Friday, January 15, 2016

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster


This post contains major spoilers.


A Room with a View by E.M. Forster is the story of Lucy Honeychurch. Like other works that I have read from Forster, this is a story about people striving for and struggling to make human connections. Having previously read both a Passage to India and Howards End, I found a lot of parallels in this book.

Lucy is full of life and beginning to appreciate the diversity inherent in the world and in people. The novel opens in Florence, Italy, where she and her friend Charlotte Bartlett are visiting as tourists. There she encounters a host of other English travelers and expatriates.  Among them are Mr. Emerson and his son George Emerson. The older of the men is intelligent, dynamic and empathetic, but in the terminology of our present day, he would be called verbally unfiltered. He speaks what is on his mind to the consternation of the book’s more conservative characters.  Thus, he is often a driver of major and minor events. George is moody and depressed but is also philosophical.

Eventually Lucy and George become attracted to one another. Though she will not admit it to herself, the pair falls in love. Socially, it seems that the two would make an unacceptable couple due to the Emersons’ odd nature. Thus, Lucy flees Florence in an attempt to get away from George.

Later in the narrative, Lucy returns home to England. Lucy becomes engaged to Cecil Vyse, a man who is cultured and who is a lover of art and literature. Unfortunately, Cecil is also priggish and stifling to Lucy. When George moves into the same neighborhood that Lucy lives in, complications ensue.

Like Forster’s A Passage to India, but to a much lesser degree, this novel contains several transcendental moments for the characters. These moments revolve around the common theme of understanding a certain meaningless to life and an ensuing leap to find meaning. However, unlike A Passage to India, which contained in depth metaphysical musings, this work only touched upon such higher intellectualizing. My commentary on that novel is here. My opinion in regards to A Room with a View is that it presents a lot of ideas that were present in Howards End as well as in A Passage to India, but that they are less developed here. I remember that those books contained more sophisticated musings relating to several themes, including Forster’s favorite, the value and difficulty in striving for human connections.

Like I often do, I would like to devote a few words to a particularly interesting and insightful, but fairly minor, point in the narrative.

After a talk with George, Lucy comes to understand that Cecil is boorish, cold and a terrible match for her. She decides to break off the engagement.

As is illustrated in Howards End, as well as in a Passage to India, however, Forster is all about people with differences attempting to connect and coexist. It turns out that Cecil is more thoughtful than is initially apparent. At being informed by Lucy that she is breaking off the engagement, he responds,

"…I fell to pieces the very first day we were engaged. I behaved like a cad... You are even greater than I thought." …"I'm not going to worry you. You are far too good to me. I shall never forget your insight; and, dear, I only blame you for this: you might have warned me in the early stages, before you felt you wouldn't marry me, and so have given me a chance to improve. I have never known you till this evening. I have just used you as a peg for my silly notions of what a woman should be. But this evening you are a different person: new thoughts— even a new voice—"

Nothing like this came from Cecil earlier in text. However, it is apparent that Lucy never voiced criticism of his behavior before. It seems that Forster is illustrating the tragedy of missed opportunity here. It is not at all clear that Cecil would be capable of change, and even if he were, Lucy is in love with George. However, I think that Forster is leaving open the possibility that he might have gained by constructive criticism. The author never depicts connections as easy, and folks attempting to connect and understand what is different often run into all kinds of trouble, as is illustrated in this failed relationship. All of this adds so much complexity and nuance to this work.

This is a very worthwhile book. The themes, of which I have only scratched the surface of above, are intriguing. Several of the characters, including Lucy and the Emersons, are well crafted, complex and interesting. The story is compelling. Though perhaps a little less far along in terms of developed themes than Forster’s later novels. This is an entertaining and very compelling book.

48 comments:

Stefanie said...

This is such a good book isn't it? I love the Emersons and Mr. Bebe (was the reverend's name?) and I love how Lucy struggles between being conventional and being the person she really is. Have you seen the Merchant Ivory film of the book? If you haven't, it'r really good!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Stefanie - this book was really filled with great and nuanced characters.Mr. emerson really was distinctive.

I have not seen that film version. I will try to catch it soon.

Suko said...

Brian Joseph, I saw and enjoyed a movie version of this with Helena Bonham-Carter, several years ago. I'm glad you enjoyed the book. I do remember (from my college days) that Forster was concerned with human connections. Excellent presentation! Have a wonderful weekend.

Heidi’sbooks said...

I love coming here and finding new books to try! I haven't read any Forster books. I am encouraged to try to read one! Someone once told me to never read this book because it's horrible. HaHa! I must listen to people who like classics, I guess.I also like the philosophical commentary of characters, so this might be something I would enjoy.

James said...

I enjoy reading your always fascinating commentaries on the books you are reading. Often as in this case they are books that I have also read and enjoyed. Your observation that "Forster is all about people with differences attempting to connect and coexist" seems to me to be central to this work (and his other novels like Howard's End). The way he approaches this issue and its importance is one of the reasons I love his work.

JacquiWine said...

Great commentary as ever, Brian, and I like the way you've included some comparisons/contrasts with the author's other word. My memories of this book are coloured by the Merchant Ivory film adaptation, so much so that I can still see Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands and Daniel Day-Lewis when I think of these characters.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Suko.

I really need to see the film version. Maybe I can get to it in the next few days.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Heidi - Out of the Forster books that I have read, A Passage to India is my favorite. This one may have been a little more accessible as there were less of the long metaphysical passages.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks James.

The nuanced and complex way that Foster approaches human connections is a joy to read about.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Jacqui.

It really opens up a a author's worldview for me when I read multiple works.

thecuecard said...

I have only read Passage to India which I liked quite a bit. I also liked the movie with Judy Davis. It sounds like you liked this one but maybe not as well as the other two. I'd like to read Forster again -- it's been a long time!

R.T. said...

I need the kick in the butt provided by your fine posting/review; this means I will finally pull the book from the shelf and read it. Thanks for the provocation! All the best from the new, improved, and back-to-its-roots Beyond Eastrod.

R.T. said...

BTW, Passage to India is one of my all time favorite books, so I look forward to this one by Forster. Thanks!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan - Though the ideas were less developed here I think that I liked this better then Howards End. I liked A Passage to India better then both, I thought that it was phenomenal.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi R.T. - A Passage to India is one of my favorites too. Though I found this a little less compelling, I think that any fan of that book will get a lot out of this one.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Brian, I've wanted to read this one for years. I did see the movie version several years ago and enjoyed it so I'm even more anxious to try the book. Love reading your thoughts.

Gently Mad said...

Hi Brian. I skimmed through your review because this book is in my TBR pile. However, I appreciated what you said about Forster's dealing with relationships. That because of limited perceptions, one can miss out on relationships.
I saw the movie years ago and remember very little about it. What I seem to remember is that the one man was depicted as belonging to the "Old English" Victorian priggish guard while the other was "wild" and "free" and consequently had to be worth getting to know. But this may be Hollywood's oversimplification of something more complex that Forster was trying to convey to the reader.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - The priggish character was undoubtedly Cecil. Though in many ways flawed, as is often true of Forster's characters, there is more to him then it initially seems.

I really want to see the film version.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Diane - O really need to see the movie version. I suspect that those who liked the film would of course like the book.

Delia (Postcards from Asia) said...

I wonder if we read the same book. :) My reaction was far less glowing than yours. I actually like your review a lot more than I liked the book.
"verbally unfiltered", I like that.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Delia - We all have different tastes and different viewpoints. What did you not like about it?

The Bookworm said...

I've had this classic on my TBR list for a while now. I like the passage you highlighted here, it's a nice declaration of his realizing what he had in her.
Great post as always!

Delia (Postcards from Asia) said...

It's been a while so I may have to read it again to answer that question. What I remember is a feeling of discontent, like I couldn't really get into the book. Also bleakness, lots and lots of it.

Maria Behar said...

Great commentary as always, Brian!

I have not read any of Forster's novels, and might very well start off with this one. It's definitely interesting!

You know, from what you've stated here, the plot of this novel, and the way the characters interact with each other, I am reminded of Trollope. Of course the prose style is different from Trollope's, but it seems to me that the characters relate to each other much as the ones in the works by Trollope that you have previously analyzed.

I am very surprised by Cecil's little speech; it sounds a bit out of character. Forster is saying, of course, that people don't realize what they have until they lose it. Still, from your description of this character, it seems a bit incongruous to me that he would be so accurate about his own failings when faced with the reality of a broken engagement. I guess Forster was also trying to say that people will often surprise those who think they know them best.

I must definitely read this book! Thanks so much for your very thorough, interesting analysis!! : )

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Delia - Interesting about the bleakness. Having recently read Tess of the d'Urbervilles, this one did not seem too bad.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Naida - Indeed that quote is interesting. It also illustrates that Cecil really had no feedback as to what he was doing wrong.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Maria - I think that Forster was influenced a lot by both Trollope as well as Austen. One big difference is that Forster was trying to say something major about the Universe and humanity where the other two found wisdom in the less profound aspects of life.

Delia (Postcards from Asia) said...

Strangely enough, I loved Tess.

Bina @ Ifyoucanreadthis said...

Reminds me to read more of his works, because really enjoyed Howard's End, it's been a while since I read a classic.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Bina - I also like Howards End. A Passage to India is my favorite. I found it to be brilliant.

HKatz said...

One of the things that struck me in this book is how words are often inadequate or stifling, and people don't have an easy way to talk about what's important and what they honestly feel. Lucy expresses herself through piano when conversation fails to say anything.

I loved this passage from the book:

"The contest lay not between love and duty. Perhaps there never is such a contest. It lay between the real and the pretended..."

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Hila - It is true that the characters in this book often found it difficult to express themselves. I think that is another indicator of how hard it is for people to connect.

That is a great quote.

JaneGS said...

One of my favorites--I've read it at least 3 times, and I agree that it is a very worthwhile book. It always makes me sad to read it though. I find it very melancholy.

Brona Joy said...

I have read this book several times over the years and love it. It grows better with each reading, although the movie adaptation does now overlay many of the scenes in the book in my mind. It has added nuances or interpretations to some of the scenes which I find fascinating.

Thanks for reminding me of one of my favourite books :-)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jane - It is interesting that many people find this book to be melancholy. Without a doubt it delves into some of the darker elements of the human condition. However, in the end, it seems that folks do manage to connect.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Brona - It seems like a lot of people have read this book multiple times.

It is interesting how when folks, including myself, see a film, the movie so shades our view of the book.

JoAnn said...

I'm so glad Brona mentioned your post today... must have missed it when we were traveling. I, too, love Forster and have read this book at least a couple of times. Howards End is my favorite and it's interesting to see how that story and his writing writing developed from A Room with a View. I even have a reread of Howards End on my Classics Club list, but wasn't as fond of A Passage to India. Great post!

Deepika Ramesh said...

Hi Brian, I read this book about seven years ago, when I was just beginning to embrace reading. I had to push myself to finish this. Perhaps, it was tough for a beginner to appreciate this book. Now, after reading your review, I am inspired to reread it, only to pay attention to everything that I seem to have missed. Lovely blog. Thank you. :)

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Deepika - I think that I would not have enjoyed this book as much when I was younger. For me, iy also helped to be aware of some of Forster's common themes.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks JoAnn - Howard;s End was a really worthwhile book.It is interesting that you did not care For A Passage to India. Iy is a really different book.

Caroline said...

I just love this book. It was my first E.M. Forster and I think was the reasons why he became one of my favourite writers. There are similra themes, the books echo each other.
I've still to read A Passage to India but I keep on postponing that. And Maurice.
You brought back this lovely book.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline - I have not read Maurice. I thought that A Passage to India was one of the all time great novels.

Hibernators Library said...

Wow! I'm so behind on your blog! I've been so busy.

I'm glad you enjoyed this book. Fantastic review. I've been thinking of reading Passage to India for this my month of modernism, but I'm also contemplating Ulysses (as opposed to Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). Ulysses would be too long to fit in Passage to India. Have you read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?

Brian Joseph said...

i Rachel- No rush on comments. Life can get so busy.

I read Hi Rachel - I read Portrait of a Young Man as an and blogged about it here: http://briansbabblingbooks.blogspot.com/2015/04/portrait-of-artist-as-young-man-by.html

It was a very worth while book. As it is in some ways a prequel to Ulysses I would read it first.

I thought that A Passage to India was one of the finest novels ever written. I liked it better then Ulysses or Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.


Whatever you choose, Happy reading!

Allison @ The Book Wheel said...

I really enjoyed this book and still need to read Howard's End, so I'm glad there are some common themes among the two. It's been a while since I picked this one up but the scenery has stayed with me.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Allison - Howard's End was well worth the read. My favorite work by Forster is A Passage to India, I think that it is one of the all time great novels.

Carol said...

Enjoyed your review but I have to admit I only got as far as the first couple of chapters. It was the first Forster I'd read and it was a library book and I tend to rush books I've borrowed. I thought his writing was a little choppy but I need to give him another chance.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks for stopping by Carol.

I tend to feel a bit pressured when I read library books too.

Though this book has a lot to recommend it, I thought that A Passage to India was better work. With that, I recall that novel having a lot of pages devoted to philosophical musing. A Room with a View had much less of that so some may prefer it.