A Room With A View by E. M. Forster
A Room With a View is a love story. The plot literally involves a room with a view, but I think Forster had a more philosophical idea in mind when he named the book.
Written in 1908 it is the story of a young woman from England who feels trapped in a relationship with a man she doesn’t love. Thank goodness long gone are the days when a mere kiss could ruin a girl’s reputation – but that was the case in the Edwardian Era. And once committed to marry – well, by that time even if there had been no physical contact, a woman was bound by her promise.
In the opening scene Lucy Honeychurch is traveling with an elder cousin Charlotte as her chaperone. Charlotte is lecturing Lucy on proper behavior, “It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievements rather than to achieve themselves. Indirectly, by means of tact and a spotless name, a lady could accomplish so much. But if she rushed into the fray herself she would be first censured, then despised, and finally ignored. Poems had been written to illustrate the point.”
When Lucy and Charlotte arrive in Florence, Italy and are disappointed to find their rooms are in a dark corner of the hotel facing the courtyard. A nice, but somewhat eccentric, gentleman George Emerson and his son George offer to change rooms so they can have a room with a view of the Arno river. Even this small act of kindness is considered improper, but a clergyman traveling with Lucy’s tour group assures everyone it is okay. So the rooms are swapped, and the Emerson’s accompany Lucy and her travel companions to various tour sites.
After young George Emerson over-steps the boundaries of propriety, shaming Lucy with a passionate kiss in front of her cousin, they immediately pack up and head for their next stop – where Lucy meets Cecil, the man who will propose marriage to her. Cecil has impeccable manners and with proper manners asks for the first kiss.
From that point on, the story is one of inner conflict for Lucy. Should she marry the proper man – from a good family and respected background – who will school her in etiquette, the arts, and finer things in life? Should she try to forget that fateful kiss and her attraction to George Emerson? What else can she do….. to act in any other way will bring shame to her family, and ruin to her own reputation.
Forster does a wonderful job of illustrating the cultural conditions at the turn of the century. The characters are vividly brought to life, and emotions expressed boldly. Lucy’s pain is palpable. And the story includes humor…. like the scene where the guys (including the clergyman) are caught skinny-dipping.
And the comical descriptive titles for the chapters:
“How Lucy Faced the External Situation”
“Lying to George”…. that’s the good kisser – young Emerson
“Lying to Cecil”……that’s the fiance
“Lying to Mr. Beebe”…. that’s the clergyman… yes, she even lied to him. Poor Lucy. She never intended to be so dishonest. She was just trying to do the right thing.
A Room With a View is rated number 79 on the Modern Library list of best 100 novels of all time.
Rated 4.5 Stars August 17, 2016
All contents © 2016 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved