A Room With a View
By E.M. Forster
Bantam Classics 1988
Won from the lovely Allie at A Literary Odyssey
Lucy Honeychurch is visiting Italy with her cousin when she is witness to a murder. This unusual set of circumstances brings her closer to another visitor, George Emerson. Although they connect, he is not an appropriate sort of boy and Lucy endeavors to forget the whole experience. Once back in England, she becomes engaged to Cecil Vyse, “an ideal bachelor.” But George and his father soon move into Lucy’s neighborhood and she must choose between what she has been taught and her true desires.
This is my first Forster novel (I know, I know, another strike towards my degree in English lit!) and to sum it up in a word, this book is charming. I really enjoyed reading it. While the plot may sound simplistic, this is more than a love story. Forster is writing about the movement towards independence for Lucy and, by the same token, for all women. It is a chronicle of Lucy’s realization that the social mores that she has been taught all of her life make no sense and she wants no part of them. While in Italy, she wonders about her inability to go around town on her own. “This she might not attempt. It was unladylike. Why? Why were most big things unladylike? Charlotte had once explained to her why. It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves.”
Forster is an empathetic and meticulous writer. My poor little paperback was stuffed full of bookmarks, indicating passages I wanted to write down later. Despite this being my first reading, this book manages to feel like hearing an old family story – sweet and familiar. The characters are varied and often very humorous. Forster deftly uses them to make his point about society, but never at their expense. Each person you encounter in these pages, including the bombastic mother, the meddling clergymen and the spinster aunt, are wonderfully and terribly human.
This is a beautiful book – half gentle love story, half examination of women on the verge of independence and equality. The reader is immediately aware that Cecil cannot be the right mate for Lucy. She always imagines him in a drawing room with no window, while George loves to roam outside and actually gives up his room for her in Italy so that she can have a view. In Lucy’s love story, an equal opinion in the relationship, or a view, is the necessary foundation for a lasting relationship.
If, like me, you haven’t experienced Forster before, get to it! You will laugh at and cheer for Lucy, George, Cecil, and their companions and marvel at the author’s beautiful and precise prose. This short and sweet novel will reignite your confidence in loving classical literature.