Friday, 4 March 2016

A Room with a View by E. M. Forster

**This book was included on 
SBRs Top 10 Best Reads of 2015**

Published by:  Penguin
Publication date: 1986 (First Ed 1908)

Publisher's synopsis
Published in 1908, A Room with A View is one of E. M. Forster's most celebrated works. Forster explores love among a cast of eccentric characters gathered in an Italian pension and in a corner of Surrey, England. Caught up in a world of social snobbery, Lucy Honeychurch must make a decision that will decide the course of her future: She is forced to choose between convention and passion.

My Review

Caution: this review contains potential spoilers.

I first came to the story of A Room with a View via the film version (see cover).  I was about the same age as Miss Honeychurch when I saw it for the first time.  Having recently read the book, I have come to understand the story better and see it differently.  As a girl in my late teens, I focused on the love story (which is at the heart of the novel), whereas now I focused on the issues surrounding the main characters.  E.M. Forster often wrote about the social class divide and gender inequality.  In the early 1900s the industrial revolution presented an opportunity for working class people to improve their situations and, as a result, raise their status in society. This is key to the plot. 

Lucia Honeychurch has two romantic suitors to choose from. There is Cecile, who I would describe as a pompous and passionless aristocrat. He doesn't need to work and considers a life of leisure to be his occupation.  Then there is George, a handsome young man she meets while on holiday in Florence.  George's paternal roots are working class.  His father, Mr Emerson, is a retired writer (a typical 'lower-middle class' profession of the period).  His profession raised his social standing and allowed him to marry 'above his station'.  George is a clerk working 'on the railways', which is a symbol of his upward-mobility. Mr Emerson rejects the need for restraint when expressing one's emotions (an alarmingly non-British characteristic).  He openly expresses himself and has encouraged George to do the same.  Their absence of stiff upper-lips result in them experiencing a fair amount of snobbery from the 'upper class' people they encounter, both at the Pension in Florence and in the tight-knit community of Lucia's village in Surrey, England.

Lucia is somewhat confused by her predicament and decides to do what she believes is expected of her when making her choice. I am not convinced however that social class or etiquette influenced her decision to accept Cecil's marriage proposal.  It struck me that Lucia was in the unfortunate state of being in love without actually realising it.  This was due to her youth, inexperience and because she was not the sort of girl who was interested in love, and so when it happened to her - while in Florence - it did not occur to her that being in love was what she was experiencing.  Whereas George is fully aware and (incapable of showing restraint) responded accordingly.  Lucia felt frustrated at both herself and the object of her desire - George - and responded negatively to his advances, while at the same time being charmed by them (which only fueled her frustration).  This is why I think she made the choice to accept Cecile - a knee jerk reaction.  It took a while for her head to come around to what was happening to her heart. 

It seems to me that Lucia represents the way the British typically repress their emotions. Mr Beeb hints at this when he compares the way she plays Beethoven (with passion and emotion) to the way she conducts herself in company (holding back and not revealing her true self or her true feelings). 

When Virgina Woolf's character, 'Mrs Dallaway', was Lucia's age she had a similar choice to make.  It was interesting to compare these two characters and the subsequent outcome that resulted from their choices.

I also found myself comparing Lucia to Margot Roth Spiegelman, of John Green's 'Paper Towns,' as she demonstrated similar characteristics (i.e. youth, inexperience and zero interest in the pursuit of romantic love) and responded  to her feelings for Q in a similar way.

A room with a View is a classic that has become one of my favourites.  It is a sweet love story told with intelligence and humour. It is worth reading for the bathing scene alone.

The 1986 film is one of the best adaptations of a book I have seen but it glosses over some of the (above-mentioned) themes. 

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