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.