August 15, 2009

A Room with a View

Posted in Bildungsroman, Classics of World Literature at 12:05 am by j128

A Room with a View

A Room with a View

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster was first published in 1908, and is about a young woman, Lucy Honeychurch, in the repressed culture of Edwardian England and her journey of self-discovery, thus it may also be considered as a Bildungsroman. It is E.M. Forster’s most romantic and optimistic work.

Major themes that are developed and explored in the novel include repression, growing up, and true love, while touching upon many issues concerning society and politics in early 20th century Edwardian culture. Symbolism is also equipped in illustrating binary opposites, “rooms” and “views” are often mentioned. Characters and places associated as “rooms” are conservative and uncreative: characters such as Mrs. Honeychurch are often pictured in a room; whereas characters such as the Emersons are portrayed as having a “view”, being “outside”, that represents their open and forward-thinking, modern character types. Such symbolic representation is also expressed in the contrasts between “Medieval” and “Renaissance” characters. (Click here for an explanation of major themes in A Room with a View from Wikipedia.)

Summary

Part One

The first part is set in Florence, Italy, and describes the protagonist Lucy Honeychurch’s confused feelings over a young Englishman staying at the same hotel. She is touring Italy with her older cousin and chaperon, Charlotte Bartlett, and the novel opens with their complaints about the hotel; their primary concern being that a “room with a view” had been promised to each of them, their rooms look over a courtyard instead, upon which a Mr. Emerson offers to swap rooms as he and his son George look over the Arno. Before Lucy has a chance to speak, her chaperon cousin refuses the offer as, in her prim fashion, looks down at the Emersons due to their unconventional behaviour and thinking that it would place her under an “unseemly obligation” towards them. Later, however, after the persuasion of another hotel guest, an Anglican clergyman named Mr. Beebe, she accepts the offer.

The next day Lucy embarks on a tour of Florence with another hotel guest, Miss Eleanor Lavish, a novelist who shows Lucy the back streets, takes her guidebook, and subsequently loses her in Santa Croce, whereupon Lucy meets the Emersons again, whom she likes despite them being deemed as socially unacceptable by other guests. Lucy continues to run into them in Florence. One afternoon when she witnesses a murder, George Emerson happens to be nearby and he catches her just as she faints; on their way back to the hotel they have an intimate conversation. Afterward, Lucy decides to avoid George as she is confused by her feelings and partly to keep Charlotte, her cousin, happy. However, when a party made up of Beebe, Eager, the Emersons, Miss Lavish, Miss Charlotte Bartlett and Lucy  drive to Fiesole, she accidentally meets George on a hillside, and George, overcome by her beauty, kisses her. They’re interrupted by Miss Bartlett who is outraged, and Lucy promises her that she will not tell her mother of the “insult” as Miss Bartlett would be blamed. The two women leave for Rome the next day, before Lucy has a chance to say goodbye to George.

Part Two

In Rome Lucy spends time with Cecil Vyse, whom she knew in England, and he proposes to her twice, upon each occasion she rejects him. She returns to her family home, Windy Corner, in Surrey, England, where Cecil proposes once again and this time she accepts. Cecil, as described by Lucy’s mother, Mrs. Honeychurch:

“…He’s good; he’s clever, he’s rich, he’s well connected –  Oh, you needn’t kick the piano! He’s well connected – I’ll say it again if you like: he’s well connected.” She paused, as if rehearsing her eulogy, but her face remained dissatisfied. She added: “And he has beautiful manners.”

Yet the irony here is that, in the words of George Emerson, “he is the sort who are all right so long as they keep to things – books, pictures – but kill when they come to people.”

An ironic, catalyst twist occurs when Lucy’s brother Freddy befriends George Emerson and invites him to play tennis one Sunday at Windy Corner. Lucy, initially mortified at having to face both George and Cecil, also visiting Windy Corner the same Sunday, braves her fears and resolves to be gracious. Her reserve is shaken though by a passage Cecil reads from a light romance, in which a scene is described that suspiciously reminiscent of when George kissed Lucy in Florence.

” ‘Leonora,’ ” he read, ” ‘sat pensive and alone. Before her lay the rich champaign of Tuscany, dotted over with many a smiling village. The season was spring.’ “
Miss Lavish knew, somehow, and had printed the past in draggled prose, for Cecil to read and for George to hear.

” ‘A golden haze,’ ” he read. He read: ” ‘Afar off the towers of Florence, while the bank on which she sat was carpeted with violets. All unobserved, Antonio stole up behind her–‘ ”
Lest Cecil should see her face she turned to George, and she saw his face.
He read: ” ‘There came from his lips no wordy protestation such as formal lovers use. No eloquence was his, nor did he suffer from the lack of it. He simply enfolded her in his manly arms.’ “

George finds Lucy alone in the garden and, for the second time, kisses her again. She realizes that the light romance was written by Miss Lavish, the novelist acquaintance from Florence, and that Charlotte must have told her about the kiss. Furious with her cousin for betraying her secret, (“Why did you tell Miss Lavish, when you wouldn’t even let me tell mother?”) she forces Charlotte to watch as she tells George to leave and never return again. George argues with her, saying that Cecil will only ever see her as “an object for the shelf” and will never love her enough to grant her independence, whereas George loves her for who she is:

“He is the sort who are all right so long as they keep to things – books, pictures – but kill when they come to people. That’s why I’ll speak out through all this muddle even now. It’s shocking enough to lose you in any case, but generally a man must deny himself joy, and I would have held it back if your Cecil had been a different person. I would have never let myself go. But I saw him first in the National Gallery, when he winced because my father mispronounced the names of the great painters. Then he brings us here, and we find it is to play some silly trick on a kind neighbour. That is the man all over – playing tricks on people, on the most sacred form of life that he can find. Next, I meet you together, and find him protecting and teaching you and your mother to be shocked, when it was for you to settle whether you were shocked or no. Cecil all over again. He daren’t let a woman decide. He’s the type who’s kept Europe back for a thousand years. Every moment of his life he’s forming you, telling you what’s charming or amusing or ladylike, telling you what a man thinks womanly; and you, you of all women, listen to his voice instead of your own. So it was at the Rectory, when I met you both again; so it had been the whole of this afternoon. Therefore – not “therefore I kissed you,” because the book made me do that, and I wish to goodness I had more self-control. I’m not ashamed. I don’t apologize. But it has frightened you, and you may not have noticed that I love you. Or would you have told me to go, and dealt with a tremendous thing so lightly? But therefore – therefore I settled to fight him.”

Lucy is moved, but remains firm. George leaves. The scales fall from Lucy’s eyes when later that evening Cecil refuses a game of tennis, confessing himself as the chap “who is no good for anything but books”, and she breaks her engagement with him. She decides to travel to Greece with acquaintances from Florence, but shortly before her departure she encounters the elder Mr. Emerson, who is not aware that she has broken her engagement with Cecil. As she cannot lie, Mr. Emerson forces Lucy to admit out loud that she’s loved George all along. The novel ends in Florence, where Lucy and George have eloped to without her mother’s consent and although she has perhaps “alienated Windy Corner, perhaps for ever”, it ends on the note of lifelong love for both her and George.

Links

A Room with a View – Wikipedia

Read A Room with a View on Project Gutenberg

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