A Room with a View by E M Forster

A Room with a View by E M Forster is an early twentieth century comedy of manners, satirising the manners and social conventions of Vistorian/Edwardian society. It is Forster’s third novel, first published in 1908, a short novel of 161 pages and is light reading with some humorous dialogue.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Lucy has her rigid, middle-class life mapped out for her, until she visits Florence with her uptight cousin Charlotte, and finds her neatly ordered existence thrown off balance. Her eyes are opened by the unconventional characters she meets at the Pension Bertolini: flamboyant romantic novelist Eleanor Lavish, the Cockney Signora, curious Mr Emerson and, most of all, his passionate son George.

Lucy finds herself torn between the intensity of life in Italy and the repressed morals of Edwardian England, personified in her terminally dull fiancé Cecil Vyse. Will she ever learn to follow her own heart? (Goodreads)

My thoughts:

I enjoyed Forster’s A Passage to India years ago and was looking forward to reading A Room with a View. Overall I enjoyed it, although I was rather underwhelmed by it and even in parts bored, especially near the end of the book, where there are some philosophical paragraphs that left me thinking I didn’t really understand them. It is about a young woman, Lucy Honeychurch, and her journey to self-discovery as she breaks out of the restrained culture of Edwardian England. It’s also a romance. The writing is ambiguous at times, so that you have to read between the lines in places.

It begins in Florence where Lucy is staying at the Pensione Bertolini, with her older cousin and chaperone Charlotte Bartlett. At dinner, they were complaining that their rooms didn’t have views over the River Arno as they had been promised.They were rather taken aback by two other guests, a Mr Emerson and his son George who offered to swap rooms with them. The Emersons are not bound by the conventions of the day and Charlotte considers they are ill-bred. But Lucy is attracted by the Emersons’ free thinking ideas. They spend time in Florence visiting various locations including the Santa Croce church, the Piazza Della Signoria and the San Miniato church, with its beautiful facade, and take a trip into the hills. Lucy finds herself in a little open terrace, covered in violets:

From her feet the ground sloped sharply into view, and violets ran down in rivulets and streams and cataracts, irrigating the hillside with blue, eddying round the tree stems collecting into pools in the hollows, covering the grass with spots of azure foam.

And it is there on that terrace that she comes across George and she is shocked and delighted, I think, when he kisses her. Charlotte witnesses the scene and urges/persuades Lucy to move to Rome where she meets Cecil Vyse, a most boring and priggish young man, whom she knew in England. The second half of the book takes place in England at Lucy’s home at Windy Corner where we meet the rest of her family and Lucy has to decide between the insufferable Cecil and the unconventional George. Will she give into convention or will she choose George, despite opposition from her family?

E M Forster from Goodreads:

Edward Morgan Forster, generally published as E.M. Forster, was an novelist, essayist, and short story writer. He is known best for his ironic and well-plotted novels examining class difference and hypocrisy in early 20th-century British society. His humanistic impulse toward understanding and sympathy may be aptly summed up in the epigraph to his 1910 novel Howards End: “Only connect”.

He had five novels published in his lifetime, achieving his greatest success with A Passage to India (1924) which takes as its subject the relationship between East and West, seen through the lens of India in the later days of the British Raj.

Forster’s views as a secular humanist are at the heart of his work, which often depicts the pursuit of personal connections in spite of the restrictions of contemporary society. He is noted for his use of symbolism as a technique in his novels, and he has been criticised for his attachment to mysticism. His other works include Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), The Longest Journey (1907), A Room with a View (1908) and Maurice (1971), his posthumously published novel which tells of the coming of age of an explicitly gay male character.

A Room with a View was my Classics Club Spin book to read between 20th March and the 30th April. It is on my Classics Club list and it counts toward the Back to the Classics Challenge (as a 20th century classic).

10 thoughts on “A Room with a View by E M Forster

  1. I know what you mean about the philosophy, Margaret. If it’s not handled very effectively, it can certainly slow a book down. Forster is good at questioning the mores of the time, though, in my opinion. And that helps the reader get a look at the culture, etc.. of the era. At least, that’s how I see it?

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  2. I remember that I read this novel almost twenty years ago, at the seaside. I remember very little of it – my most vivid memory is that Lucy had a cherry red dress at some point.
    You made me want to re-read it… once I’ll be done with all the books on my night table.

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  3. I share your sentiment. This was my first Forster and I enjoyed it, but was rather underwhelmed. I much preferred the part of the story, which took place in Italy. Good to hear you liked A Passage to India, since I do mean to read some of his later novels, which I think may be more to my taste.

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    • I think I was expecting more from it. It’s been a while since I read A Passage to India, but I think it has more substance. I hope you’ll like it if/when you read it.

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  4. I’m not sure if I’ve read this or seen an adaptation but the story is familiar. A shame it didn’t live up to your hopes, but at least it was short! I have Howard’s End on my CC list – have you read it?

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    • I thought I’d seen the film adaptation but when I watched a trailer recently I realised I hadn’t. I think the film looks good though – the cast list is impressive with Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, Daniel Day Lewis and many others.

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  5. I love this book and film. I was amazed when I saw the film how much of the dialogue is straight from the book and how the script writers cleverly give lines to different people so that we get to know them better with only a short film time (sorry, not very clear but it made me understand book adaptation and screen writing much more!) I always think of Mrs Honeychurch scolding Lucy with young girls just wanting latch keys and typewriters!

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