Commentary: A Room With a View

Posted 28 January, 2012 by Lianne in Books / 6 Comments

A Room With a View
By: E.M. Forster

A charming young English woman, Lucy Honeychurch, faints into the arms of a fellow Britisher when she witnesses a murder in a Florentine piazza. Attracted to this man, George Emerson–who is entirely unsuitable and whose father just may be a Socialist–Lucy is soon at war with the snobbery of her class and her own conflicting desires. Back in England she is courted by a more acceptable, if stifling, suitor, and soon realizes she must make a startling decision that will decide the course of her future: she is forced to choose between convention and passion.

I’ve just re-read this novel as part of my prepartion for an article I have to write; it seemed like the right time since I had been meaning to re-read this book for some quite time now. This novel is considered by far the lightest of Forster’s works, both in terms of plot and in the outcome of the entire story. Plus, it was overall a rather short read =P

In some ways, the following post is like my previous entry on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, in that I am commenting on particular aspects of the novel that I noticed in reading it this time around. However, I did try to start off this entry will my typical review format. I’ve also chosen this novel for the I Love Italy Reading Challenge that I am participating in. CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AHEAD!

This novel is divided into two parts, one set in Italy and the other set in England. It’s divided not only because it marks the course of the story and character development but it also serves as a way for the reader to compare the changes and issues that the characters are facing throughout the story. We follow Lucy Honeychurch, a young woman who is very much still developing her identity, as she sets out to explore the world and understand what she wants out of life. While the novel is overall pretty straightforward as she navigates through the various people who are important in her life and determining her own course, it’s quite steeped in symbolism, raising the issues that she faces to a universal level.

The reader is also introduced to a wide range of characters from Edwardian society, which is interesting considering that our characters move between two main locations, Florence and the English countryside around Surrey. You have clergymen with their own expectations and interests, people like the Miss Alans who are very much deep-rooted in old Victorian culture, individuals like Cecil Vyse who is all information and cultured but still lacking that fundamental “something” and people like Miss Lavish, who are independent and very unconventional but in some ways are still rooted in some of the fundamental British norms. It’s quite a cross of interesting characters; understanding them in a way enables the reader to understand Lucy’s subsequent dilemma that follows.

The fun part for me in reading this novel again was re-experiencing Lucy’s time in Florence. I had been to Florence on two occasions–both of them day trips, which was kind of sad because there’s just so much to see–so it was nice to read about familiar locations such as the Basilica di Santa Croce (see image) and the Loggia where Lucy and George witnessed that violent confrontation. It’s particularly amusing to read these passages because in many ways, tourism has not really changed even as society and technology and transporation has: people still flock to these places with their guidebooks and their out-of-town wear and try to get a sense of the place they’re visiting. Forster does throw in observations here and there about how people travel to Italy to feel alive, because the country very much is a sensuous and an overtly different place compared to other countries in Europe. Of course, the amusement factor comes from the way in which the British travel and how despite travelling to these new places, they remain very much insulated within their own culture–they stay in places housed by British travellers, they partake in tour groups filled with their fellow citizens, they complain about the same things (it especially amuses me that the complaints pretty much remain the same as today: people visit Italy to marvel at its beauty, but then complain about other aspects about the country–I guess it’s just human nature to complain really), etc. Then you have individuals like Lucy and George who want to break off and do their own thing, experience the city in their own ways. It’s also amusing to read this book because Forster throws in bits of Italian dialogue here and there, which gives me a chance to practice a bit of comprehension ^_~

I must admit, having read this book maybe three times now, there are still elements of it that I do not completely grasp or understand why the characters would frown about certain matters and so forth. For example, George’s initial sullenness and pessimism seems almost rooted in a form of philosophy that was trending during this period (my guess was the more pessimistic form of existentialism); his sudden burst of realisation after witnessing that confrontation at the loggia was supposed to be a “wake-up” moment, but I could never quite understand what aspect of that confrontation or what was it he was looking for that led him to such enlightenment. But I think this time around, I was able to truly understand Forster’s use of light and art in explaining the different aspects to people’s personalities and behaviours, in particular those who were still rooted in the old Victorian values and those who were part of the new generation and were seeking out for values such as honesty and equality.

I was also able to fully appreciate Lucy’s development as a character this time around; during an earlier read of the novel, I could never quite understand Lucy’s outbursts of anger and would get a tad bit irritated with her bouts of snobbishness. Upon reading it this time around, I finally understood that she was in fact reacting to certain expectations of her in a rather stiff society that emphasised on polite and proper appearances. I’d say more about her character but that would be treading on my article topic and I’d rather just post that when the times comes ^_~

As slim as A Room with a View can be length-wise, it is a novel rich with symbolism. I think a person majoring in English literature would certainly have a field day with this since Forster really likes ot use a lot of symbolism in his work. However, I much enjoyed this novel because of that confrontation between various norms and desires that were emerging in this period and having those norms challenged in a place like Italy (which, location-wise, is always great to read up on!). I highly recommend this novel if you are into classic literature and/or would like to start reading books from the Edwardian era.

Rating: ★★★★★

Read E.M. Forster’s biography on Wikipedia || Order this book from chapters.indigo.ca

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6 Responses to “Commentary: A Room With a View”

  1. Wow this sounds fascinated. I am always reminding myself to watch the movie but it’s one of those thingies you never get done. Now I think I prefer the book though. Did not read anything from the “spoilers” it would take all the fun away.

    Did you read Portrait of a Lady? Did it remind you of this book? Just taking a look at the summary, it does to me!

    It seems every time I visit this blog, I keep asking you questions… but I really appreciate the answers, I really do πŸ™‚

    • Li

      I’ve actually been meaning to sit down and watch the Merchant Ivory adaptation (only saw clips of that version)–I should do that one of these days, haha.

      I actually haven’t read Portrait of a Lady (I should put that on my to-read list) but reading the description and remembering the trailer from that adaptation with Nicole Kidman, I can see some of the similarities already. I take it you read the book? How did you find it?

      lol, that’s no problem, questions stimulate discussion, which is always great =D

  2. I’ve always wanted to read this book and your review just gave me another reason to do so. I haven’t even seen the movie. For you to read it three times says a lot to me! Thanks for linking this up on the I Love Italy Reading Challenge page.

    • Li

      I hope you get around to reading it sometime, it’s chock full of good stuff from Edwardian manners to Italy during the early twentieth century <3 I guess I love reading it to re-visit this period and all the travelling they did. The message of this novel is also quite lovely =)

  3. I loved this book! I read it very recently and it was so much funnier than I thought it was going to be! The humour and most of the characters in it are wonderful. And of course I loved the setting! I’ve been to Florence once before and I’m going back there this September. I’m hoping to see Pisa, Siena and San Gimignano. I didn’t get the chance to visit those towns on my first trip so I’m really excited! πŸ™‚

    The only thing that I’d criticise about this book would be George. I didn’t dislike him exactly but he seemed underdeveloped. I felt like I got a really good feel for the other characters in the book but not George :S But I still loved the book regardless!

    I’ve also seen both of the film adaptations of this book. I loved the 1985 version almost as much as the book. Considering that it’s 30 years old it’s aged incredibly well and it’s a beautiful movie. Daniel Day Lewis is hilarious as Cecil and Rupert Graves is adorable as Freddy πŸ™‚ The 2007 ITV version was awful. Andrew Davies completely changed the ending and it was atrocious πŸ™

    • Glad you enjoyed this novel Hannah! I totally hear you about George, it seemed as though the author was using his character more to represent the greater ideas of the period rather than fleshing him out as a character. I would’ve loved to learn more about him and why he was the way he was at the start of the story from his perspective…

      Awesome that you’re going back to Italy later this year! Of the places you listed, I didn’t get to see Pisa; I was planning on it, but then the student protests happened so I decided to steer clear. San Gimignano is gorgeous though (and very relaxing too, quiet and peaceful), and so is Siena (though I was there in the winter time, but I can only imagine what they are like in the summer/autumn/rest of the year, lol) πŸ™‚

      I admit, I have a soft spot for the 2007 adaptation because I had seen it first and I love the cinematography & music (and love the cast). But yeah, that ending was quite a shock, I could’ve lived without Andrew Davies inserting that random note from Forster for an ending. The 1985 version was lovely too though, what a cast, haha! Rupert Graves was so young in it πŸ˜€

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