophisticated. He sees the Emersons as even less socially acceptable. It is obvious that Forster represents Cecil as an unpleasant character. Cecil is arrogant and harsh. He also regularly judges people.
George Emerson represents liberal ideas that Forster shows as being found in Italian culture. He is also of a lower social class than both Lucy and Cecil. George believes deeply in passion and love. He encourages Lucy strongly to confront and act on her true feelings. Many of these things he has clearly learned from his father, Mr Emerson. He does not believe in acting according to strict social norms. George instead believes people should act on how they truly feel and not be judged for this.
Lucy's choice of George shows which kind of life A Room with a View advocates for. However, the two have to elope to Italy in order to be together. This shows that judgmental English social norms cannot accept George's liberalism or the fact that two people of different social classes want to marry. Throughout his novel, Forster mocks the English social norms.
Forster's title, A Room with a View, is also important. It gives an insight into the themes and ideas behind the novel.
Having a room with a view as a concept is immediately introduced in Forster's novel. While in their hotel in Florence, Lucy and Charlotte are given a room with a very poor view. The Emersons offer them their room which has a much better view of the city. Charlotte is initially unsure as she does not think it proper but she eventually accepts.
The room with a view is metaphorical in Forster's novel. The room can be seen as a person's life and the view can be seen as their particular world view. The room with the poor view of a courtyard represents Lucy's viewpoint at the start of the story. She is restricted by repressive English ideas of behaviour. She does not have a broad and varied world view. It is important that it is the Emersons that give Lucy and Charlotte the room with the improved view. Both Emersons, but particularly George, change Lucy's world view and teach her how to be more liberal and open.
The couple returns back to the room after having eloped to Italy. Lucy has now fully accepted this more open way of life.
Can you think of any other instances in A Room with a View where world view is important?
'[George] saw radiant joy in [Lucy's] face, he saw the flowers beat against her dress in blue waves. The bushes above them closed. He stepped quickly forward and kissed her.'
This is the instance in which George kisses Lucy in Fiesole. The emotional and descriptive language that Forster uses gets across the depth of George's feelings in this moment. He acts on his emotions and does not care for social norms.
'"I taught him," he quavered, "to trust in love. I said: 'When love comes, that is reality.' I said: 'Passion does not blind. No. Passion is sanity, and the woman you love, she is the only person you will ever really understand'".'
Mr Emerson is explaining what he taught George growing up. This exemplifies the Emersons' liberal worldview. They prioritise passion and true feelings over restrictive social conventions.
'Miss Bartlett was startled. Generally at a pension people looked them over for a day or two before speaking, and often did not find out that they would "do" till they had gone. She knew that the intruder was ill-bred, even before she glanced at him.'
Charlotte exemplifies the conservative and judgmental English way of seeing the world. She sees someone behaving in a way she doesn't see as acceptable and immediately thinks of them as "ill-bred".
'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 practice, and we welcome "nerves" or any other shibboleth that will cloak our personal desire. She loved Cecil; George made her nervous; will the reader explain to her that the phrases should have been reversed?'
It is difficult for Lucy to work out her own feelings and decide who she truly loves. Forster is showing here how difficult it is to act against societal expectations when they are so ingrained in people.
'The scales fell from Lucy's eyes. How had she stood Cecil for a moment? He was absolutely intolerable, and the same evening she broke off her engagement.'
Lucy realises how much of a mistake she has made in getting engaged to Cecil. She is moving towards maturity and making a choice in what way to see and live in the world.
'Youth enwrapped them; the song of Phaethon announced passion requited, love attained. But they were conscious of a love more mysterious than this. The song died away; they heard the river, bearing down the snows of winter into the Mediterranean.'
This marks the end of the novel. Lucy and George are finally together in a country that will accept them.
Forster began writing the novel in 1902 and did not fully complete it until 1908.
It is a social comedy. It also has elements of bildungsroman and romance.
It does have a happy ending. Lucy and George elope to Florence so they can be together in peace.
A Room with a View is about Lucy Honeychurch, a young English woman in Italy. She finds love, matures, and battles against social norms.
Who wrote A Room with a View?
When was A Room with a View published?
What is a common theme in Forster's work?
Questioning restrictive social norms
What is an important theme in A Room with a View?
Conservative Vs. Social Ideas
Who represents conservative social ideals in A Room with a View?
Who has taught George Emerson his liberalism?
His father, Mr Emerson
What is Charlotte's opinion of the Emersons?
She thinks them improper and judges them for their behaviour.
Why is the title so important in A Room with a View?
It is a metaphor for how one sees the world. The room is your life and the view is your own world view. Lucy must choose which kind she wants.
Why is George's social class important?
Because he is a lower class than Lucy and it was not thought acceptable for these two classes to marry.
What is Cecil's opinion of Lucy's family?
He thinks them unsophisticated and beneath him. Cecil believes he can improve Lucy.
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