Thoughts on A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
August 8, 2013 § 2 Comments
There are certain books that seem to come at exactly the right time. I don’t know if it’s because I’m at a weird in-between phase at the moment, but recently so many of the books I’ve read have resonated with me and none more so than E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View.
Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice.
Our heroine, Lucy is travelling Italy with her older, simpering cousin Charlotte as chaperone. In a comical opening — that no matter how I try can’t be separated in my mind from the Fawlty Towers sketch — we learn that the cousins were not given rooms with views in the Bertolini Pension in Florence despite being promised them. Going against decorum, the outspoken Mr Emerson, overhearing their conversation at dinner, insists the women swap rooms with him and his son, George.
Lucy is changed in Italy, and challenged; things happen that lead her to question the judgements of her class. But then she returns home to England only to agree to marry someone who represents all she seemed to overcome abroad.
Life, so far as she troubled to conceive it, was a circle of rich, pleasant people, with identical interests and identical foes. In this circle, one thought, married, and died. Outside it were poverty and vulgarity for ever trying to enter, just as the London fog tries to enter the pine-woods pouring through the gaps in the northern hills. But, in Italy, where any one who chooses may warm himself in equality, as in the sun, this conception of life vanished. Her senses expanded; she felt that there was no one whom she might not get to like, that social barriers were irremovable, doubtless, but not particularly high. You jump over them just as you jump into a peasant’s olive-yard in the Apennines, and he is glad to see you.
Lucy doesn’t know herself, which is part of what makes her so relatable despite the century that separates her from the modern day reader. She is in constant battle with herself as she desperately tries to correlate what she’s feeling with society’s expectations of women in her position. Expectations that she simultaneously takes comfort in and rejects as new, frightening thoughts beyond her learning strike her.
This solitude oppressed her; she was accustomed to have her thoughts confirmed by others or, at all events, contradicted; it was too dreadful not to know whether she was thinking right or wrong.
A Room with a View is inherently funny, and insightful. E. M. Forster has an impeccable knack for providing just enough detail to paint a vivid setting. Italy feels real – the bustle, the heat, the stonework, the history and the passion. Oh, and we mustn’t forget the violets.
In the appendix, A View without a Room, E. M. Forster himself describes the novel as his “most optimistic work”, and optimistic it is, but without being flippant or denying truth. In fact, A Room with a View is so masterfully rich with lessons that all of them can’t hope to be gleaned from one reading, at least that’s the reason I’ll be giving when I dip into this one again.
P.S. Now I am itching to visit Florence.
P.P.S. And I have decided to name my future house Windy Corner regardless of whether it’s sitting on a corner or gets a lot of wind. And yes, before you ask, I will have a tennis court.