Friday, May 15, 2009

53. A Room with a View – E.M. Forster

April 2007
History: Published in 1908. The main themes of this novel include repressed sexuality, freedom from institutional religion, growing up and true love. It is written in the third person omniscient, though particular passages are often seen "through the eyes" of a specific character. A Room with a View is Forster's most romantic and optimistic book. He utilizes many of his trademark techniques, including contrasts between "round" and "flat" characters. "Round" characters are those whose ideas and inner-self develop or change in the plot, whereas "flat" characters remain constant. Published in 1908, the novel touches upon many issues surrounding society and politics in early 20th century Edwardian culture. Forster differentiates between conservative and radical thinking.
Plot: The first part of the novel is set in Florence, Italy, and describes a young Englishwoman's confusion over her feelings for an Englishman staying at the same hotel. Lucy Honeychurch is touring Italy with her overbearing older cousin and chaperone, Charlotte Bartlett, and the novel opens with their complaints about the hotel,'The Pension Bertolini'. Their primary concern is that although a "room with a view" has been promised to each of them, their rooms instead look over a courtyard. A Mr Emerson interrupts their "peevish wrangling", offering to swap rooms as he and his son, George Emerson, look over the Arno. Without letting Lucy speak, Miss Bartlett refuses the offer, looking down on the Emersons because of their unconventional behaviour and thinking it would place her under an "unseemly obligation" towards them. However, another guest at the pension, an Anglican clergyman named Mr Beebe, persuades the pair to accept the offer, assuring Miss Bartlett that Mr Emerson only meant to be kind. Although their manners are awkward and they are deemed socially unacceptable by the other guests, Lucy likes them and continues to run into them in Florence. One afternoon Lucy witnesses a murder in Florence. George Emerson happens to be nearby and catches her when she faints. As they make their way back to the hotel, they have an intimate conversation. After this, Lucy decides to avoid George, partly because she is confused by her feelings and partly to keep her cousin happy. However, when a party made up of Beebe, Eager, the Emersons, Miss Lavish, Miss Bartlett and Lucy Honeychurch drive to Fiesole, Lucy and George accidentally meet alone on a hillside. George is overcome by Lucy's beauty among the violets and kisses her, but they are interrupted by Lucy's cousin, who is outraged. Lucy promises Miss Bartlett that she will not tell her mother of the "insult" George has paid her because Miss Bartlett fears she will be blamed. The two women leave for Rome the next day before Lucy is able to say goodbye to George.
In Rome, Lucy spends time with Cecil Vyse, whom she knew in England. Cecil proposes to Lucy twice in Italy; she rejects him both times. As Part Two begins, Lucy has returned to Surrey, England to her family home, Windy Corner. Cecil proposes yet again at Windy Corner, and this time she accepts. Cecil is a sophisticated and "superior" Londoner who is desirable in terms of rank and class, even though he despises country society; he is also somewhat of a comic figure in the novel, as he gives himself airs and is quite pretentious.
The vicar, Mr. Beebe, announces that new tenants have leased a local cottage; the new arrivals turn out to be the Emersons, who have been told of the available cottage at a chance meeting with Cecil, who brings them to the village as a comeuppance to the cottage's landlord, whom Cecil thinks to be a snob. Fate takes an ironic turn as Lucy's brother Freddy, befriends George and invites him to play tennis one Sunday at Windy Corner. Although Lucy is initially mortified at the thought of facing both George and Cecil (who is also visiting Windy Corner that Sunday), she resolves to be gracious. Cecil annoys everyone by reading aloud from a light romance novel that contains a scene suspiciously reminiscent of when George kissed Lucy in Florence. George catches Lucy alone in the garden and kisses her again. Lucy realizes that the novel is by Miss Lavish (the writer-acquaintance from Florence) and that Charlotte must thus have told her about the kiss.
Furious with Charlotte for betraying her secret, Lucy forces her cousin to watch as she tells George to leave and never return. George argues with her, saying that Cecil only sees her as an "object for the shelf" and will never love her enough to grant her independence, while George loves her for who she is. Lucy is moved but remains firm. Later that evening, after Cecil again rudely declines to play tennis, Lucy sours on Cecil and immediately breaks off her engagement. She decides to flee to Greece with acquaintances from her trip to Florence, but shortly before her departure she accidentally encounters Mr. Emerson. He is not aware that Lucy has broken her engagement with Cecil, and Lucy cannot lie to the old man. Mr. Emerson forces Lucy to admit out loud that she has been in love with his son George all along.
The novel ends in Florence, where George and Lucy have eloped without her mother's consent. Although Lucy "had alienated Windy Corner, perhaps for ever," the story ends with the promise of lifelong love for both her and George.
Review: This book might be a little bit disappointing if you expect stories that are complex and elaborate, because compared to some of the later works written by E.M. Forster, A Room With a View is a lighter, and a simpler novel. Despite its simple plot line, rich metaphors and symbols enhance the book and Forster’s wits and sarcasms are truly entertaining.
Opening Line: “The Signora had no business to do it,” said Miss Bartlett, “No business at all.”
Closing Line: “The song died away; they heard the river, bearing down the snows of winter to the Mediterranean.”
Quotes: It is fate, but call it Italy if it pleases you, Vicar.
Miss Katherine Allen: “Why, whatever's the matter with Miss Lucy?”
Reverend Beeb: “I put it down to too much Beethoven.”
Rating: Very Good

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