Goodreads: A Room with a View
“But you do,” he went on, not waiting for contradiction. “You love the boy body and soul, plainly, directly, as he loves you, and no other word expresses it …”
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?
I admit I had no idea what this book was about going in; I only knew it’s a classic and I owned a copy I’d never read before. Diving in, my immediate impression was that the book is social commentary, interested in analyzing the differences between people who are “proper” and people who are not–not because they are actually rude but because they don’t do quite what social mores dictate. I was immensely surprised to check out the Goodreads page and find out that a lot of people consider A Room with a View to be a romance, a “charming”, “sweet,” and “optimistic” one!
I enjoyed reading Forster’s descriptions of the various characters in the novel, ranging from the protagonist Lucy Honeychurch to her prim, self-flogging cousin Charlotte to her stuffy fiance to the “unsuitable” George Emerson and his father. The book delights in the portraits of each character and in discussing what sets each apart from the authors. Lucy is young and innocent and sometimes wonder if doing “indecent” things (such as offering something to someone who wants it, when you don’t want it) doesn’t make life more beautiful. George and Mr. Emerson agree with her. Her cousin Charlotte does not, nor do most of the “proper” people in the book. They are continually at odds, just under the surface, as actually quarreling probably isn’t quite the proper thing to do either.
The novel also explores the differences between classes, between the various people living in the country, between people who live in the country and people who live in the city, etc. Overall, I thought the emphasis on social commentary and the dips into pondering human nature were reminiscent of Jane Austen (though I say that as someone who has seen a lot of Jane Austen movies but has only read half of Pride and Prejudice).
…But I never thought the book was a romance. There is certainly a romance in it, and ostensibly the plot revolves around Lucy’s decision to marry the proper and rich Cyril or flaunt all social mores and profess her love for the unconventional George Emerson. Yet, plot-wise, a lot of this isn’t actually conveyed in the book. The onset of the love between Lucy and George is barely explained; then, it just is, except they never speak of it. [Spoilers ahead.] Then, when Lucy finally admits to herself she loves George and wants to break things off with Cyril, the actual romantic part is entirely off-page. Readers end one Part of the book with Lucy admitting her feelings to Mr. Emerson (George’s father). The next part opens with George and Lucy already married. If you’re into actually seeing a romance grow or seeing people say romantic things to each other, this is not the book for you.
I did think it was interesting, however, and I’m glad I read it. (It’s short anyway and on my list of 20 classics under 200 pages.) Am I so in love that I want to rush out and read more E. M. Forster? Not really, but I will keep his future works in mind.