Note on Review: I have struggled with writing this review for days as I simply have so much to comment and write about with this book. After wrestling with the dilemma of what to write and how much, I looked to Jillian at A Room of One’s Own (my favorite classics blog) for advice, and have decided to liberally imitate her style in writing reviews. In particular, I am using Jillian’s Austen reviews as guidelines here. Thanks Jillian!
• A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
• Paperback: 256 pages
• Publisher: Vintage, 1989 (orig. 1908)
• ISBN: 0679724761
• Genre: Classic British Literature
• Recommended For: Anyone who enjoys classics, particularly British comedies of manners.
How I Got Here: I found this book at my local indie bookstore and bought it for its beautiful cover. It’s been on my TBR for a couple of months, and since I was in the mood for a classic recently, I moved it up to the top!
“The Signora had no business to do it,” said Miss Bartlett, “no business at all. She promised us south rooms with a view close together, instead of which here are north rooms, looking into a courtyard, and a long way apart. Oh Lucy!”
“And a Cockney, besides!” said Lucy, who had been further saddened by the Signora’s unexpected accent. “It might be London.”
Final Critique: A wonderful humorous novel that aids the reader who questions how women of Austen’s time, so embedded in conventions and manners, ever broke free and transitioned to the free-thinking ways of the modern woman. A Room with a View definitely portrays the awkwardness that would accompany such a shift.
The Book: My Summary and Analysis
The story begins with two English women, the young Lucy Honeychurch and her spinster older cousin Miss Charlotte Bartlett, on vacation in Florence. While eating dinner at the Pension Bertolini (a lodging house for tourists), they complain that they did not have rooms with a view of the city. Mr. Emerson, who is staying and dining at the Bertolini with his son George, overhears their conversation and announces “I have a view!” This interjection is frowned upon by all the English diners and Miss Bartlett thinks he is ill-bred and immediately dislikes the looks of him. Shortly after, the other diners inform the two ladies that the Emersons are basically tactless and without manners. This also apparently equates to Socialist, which I didn’t get.
Lucy and Miss Bartlett do decide to take their rooms with a view, but also decide to avoid the Emersons’ low company. The two ladies run with the esteemed crowd of English staying at the Bertolini, and Lucy sticks to the typical tourist spots until one day, after playing a passionate piece of Beethoven on the piano, Lucy decides to go out alone and check out some of Botticelli’s “pities” (nude paintings).
Just as she is ruminating on how safe her life is, that she really doesn’t feel all that reckless despite the fact that she shouldn’t be touring unchaperoned as a young unmarried lady, that “nothing ever happens to me,” she witnesses a murder in the piazza. Luckily, George Emerson is there to catch her when she faints. He walks her back to the pension, and reveals that he has changed after the incident at the piazza. Although Lucy doesn’t know it, George has fallen in love with her.
However, she soon is forced to realize his passion for her, and not in a gentleman-like manner. George doesn’t confess how much he ardently admires and loves her. He just goes right out and kisses her in public. Granted, only Miss Bartlett and the Italian driver saw the kiss, but this is still quite scandalous! Lucy reluctantly decides to go along with Miss Bartlett in burying this kiss in her memories. She doesn’t understand her feelings and doesn’t quite understand why she can’t explore and be open with her feelings. But, it simply isn’t done! She and Miss Bartlett immediately take off to Rome the next day.
Flash forward a few months later, when Lucy has returned to her mother and brother Freddy at their home in Surrey. Lucy is now engaged to Cecil Vyse. He is a sophisticated man whom she met in Rome and denied proposals from twice and finally accepted on the third try when he proposes at her home. It seems that now that she is out of Italy, she is returning to her senses! However, it is immediately apparent to the reader (and Lucy’s mother and brother) that while Cecil is well-mannered and a very appropriate and smart choice in marriage, he is a snob. He mocks Lucy’s family and the country society she communes with and longs to break her out of this society and into his own London society where he can mold her into a very civilized lady. Lucy takes no mind of this and truly believes that she loves him and has made a good match.
But, then, the Emersons arrive in the neighborhood. Suddenly, she is forced to remember the passions she felt in Florence and that kiss. George forces her to consider who she will be: who society says she ought to be and who she might actually want to be. Should she be with Cecil, who is socially correct in all ways, or George, who loves her mind and her passions? Or should she just be alone and free to travel the world as many other unmarried ladies do? These are the questions Lucy has to answer by story’s end.
As mentioned earlier, I have consulted Jillian’s Austen reviews, and her Persuasion review connected quite a bit in writing this review. I find that a lot of the questions she asks there relate directly to this novel’s themes.
“HOW DID WOMEN (OR MEN, FOR THAT MATTER) COMMUNICATE IN AUSTEN’S DAY? HOW DID EMOTION EVER WIN OUT IN SUCH A WORLD?”
“WHICH IS BETTER? TO BE AUTONOMOUS AS A WOMAN, OR TO RELY ON GROUP THINK?”
You love someone. They love you. You be with them. Simple enough, right? Not so for past generations where society’s expectations meant so much. (Actually, maybe not so much has changed.) Propriety is inclined toward Cecil Vyse. Pragmatism and passion lean towards George Emerson. A Room with a View deals with the same questions as Persuasion, and I do believe that the society is far more against George Emerson than they ever were against Captain Wentworth. Yet, Lucy has to make the same choice.
Within this marital choice, Lucy also has to make a decision on who she wants to be as a person. She is torn between being what society considers “a proper lady” vs being her adventurous passionate self. Oftentimes, she does what is expected of her and behaves and acts in a proper fashion. But then she plays that wild and crazy Beethoven and is affected in such a way that she is compelled to do what she wants in a devil may care fashion. The vicar Mr. Beebe remarks: “If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting-both for us and for her.” Yeah sure, Beebe. You couldn’t handle it–you’d just love it for all the gossip it would provide you with when you have to make those daily visits with your flock.
Characters: I loved ALL OF THE CHARACTERS! I could write forever on all of them, and since I’ve already written close to forever, I will simply discuss a few of my favorite characters via a favorite quote associated with them.
Favorite Character: Lucy Honeychurch
Lucy is dissatisfied with her position as a woman and its shortcomings.
“She was conscious of her discontent; it was new to her to be conscious of it […] ‘The world is certainly full of beautiful things, if only I could come across them.’
George Emerson: “This desire to govern a woman-it lies very deep, and men and women must fight it together before they shall enter the garden [of Eden]. But I do love you […] I want you to have your own thoughts even when I hold you in my arms.”
Cecil Vyse: Lucy on Cecil: “You’re the sort who can’t know anyone intimately.”
Mr. Emerson: “You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.”
Any other thoughts?
-There is another ongoing theme that is very amusing: we travel to distant exotic countries, only to never really leave our own. Why do we go abroad only to stay at the Hilton? All the English tourists in this novel ever do is talk about England while they are in the lovely Florence.
-The chapter titles really set the dry, humorous tone. Here are a couple of examples:
Ch. 16: Lying to George
Ch. 17: Lying to Cecil
Ch. 18: Lying to Mr. Beebe, Mrs. Honeychurch, Freddy, and the Servants
Ch. 19: Lying to Mr. Emerson
-The movie version from 1985, starring Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands, and Daniel Day Lewis (eek!) was really marvelous! They nailed it! I highly recommend it!
-Did I mention how difficult writing this review was? If you made it this far, sorry if I have rambled on. I had to get it out, but didn’t know how to get it out. I’ll be back to normal tomorrow!