A Room With a View by E.M. Forster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It all starts when the landlady of the pension where Charlotte Bartlett and Lucy Honeychurch are staying in Florence gives them rooms overlooking the courtyard. When Charlotte, an old maid cousin who is the young Lucy’s chaperone, complains of it at dinner, a fellow English visitor, Mr Emerson, offers to exchange with them. He and his son have rooms with a view of the Arno.
After a good deal of false reluctance and huffy protest by Charlotte, the women exchange with the men. Lucy opens the shutters and is stunned by the beauty of the view that the Emersons have provided for her. One day some of the visitors go to a site overlooking the city for a picnic and seeing her alone in a field of violets, young George Emerson impulsively kisses Lucy. Charlotte has arrived just in time to see this insult and fearing Lucy’s mother will be irate at Charlotte’s carelessness begs Lucy never to tell her mother or anyone else about this kiss.
Lucy returns home and becomes engaged to Cecil Vyse, an aesthete who begins immediately to tell her what to think, what to want, what to love. Lucy is restless under this constraint but it isn’t until George Emerson and his father move to their town that she finds her engagement intolerable. Cecil, she says, is a room without a view.
This book club reading is a much more optimistic novel than Howard’s End, which I read with the 22nd Avenue Book club recently, but it is about the same things: class differences and the difficulty of overcoming them, the rapid changes in England at the time (A Room with a View was published in 1908 and Howard’s End in 1910), honesty with oneself about what one really believes and what one perceives as true as opposed to what society tells us we should believe and the immense difficulty of living through the muddles we create in our lives and of making our way into a sunlit clearing – or into a room with a view.
2011 No 120