A Room with a View
A Room with a ViewIntroduction
E. M. Forster
For Further Study
An essayist, lecturer, tutor to the working class, and travel guide, Edward Morgan Forster is recognized chiefly for his five novels published up to 1924. For those works, Forster has been proclaimed one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century though he has no school of followers or even an obvious apostle. Instead, Forster holds his position of influence on the novel in solitude. Though Forster would not approve of his works being adapted to film, a renewed appreciation of Forster in the late twentieth century coincided with film adaptations of his works.
Forster's belief in personal relationships and his experience as a globetrotter allowed him to be a staunch advocate of multiculturalism long before the term came into academic vogue. His stories and writings are rife with a permissive transgression of social, racial, sexual, and cultural strictures. Forster's egalitarianism found a large audience during a time when his intellectual contemporaries were elitist, conservative, and still trying to transition from Victorian to Modern England.
Forster contributes to this transition with his third novel, Room with a View, which he started in 1902 but did not publish until 1908. In this novel, Lucy finds completeness in an ending of unabashed happiness after journeying through a story of textbook comic structure. She has found love, adulthood, and happiness—all things lacking in the beginning. The work celebrates youth, nature, and the comic or Greek spirit with Lucy a light that illuminates a path for both men and women to follow. Lucy, with her husband, takes the best of radical politics and Victorian society and makes a place of equanimity.
Forster, born in London on January 1, 1879, was raised by his mother, Alice Clara Whichelo Forster (known as Lily), two aunts, and a grandmother. His father, an architect named Edmund Morgan, died of consumption in 1880. Forster spent a happy childhood at Rooksnest, a house in Hertfordshire his mother rented, which provided the material for Forster's 1910 novel Howards End. Boarding school, however, was a misery. In 1890, Forster attended Kent House, a prep school in Eastbourne, but harassment led to his transfer to The Grange. When that proved intolerable, Lily moved to Tonbridge in 1893 and Forster became a day boy at Tonbridge School, where he finished prep school. While attending Tonbridge, Forster had his first taste of travel when he joined his mother on a tour of churches in 1895.
Marianne Thornton, a great-aunt, bequeathed Forster monetary independence. He used some of this money, beginning in 1897, to attend King's College, Cambridge. Forster thrived in the liberating atmosphere of the university where he belonged to the Cambridge Conversazione Society, also known as the Apostles. Among these friends, Forster learned that being homosexual was not abnormal. After a period of travel, Forster joined his old friends for avant-garde discussions as a member of the Bloomsbury Group. At school, he achieved an unsatisfactory second-class honors degree in classics followed by one of the same rank in history. He was awarded an M.A. in 1910.
Disappointed by his academic rank, Forster accepted his mother's plan to delay the future by travelling. In Italy, their stay in a Florentine pension inspired Forster to begin work, in 1902, on the "Lucy" novel, which would eventually become A Room with a View. He returned to England briefly before he began a life abroad with a journey to Greece in 1903. This expedition was followed by travels to Germany, South Africa, and the United States. Forster's visits to India resulted in several works, most notably a 1924 novel, A Passage to India.
During World War I, Forster volunteered as a searcher for the Red Cross in Egypt. He interviewed convalescent soldiers in order to gain information about missing persons. While in Egypt, Forster made a name for himself as an essayist and travel writer under the pseudonym Pharos (for the ancient lighthouse). These writings gave way to Alexandria: A History and a Guide, followed by a book that collected essays from the period.
At the age of forty-six, Forster separated from his mother and rented a flat of his own in London. He began a relationship with Robert Buckingham which became a lasting friendship when Robert married in 1931. For the next thirty-nine years, Forster remained a respected essayist and literary critic. After his death June 7, 1970, from a series of strokes, Maurice, a largely autobiographical novel whose protagonist grapples with the trials of being gay, was published in accordance with Forster's will. A seventh novel that Forster never completed, Arctic Summer, was published in 1980.
When Lucy Honeychurch and Charlotte Bartlett arrive at the Bertolini Pension, the women are upset that their rooms view a courtyard instead of the promised view of Florence. An uncouth man, Mr. Emerson, offers to swap rooms but Charlotte refuses. Clergyman Beebe, however, rescues the situation and the swap takes place. Lucy, a young woman in Italy for the first time, wants to take in all the sights but is slowed down by Charlotte, her spinsterly chaperone. Fortunately, another English tourist, Miss Lavish, offers to take her to Santa Croce. After an exciting walk, Miss Lavish abandons Lucy who enters the church alone.
Since Miss Lavish kept the guidebook, Lucy finds herself "in Santa Croce with No Baedeker." She has no choice but to tour the church in remembrance of what she has read. By accident, Lucy meets the Emersons, who show her how to enjoy the church with their own unfiltered senses. Lucy insists on points the book had highlighted but "the pernicious charm of Italy worked on her, and, instead of acquiring information, she began to be happy." While his son, George, is at a distance, Mr. Emerson proposes that Lucy take an interest in him. Despite this insult, Mr. Emerson helps her to not have the proper aesthetic experience. Rather, she is "inflated spiritually," "thoroughly happy, and having a splendid time."
Invigorated by a rainy afternoon spent playing the piano, Lucy avoids being ensnared by Pension gossip with Beebe and Miss Catherine Alan and walks into the now sunny Florence. After purchasing some photos of famous paintings, Lucy witnesses passion boil over into murder in the Piazza della Signoria. As an Italian is knifed, he looks to Lucy and opens his mouth as if to give a message "and a stream of red came out." Lucy faints and her pictures are soiled with blood. George, who happens to be in the Piazza, rescues Lucy and tosses the besmirched photos into the River Arno. Art has met life and "something happen[ed] to the living: they had come to a situation where character tells, and where Childhood enters upon the branching paths of Youth." While they recover, they watch the River Arno.
Lucy's confrontation with reality disables any chance of a "return to the old life!" Fearful of her feelings for George, she shops with Charlotte the next day instead of joining a tourist excursion. They run into Miss Lavish in the Piazza trying to salvage the murder scene for use in her novel. Lucy and Charlotte leave her and bump into Mr. Eager, who invites them on a drive—a treat he reserves for the most deserving—to view Fiesole. Mr. Beebe manages to be included on the trip but fails to consult with Mr. Eager before doubling the party to include the undeserving. Despite careful planning, Lucy finds herself in a carriage with Mr. Eager and the two people he disapproves of the most: Mr. Emerson, for killing his wife, and Miss Lavish, "a shoddy lady writer."
Mr. Eager proposes that they discover the very spot where Alessio Baldovinetti made his Tuscan landscapes. They go to the bluff with this in mind but instead of rediscovery, Lucy falls into a bed of violets and George—enraptured by the beauty of the scenery and the lovely woman lying in flowers before him—imprudently kisses Lucy. This leads Charlotte into paranoid delusions that Lucy will be exposed to others as the beloved of George, a man of the lower class who did not have such permission.
The party returns to Florence during a storm and whatever "game" was being played on the hillside has been "lost." A Miltonic lightning bolt seals off the possibility of return to the garden where play and liberty were possible. Charlotte, who witnessed the kiss, ponders over who else knows. George chooses to remain in nature, and walks back. The storm's violence allows the party one brief moment of lost self-control but then they recover their roles. Charlotte struggles to recover Lucy from being like the Emersons; Lucy wants "to be truthful."
Worried that George may strike again, Charlotte packs Lucy off to Rome where they have a miserable time with the Vyse family. Cecil Vyse, induced to take the two women to St. Peter's, notices Lucy as more than a commonplace English tourist. He sees that Italy has given her "light" and "shadow" and made her a "woman of Leonardo," a body for intellectual admiration, not engagement. Cecil wants to purchase her.
Back at Windy Corner in England, Lucy accepts Cecil as her "fiasco" and society is pleased with the impending match. Believing he has purchased Lucy, Cecil considers how to finish Lucy's education while he dreams of ways to redecorate the drawing-room at Windy Corner as "more distinctive." Lucy's brother, Freddy, and Beebe are inwardly disappointed; even Mrs. Honeychurch shows signs of disillusionment with Cecil, her dream son-in-law. This results from his reaction to suffering through an announcement party. He hypothesizes that engagements should be private—like a business transaction. In the ensuing discussion, Lucy shows her brain and pains Cecil: he wants to look at his Leonardo, not see her in moral judgment amongst Michelangelo's figures in the Sistine Chapel.
Walking home, the party runs into Sir Harry Otway, who has cottages to rent. After a discussion of the ramifications of the cottages, Cecil disapproves of the knight alone to Lucy, who begins to wonder if anything from her hometown can meet with Cecil's approval. Chiding her for always leading him on the road, the lovers take the path through the woods. As they near Windy Corner, Cecil attempts to be romantic and asks Lucy if he might kiss her but "passion should believe itself irresistible." Their kiss proves to be a failure. Strangely, it leads Lucy to pronounce the name Emerson.
In an attempt to pull a prank on the knight, Cecil arranges for the Emersons—a pair he meets mispronouncing names in the art galleries in London—to take a cottage on his recommendation. This angers Lucy, who had been trying to bring Miss Alans to the same cottage. As the Emersons arrive, Lucy and Cecil leave to visit Mrs. Vyse in London. There, Lucy glimpses her future life of playing piano for grandchildren. Mrs. Vyse comforts her when she awakes from a nightmare about a kiss.
Back at Windy Corner, Lucy, Cecil, and Mrs. Honeychurch are on their way to visit a neighbor when they run into Freddy, George, and Beebe in the midst of bathing in the Sacred Lake. Instead of a proper social encounter with George, for which Lucy had spent hours rehearsing, Lucy bows to him while he is half-naked. She finds him beautiful and clearly more her type than the contracted Vyse.
During a dinner party, Vyse refuses to play tennis and Lucy seizes on the refusal as indicative of Vyse generally and breaks off the engagement. What really set her off, however, was Cecil's insistent reading from a romance novel written by Miss Lavish and another uninvited kiss from George. The novel happens to have a scene in it made up of information that Charlotte provided about the kiss at Fiesole. Having been betrayed by Charlotte, Lucy plays the piano as she thinks about her next step.
Back to Italy
Lucy decides to catch up with Miss Alans in Greece. Tickets in hand, Lucy encounters Mr. Emerson in Beebe's rectory and he brings her to her senses. Lucy extracts herself from the muddle she has created and accepts union with George. They return to the Pension in Florence to enjoy a room with a view.
The Miss Alans
Miss Theresa and Miss Catherine Alan are normally referred to as "the Miss Alans who stood for good breeding." They are yet another example of what Lucy might become by following Charlotte. They have chosen independence but within the confines of society's rules. They can remain single but they gain little in doing so. They are dull people who see the world as a book. They travel to read the great book and learn about life but they cannot live for themselves. They cannot be passionate living people. They must be staid, demure, and carry their guidebooks. They are part of the Army of Darkness.
Lucy is actually en route to join them when she confronts Mr. Emerson. At this moment, the Greek spirit, in the form of life with George, can be hers but she thinks she wants to study past Greek civilization. Fortunately, she chooses to live life now.
Cousin Charlotte is not as rich as Lucy and travels with monetary help from Lucy's mother. In return for this help, Charlotte tries to impart her wisdom to Lucy by acting as chaperone. Instead, she comes off as a self-serving spinster who loves to play the role of "prematurely aged martyr." Charlotte is also a prude, absurdly so. Charlotte successfully manipulates Lucy into a successful match with Cecil. When this proves obviously stifling to her protégé, Charlotte orchestrates an escape route in the form of independence and travel to Greece. The Comic Muse has the last laugh, however, and Charlotte's visit to church allows Lucy to converse with Mr. Emerson who convinces her to marry George. The happy couple wonder whether Charlotte intended the fortuitous meeting.
At first appearance, Beebe seems to be a tolerant man hoping to see Lucy blossom in all the glory she can possibly attain as a young woman. Through the course of the novel, however, Beebe reveals that he wants Lucy to become a gothic statue—celibate, religious, and proper. Mr. Beebe thinks people are "better detached." As his name suggests, Beebe is a drone worker for the hive. He is a clergyman who ministers to the needs of the hive's proper functioning. Lucy, for Beebe, is a problem.
Mr. Beebe has a theory about Lucy which he shares with Cecil while he doesn't know of the couple's engagement. Some day, Beebe thinks, Lucy's musical ability will merge with her quiet living. Then she will be both "heroically good, heroically bad." He pictures her in his diary as a kite whose string is held by Miss Bartlett. In the next picture of the Lucy series, the string breaks. Mr. Beebe, therefore, is disappointed when he hears that Lucy is to marry Cecil. In the end, when he hears that Lucy loves George, Beebe shows her a genuine concern for the first time. However, his feelings about the idea of Lucy's life with George remain ambiguous; he only wants to help Lucy.
Mr. Beebe has taken charge of the education of his niece, Minnie. The little girl looks to Lucy as a role model and shows that she has Emersonian potential when she insists on sitting outside at the pub.
Mr. Eager serves as chaplain to the English expatriates living around Florence as well as to the tourists. However, he helps to keep the two groups separate. The expatriates jealously guard their knowledge and access to the real Florence from the ignorant tourists with their Baedekers. Every so often, a tourist will appear in Florence who is above-average. Only such select people are taken by Mr. Eager to the expatriate group. Lucy receives such an invitation. However, the inclusion of others on the outing by Mr. Beebe dissuades Mr. Eager from taking her to "tea at a Renaissance villa."
The younger Emerson, George, "has a view too." Though freed of the molds of religion by his father's enlightened scheme of education, George is a classic melancholic depressed by too much knowledge. Mr. Beebe reveals several of the works George has imbibed—books that easily lead one to a despondent view of life. Reflecting the Freudian airs of the time, George's melancholia can be cured by sex. Happily, Mr. Emerson sees very quickly, Lucy's problem can also be solved by sex. The two young people are introduced and love takes over.
George scoffs at a society that wants to bar him from kissing a woman when he wants to and running through suburbia naked. "He had sighed among the tombs at Santa Croce because things wouldn't fit;… after the death of that obscure Italian he had leant over the parapet by the Arno and said to [Lucy]: "I shall want to live, I tell you." Playing tennis he shows that he wants to live and in doing so seems to shine like the sun. By the end of the novel, George and Lucy will, like Phaeton and Phoebus, show that life must be lived in the fullness of the moment.
- In 1950, Stephen Tait and Kenneth Allcott adapted A Room with a View to the stage. The play was produced in Cambridge and published by Edward Arnold in 1951.
- Cinecom released a film adaptation of A Room with a View produced by Merchant-Ivory Productions in 1986. Using an adaptation by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, James Ivory directed the film. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, the film won three: for screenplay, costume design, and set design. The cast included the notable Daniel Day-Lewis (Cecil), Helena Bonham Carter (Lucy), and Julian Sands (George).
Mr. Emerson has a distinct view which frees him from answering to a specific social order or mechanic clique. Mr. Emerson is a man of the Enlightenment who values experience and science and, in his thoughts about education, conjures Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Taken together, Mr. Emerson—in comic theory terms—is the wise elder who comes off as an angry old man. He views his purpose in life as that of a teacher—he wants to free the minds of the young so they will make decisions and personal philosophies based on experience, not the dictates of society. He reveals this in his encounter with the child in Santa Croce. Mr. Emerson is horrified that a child plays in the dark of a church instead of running around in the sunshine. Mr. Emerson "is kind to people because he loves them." Such honesty horrifies members of society who are accustomed to the awful machinations of women like Charlotte and men like Cecil.
Mr. Emerson looms large in the novel, for his singular gesture of room-swapping disrupts the ritual of society beyond recovery. The Emersons have the rooms with a view—they can see the beauty of Italy and the role of passion in life. By giving his room to Lucy, Mr. Emerson lets her taste this view—a view she will come to adopt as her own. His reasons for doing so allow a discussion of the assumptions underlying the view held by society—thus, on the matters of religion, gender, education, art, and music, Mr. Emerson shows Lucy that there are alternatives.
As with Lucy, society assumes that Freddy will take his rightful place and become Lord of Windy Corner. Charlotte, in Part I, presents Freddy as the chivalrous type who would defend his sister's honor against any who might dare sully it. However, Freddy fails at chivalrous calculating. Thus, in his amusement over Cecil's medieval request for his sister's hand, he replies rashly; "Take her or leave her; it's no business of mine!" But Freddy does not pose such thoughts intellectually—Freddy acts in the heat of the moment. Freddy embodies the comic spirit—he is a "seize the day" type of character. His response to Cecil and other social blunders indicate this. While Mr. Beebe theorizes the Garden of Eden, Freddy asks, "what about this bathe?" Enough talk, says Freddy, let's have fun.
Still, Freddy tries to gain an education in manners though he merely acquires bruises. His endless self-consciousness about the way in which he handled Cecil pains him. Freddy doesn't like Cecil but he adores his sister. He tries to emulate Cecil once he knows him but George disrupts Freddy's education. George also encourages Freddy's natural philosophy. Freddy believes in the notion of "freedom of the individual"—so long as nobody else is hurt.
Lucy, the protagonist, is from a middle-class family accidentally brought up in society through association with bluebloods. Her coming of age involves an achievement of wisdom, or view, of life. In the process, she unsuccessfully attempts to mold herself into a proper woman to please her mother, her teacher (Charlotte), and her fairy-tale suitor (Cecil). Within this route, she might have emulated the Miss Alans who represent a kind of feminine freedom within the rules of Cecil's world. Instead, she becomes "a rebel who desired, not a wider dwelling-room, but equality beside the man she loved." Her decision costs her to "break the whole of life." By accomplishing such destruction and deriving genuine happiness, she becomes a beacon to others; she shows that women can have a view alongside a man.
Lucy's name announces her allegorical status. Her name comes from the Latin word for light. Throughout the novel Lucy cannot help but love light (especially sunlight), nature, and views of pretty scenes. However, the world which longs to possess her is the "army of darkness." There, bourgeois rules, fashion, and rooms are the views that must be enjoyed. Such a life of shadows does not accommodate members of the light. Lucy's challenge in the novel is to stay true to herself and have a clear view or be a proper woman and be snuffed out. Throughout the work, Lucy's journey toward her true nature as a light is revealed in the degree to which she stands in the shadows. Her final epiphany, of course, finds her fumbling in the dark before Mr. Emerson. This darkest and most trying of hours gives way to the brilliance of happiness with George.
Widowed mother of Lucy and Freddy, Mrs. Honeychurch is mistress of Windy Corner. The house was a speculative venture on the part of her husband, an honest solicitor, but its early existence in what was becoming a suburb of London made the newly arrived aristocracy regard the Honey-churches as old blood. By the time they learned of the error, it was too late and the middle-class family had been raised to the upper class.
Mrs. Honeychurch is an antifeminist who mistrusts passion. Despite being in charge of her own household, she glories in doing what she can to uphold traditional gender roles. She gets worked up about women who do not take up their proper place, saying "beware of women altogether"—especially women writers. She compliments men as embodiments of their chivalrous role. Aware of the change that occurs in Lucy around music, Mrs. Honey-church hopes Lucy will "never live a duet."
The stock phrase "Miss Lavish is so original" is used several times to describe this representative of early-twentieth-century liberated woman. Society members perceive her as being a radical, wise woman of the world and they tolerate her as such. This tolerance and encouragement symbolize the traditional ability of the upper classes to purchase and enjoy the superficially subversive artists, art-work, or person. Miss Lavish, in a way, plays the role of fool. She may appear to understand how lifeless society is but she can't bear to leave the courtroom. She remains the clown, not a spout of wisdom, because she doesn't care about others. Mr. Emerson, her opposite, does care and does succeed in saving a soul from society's vise.
As a novelist, Miss Lavish mirrors Forster. Her novel about an Italian romance uses Lucy as inspirational material. The book should entrap Lucy in the "army of darkness" but the opposite happens. Lucy sees herself incompletely in that artwork and sets about finishing her creation of herself.
A member of the local aristocracy in Sussex and a friend of the Honeychurch family, Sir Harry Otway has recently purchased the Cissie and Albert cottages from Mr. Flack. These two cottages, to many in the area, have ruined the traditional main street. In late-twentieth-century parlance, the cottages are sprawl constructions that are hurriedly built without regard to the established aesthetic. Otway's inability to prevent their construction brought him much criticism from his peers. He now hopes to assuage the predicament by finding good tenants. Proper, in this case, is homogenous. Otway hopes to find a certain tenant with the right class, race, and ethnic identities. Such screening will become a mainstay of suburbs as they try to keep out blacks in the course of the twentieth century. In terms of the novel, Otway represents another failure of an otherwise likable person to keep pace with the times. Significantly, it is Cecil who "helps" him complete the search.
Phaethon, in Greek mythology, was allowed by his father, Helios, to drive the sun chariot for a day. Unable to control the horses, the chariot began to burn the earth until Zeus' thunderbolt knocked Phaethon into the river Po. He is the mythological counterpart to George, a railroad worker, who will succeed in driving a new chariot in a new way.
The driver of the carriage on the outing to Fiesole begs permission to pick up his "sister." As it turns out, Phoebe is his girlfriend and they proceed to behave as young lovers, right under Mr. Eager's nose. Her name conjures the Titan daughter of Uranus and Gaea in Greek mythology who signifies brightness and the moon. Thus, she is a symbol of femininity and of the passion of the night with all the mystery such symbolism affords. Phoebe is Lucy's counterpart; Lucy becomes a beacon for others to follow when escaping from the "army of darkness."
"Appearing late in the story, Cecil … was medieval. Like a Gothic statue. [Whose] head … was tilted a little higher than the usual level of vision, he resembled those fastidious saints who guard the portals of a French cathedral." More importantly, Cecil represents masculine sexuality as seated in Rome to oppose the passionate sexuality represented by George in Renaissance Florence. Rome, as seat of the Pope, represents the heart of Europe's dark medieval traditions within the universe of Forster's novel. As a representative of the gothic, Cecil invokes the traditions of chivalry, celibacy, rules, sins, and the stringent attitudes that allowed witches to be burned—misogynistic and fearful of bodily passion. Cecil is a Victorian mother's dream and he has thrice asked Lucy for her hand in marriage. Lucy does say yes, on the very day in fact that Sir Harry Otway finds tenants for his rental property. Cecil makes this connection and it is appropriate because Cecil views relationships in feudal terms. For Cecil, Lucy is an artwork whose possession will aggrandize his self-worth.
Cecil's mother represents the crushed light that Lucy might become. "Mrs. Vyse was a nice woman, but her personality, like many another's had been swamped by London … the too vast orb of fate had crushed her." She, unabashedly, reveals the intentions of the society people arrayed against the Emersons' and Lucy's natural inclinations. To Cecil she orders, "make her one of us." As a woman of society, her judgment on whether a person will "do" is sacrosanct and Lucy steadily wins her approbation.
Forster investigates ideas about gender by showing how the body exists as a site of societal contest. A body that has been claimed by society as, for example, female due to its reproductive abilities will have definite strictures placed upon it. Likewise, a male body has certain freedoms which he can sacrifice in order to show himself more civilized. Beebe, as usual, unconscious of having put his finger on it, nicely cuts to the point himself with a rich summary. "Can you picture a lady who has been introduced to another lady by a third lady opening civilities with 'How do you do? Come and have a bathe'? And yet you will tell me that the sexes are equal." Men have certain privileges denied to women and the continuation of this paradox depends on Lucy becoming a woman like Charlotte.
Women like Charlotte exhibit absurd prudish-ness about male flesh while using the body to censure young women. They hold up the "medieval lady," who loathed all physical elements, especially her own flesh, as the ideal. Charlotte displays this stance early through her shock over George's admittance that his father bathes. She also betrays her ideas when she refers to naked Venus as "a pity." Charlotte desires a world of chivalry where men donned armor to amuse well-dressed ladies. The distance between men and women is, thus, well maintained. Charlotte uses her body against Lucy constantly. For example, she wins their fight at Fiesole by sitting on the wet ground and tries to physically reclaim her from George beneath the carriage rug. Lucy learns that Charlotte's view, like that of Mrs. Honeychurch, depends on viewing the male body as something extraordinary. However, she realizes that men, like women, are just human. After realizing this, she accepts Mr. Emerson's idea of "direct desire" with which she robs "the body of its taint." This frees her from the "medieval lady" for she accepts that "love is of the body."
George comes alive when nude. The pond where he bathes with Freddy and Beebe acts like "a spell" from a "chalice" that resuscitates his spirit. He abhors civilization's distaste for the body and longs to live a balanced life. However, in keeping with his father's teaching, George knows that women must also enjoy the body. Only then can men and women be "comrades" and enter Eden together. Cecil, however, embodies the perfect male Vyse. He gives up the ability to play lawn tennis and reads from a book in order to show he is more civilized.
Travel enables the English person of an open mind to taste life and, thereby, begin to live. As Miss Lavish says, to Italy "one comes for life." All too often, the largest obstacle in this process is also the first one confronted by the traveler. The English hotel simply recreates England and allows the English tourist to stay English. His vacation, then, consists of collecting evidence of having been there: "The narrowness and superficiality of the Anglo-Saxon tourist is nothing less than a menace." Lucy comments to Charlotte that there is no difference between a Bloomsbury boarding house in London and the Pension. The same social rules, people, clothes, and paintings surround them. Only in surroundings completely foreign to the pension and London will Lucy possibly learn anything. Different surroundings are important but contact with different people is intrinsic.
The characters reveal their ability to discover themselves in their attitude toward travel and the use of the Baedeker. For example, Miss Lavish is the type of tourist who believes she owns the place and likewise believes that there is nothing about her that needs perfecting. Charlotte is terribly lonely, clingy, and loves to play the emotional martyr in her personal relationships. Likewise, she views traveling as an endless series of chores. Cecil, a proclaimed Italophile, understands as little about Italy as he does about himself though he gives off airs of knowing both. Lucy and George, however, learn little about Italy in comparison but they have a good time and become better people for it. This, Forster indicates, should be the goal of every journey—self-discovery.
Taste and Manners
"Tact!" is the very thing the Emersons disdain but which lubricates the societal hive. Manners, taste, and tact are the very things that muddle Lucy's brain. She spends hours rehearsing bows and statements, and interpreting the actions of others. She wants to "do"; to be approved of by high-standing members of society and, if she tries hard enough, by the queen bee—Mrs. Vyse. At the start of the novel, Lucy has "not yet acquired decency" but she hopes to do so by the end of her Italian tour with Miss Bartlett, her teacher. The education is not without its hardships; one of Charlotte's early lessons ended Lucy's bathing in the Sacred Lake. To be a Lady is to give up on manly prerogatives like public bathing.
In the storm on the return from Fiesole, the result of such an education is glimpsed. The various party members lose control of themselves and act naturally. They act in "unladylike" or "unmanly" ways. Lucy is quickly acquiring such unnatural abilities but "she was not better able to stifle emotions of which the conventions and the world would disapprove." An educated lady can violate natural inclinations and always act properly. Ultimately, she will become a nearly "medieval lady," and as "mechanical" as Mrs. Vyse.
Fortunately, comic forces intervene and Lucy sees the jmmworld of Vyse as "nonsense." It helped that throughout her progress on the path to being ladylike, she was always conscious of how unnatural it was. She succeeded in being a lady only when she concentrated and remembered to perform properly. Otherwise, she was as truthful as the Emersons—who would not "do."
Art, in the novel, can inspire characters to live more passionately. Therefore, paintings, literary works, and musical pieces exist as gauges of a character's open-mindedness. By thinking about art and its role in society, a character reveals his or her view of whether life should be experienced naturally or aesthetically, directly or in its written form. For example, as they begin the drive to Fiesole, Mr. Eager points out a beautiful cottage, which happens to be owned by an Englishwoman. To some, the cottage becomes exciting only when Mr. Eager points out that some believe it to be the place of a scene from Boccaccio's Decameron. The literary connection enhances the aesthetic enjoyment of the cottage and displaces the natural reaction. Books act this way throughout the novel. Book knowledge overrides natural inclination. Not surprisingly, Cecil hopes to finish Lucy's education with books. The base of aesthetic living, then, is to know how to respond to a given situation by collating one's knowledge.
Topics For Further Study
- Forster's theory of marital comradeship has been said to be a homosexual viewpoint masked by a heterosexual story. Do you agree or disagree?
- Forster identified readily with Renaissance figures. Research the Neoplatonist Gemistus Pletho or the Italian mathematician Girolamo Cardano and read Forster's essay on either one. What comparisons can be made between these Renaissance figures and Forster?
- The Greek Spirit or the Comic Muse are composed of profound human musings. Taking George's book shelf as a guide (Byron, Butler, Gibbon, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche) as well as the novel itself, define Mr. Emerson's understanding of the Greek Spirit.
- In the novel, the potential liberating effects of art must be guarded against. This is done by aesthetic education, not censorship. How has the battle over the impact of media on youth changed? What can be learned from Forster on this issue?
- Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" was celebrated in the novel as a moment of body appreciation—not an example of exploitation. Feminists in Forster's day, and still today, disagree. Research the arguments on both sides using Forster's novel and Lynda Nead's The Female Nude. Which do you find most persuasive?
- Read Forster's own travel books or early National Geographics to ascertain the conditions a traveler faced in Forster's time. What does Forster believe to be the value of travel? Compare this to the goal of package tours and the ability to eat at McDonald's in any city on the planet. Is Forster's sense of travel possible in, for example, the Florence of today?
Paintings work in the same way. Lucy hopes her guidebook will enable her to have the proper response to the frescoes in Santa Croce. Instead, the Emersons react from their experience. Likewise, Lucy reacts to Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" from her own experience. She purchases a copy of the painting in a fit of rebellion. Charlotte disapproved of the painting because Venus is naked. Purchasing photographs, however, does not satisfy Lucy—she wants to recapture the passion the artist felt in the painting.
Performance becomes the key to recapturing the Renaissance spirit. Miss Lavish comes off as a villain for her writing and yet she offers Lucy a hint: Anyone can accomplish a work of art. Lucy also performs: "Lucy never knew her desires so clearly as after music." The performance of a beautiful work—much like the reading of a good book—can help to illuminate desires. In other words, when Lucy is engaged with life—playing tennis, piano, or kissing—she becomes fully alive. Artworks can show the way, but Lucy must play.
A term that literary criticism borrows from music describes the technical repetition of key phrases or ideas in association with persons or places. The device can also assume larger proportions when, for example, an action is repeated with different portents. Forster employs leitmotif throughout his novels.
Swimming and violets are George's simple signifiers. The device becomes more intricate with Lucy. She employs music as her leitmotif. Lucy's playing affords an opportunity for other people to glimpse her real personality. The pieces she chooses to play have far reaching effects. Beethoven means something different from Schuman. Lucy's inability to play Wagner signals the novel's larger comedic struggle. The piece she cannot play comes from Wagner's operatic adaptation of the Holy Grail legend. Forster's novel is full of references to the tale and these references are leitmotifs.
Place becomes a leitmotif governing the novel's structure. Italy, at both the beginning and end, is a place of passion, youth, and possibility. The dark phase of the novel when Lucy is most endangered of joining the "army of darkness" takes place in England; far in the north, England is the seat of cold Victorianism. The leitmotif of physical intimacy reveals the position of opposing character. Lucy's kisses with her mother are mechanical. Hand brushings with Mr. Emerson are genuine but Charlotte's embrace is a betrayal. Kissing, of course, becomes the most potent act. George's kiss sets her ablaze. Cecil's kiss makes her feel awful and awkward.
Forster makes no secret about this technique. He ascribes the structural theory of the novel to George Meredith at the moment when Cecil thinks he is scoring a victory for the Comic Muse. Meredith put forth his comic theory in an 1877 lecture, "On Comedy and the Uses of the Comic Spirit." He said, in part, "now comedy is the fountain of good sense; not the less perfectly sound on account of the sparkle: and comedy lifts women to a station offering them free play for their wit. As they usually show it, when they have it, on the side of good sense. The higher the comedy, the more prominent the part they enjoy in it." He then goes on to discuss classic works of comedy and the role that women play. Dorine in Moliere's Tartuffe is one example. That Lucy plays the most prominent part indicates that the novel is of the highest order; it wants nothing less than to save mankind. In "Le Rire," Henri Bergson, a contemporary of Forster, pointed out that comedy arises wherever the living are encrusted with the mechanical. Bergson argued that where humans become bogged down in ritualized habits, rules, or patterns that deaden vitality, comedy arises to offer a corrective. By viewing themselves in a comedic light, people feel better and sometimes seek to live better.
The comic structure originates in springtime ritual. The deadening pattern of winter is disrupted by a change in temperature which results in the rejuvenation of living things. This phenomenon is transcribed into society, which is laboring under a very dull and unchanging pattern of existence. The disrupting element, often referred to as the Comic Muse or Comic Force, can take the form of a stranger, a fool, or a revelation of knowledge. In A Room with a View, the typical rite of initiation of a young woman into "medieval lady" is disrupted by the interference of Mr. Emerson. The hive of society attempts to counter his disruption using Charlotte, Beebe, and others. They only make the problem larger and soon the mechanisms that had hitherto gone unquestioned become exposed and look "brown" against the violent beauty of the Italian landscape.
The disruption to the norm is important to begin the process but does not guarantee a comedic ending. The characters in the midst of the muddle must experience some form of raw nature and intellectual epiphany. Lucy experiences the forces of nature when she witnesses the murder, is drenched in a storm, confronts George at the Sacred Lake, and compares kisses. Mr. Emerson gives her philo-sophic questions that lead to her tear-filled awakening in Beebe's rectory.
Comedy, in its basic structure, also demands a sacrifice before allowing rebirth, redemption, or spring. Lucy, the Christ figure of this novel, sacrifices her family, friends, and her sought-after place in society. In doing so, she achieves the happy life of eternal spring. George is also saved and they become a new Adam and Eve who can remake society. More than just laughter, comedy shows its audience how to break with mechanical restraints and live naturally once again. As Mr. Emerson says, "let us rather love one another, and work and rejoice. I don't believe in this world sorrow."
Forster employs symbolism to bolster his comic structure. Nearly allegorical names serve to cement the position of certain characters. Beebe, like his insect namesake and the sign over the pub door where he conspires with Charlotte, gathers pollen—young people—into the hive where they become proper communal members, like Mrs. Hon-eychurch. The Vyses are at the top of the hive. Like their name, they are gripped and squeezed by their own rules. Mrs. Vyse is described, in fact, as a machine who is all but dead. Cecil is well on his way to his mother's stature for already he cannot play—he is too tight. The Vyse society has many names; they are the "the army of darkness" and they appear "brown"—the color of Charlotte after the first kiss.
Clothing, as the accoutrements of society, is symbolic. When George and Lucy meet at the Sacred Lake, they meet amidst strewn clothes, the shambles of civilization. In the last scene, a lone sock stands for the rules of Vyse that should have been left in England. Lucy is tempted to mend it. Instead, George helps her to put it down and join him at the window to take in the view.
King Edward VII, known as Bertie, ascended the throne at the death of his mother, Queen Victoria, in 1901. Bertie turned the monarchy into a national pageant. He opened the parliament in 1902, worked hard to improve foreign relations (including the entente with France that allowed for the Anglo-French alliance), and gave every encouragement to military reform. Domestically, Bertie championed tolerance by going out of his way to show that Jews and Indian princes were not, by nature, inferior to himself. Bertie's love of pageantry ensured that people noticed this attitude and British society grew more tolerant.
By 1906, Bertie's health showed signs of decline while a constitutional crisis brewed. The question arose as to whether the Lords or the House of Commons should deal with financing the arms race with Germany. As the dispute flared in 1909, Bertie vacationed in France although elections were imminent. He returned to political chaos, succumbed to bronchitis, and died in the spring of 1910.
The British Empire
At the end of the nineteenth century, Britain ruled an empire that encircled the globe. However, the degree to which Britain controlled the areas of the map it marked in pink or red was questionable or in decline. Exacerbating Britain's anxiety, European nations increasingly challenged her hegemony. The most brazen was Germany and the most worrisome was Russia. Britain sought to pacify her challengers. She successfully formed an alliance with France through trade concessions and military agreements. The United States, clearly on its way to being a great industrial power, was pacified and war between the two nations became unthinkable if not quite impossible. Challenges in other areas of the Empire (namely, Ireland, Palestine, Africa, and India) were not so easily dealt with.
At home, the suffragette movement had taken its demands to the streets. Through various militant displays, women publicized their demand for the right to vote. They did not win this right until 1918; New Zealand was the first nation to grant suffrage to women in 1893, while the United States granted the right in 1920. Trade unionists and a very strife-ridden parliament made the latter half of the first decade tumultuous. This strife would lead to a series of strikes in 1911 and 1912. Still, by the eve of World War I, Britain was the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth.
Since the Renaissance, wealthy Europeans and salaried intellectuals have traveled to Italy in order to regain the knowledge and riches of Roman civilization. During the eighteenth century, Italy rivaled France as the necessary stop for any gentleman completing his education with a Grand Tour. This interest in Italy—its ancient ruins, museums, and art treasures—continued into the nineteenth century. The strength of the British currency and the money accruing to its upper classes enabled a lively tourist trade in Italy. This is the basis for Forster's A Room with a View but its depictions of Italians as the passionate idyllic peasants of old is false. Italy during Forster's sojourn was caught in the throes of modernization.
Officially adopting a modern parliamentary system in 1861, Italy still had to overcome centuries of international intervention, internal strife, the Catholic Church, and an underdeveloped economy. For the first fifty years, barely two percent of the population had the right to vote. However, the industrial regions in the north grew their economy at a phenomenal rate and, in southern Italy, the number of literate people began to outnumber the illiterate. By the eve of WWI, Italy's yearly steel output had gone from negligible to nearly one million metric tons and the nation was a producer of cars, typewriters, motorcycles, silk, and fertilizer.
Compare & Contrast
- 1908: Based on an arrangement with Russia, Austria annexes Bosnia and Herzegovina. This disrupts Serbia's plans for a Greater Serbia in cluding the two provinces. Britain and France thwart Russia's gain of the promised access to the Dardanelles and Bosporus straits. Austria denies any secret arrangements and the Balkan fuse is set to explode as World War I.
Today: With the collapse of Yugoslavia, Balkan provinces again struggle for control. At the close of the twentieth century, Serbia has been isolated for its attempt to annex and ethnically cleanse Kosovo.
- 1908: Before it annexes Hawaii in 1898 and colonizes the Philippines a year later, the United States possesses a military just capable of dealing with indigenous tribes, the Mexican army, and Spain. America's stance is defensive, although the world powers know that the United States has the capacity as soon as it finds the will.
Today: The United States has the largest military-industrial complex in the world. On paper, the United States can fight two full-fledged wars simultaneously. This military might is matched by a consumer and financial base that dominates global markets.
- 1908: The West views China as a source of riches so long as the country can be controlled.
Today: The view of China by the West has not changed. The United States hopes to edge out its competitors and gain preferred access to China's vast population for its goods and services.
- 1908: Europe and the United States account for nearly all industrial production. Europe depends on Africa, Asia, and the Americas for its raw materials and food. Europe begins industrializing its colonies by building railways, mining centers, and factories.
Today: Europe and the United States lead the world in finance, service, and legislative sectors but have given up ground in manufacturing and production.
- 1908: The heterosexual ceremony of marriage allows no mutations. Due to industrialization, women and men can choose to be single. In addition, the social atmosphere allows nontraditional relationships.
Today: The Big Three automotive companies in the United States have extended spousal health-care benefits to their gay employees. Homosexual marriage, meanwhile, is gaining acceptance in parts of the West.
These successes concentrated in the north; many Italians from the rest of the peninsula sought opportunity elsewhere. More than half a million Italians left the country each year of the first decade of the century. Many went overseas and a majority to the United States. In addition to its lopsided development, Italy adopted imperial ambitions beyond its abilities. This led to the humiliating defeat of the Italian army by the Abyssinians at Adowa in 1896. Italy's policy of irredentism—a desire to control areas inhabited by people speaking the same language outside national boundaries—led it to attempt annexation of Trieste and Tripoli. Failure in these areas by 1912 added fuel to the fire that would implode as World War I.
Though the term has been applied to numerous epochs and movements, as a label for a specific period it denotes the bridge from post-impressionism through cubism to surrealism (roughly 1906–1930). The avant-garde was a series of art movements whose practitioners saw themselves leading society to better and better plateaus through art. Usually this meant remaking society with socialist or Marxist doctrine. At minimum, the artist of the avant-garde saw himself as an interpreter of the place of the individual in an industrial world.
The Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti began one such movement, futurism. Marinetti believed that industrialization was the only means for Italy to achieve its ambition to become a world power. He wanted Italy to destroy its museums and build factories in their place. He further believed that a consumerist society was the ultimate form of living. He therefore advocated a state of war (the purest state of consumption by any society) that would eventually destroy relics of the past and spawn new machines. Many adherents of futurism died during World War I and Marinetti went to work for Benito Mussolini.
In England, the most famous avant-garde movement was the Bloomsbury Group. This group was composed of Cambridge Apostles, including Forster, who had moved to London. The group met alternatively at the homes of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell in the Bloomsbury district adjacent to the British Museum beginning in 1907. The group's early discussions centered around the agnostic ponderings of G. E. Moore's Principia Ethica and the Principia Mathematica by A. N. White-head and Bertrand Russell. The group survived World War I but disintegrated by 1930.
Critically, A Room with a View has been treated as a fine example of travel literature, character development, satire, comedy, writing style, and a modernization of ancient myths. Forster's novel was immediately popular with readers and early reviewers praised the novel, enjoying the Jane Austen-style observation of human society. Ac-laim began with a review in the Morning Leader (October 30, 1908) which declared the work the best of the year. C. F. G. Masterman's review in The Nation plugged the work because it deftly satirized Edwardian England. Virginia Woolf, writing for the Times Literary Supplement in her article "The Novels of E. M. Forster," and collected in The Death of the Moth and other Essays, declared the book a wonder for its beauty. However, Forster's friend also criticized Forster's characters as unsatisfying. Later critics have not agreed with Woolf.
Writing almost sixty years later, Jeffrey Meyers thought the characters exactly fulfilled their functions. In "The Paintings in Forster's Italian Novels," Meyers discusses how character response to Giotto's fresco, "The Ascension of St. John," "reverberates throughout the novel." Their "aesthetic responses become identified with moral issues" that are hashed out in the novel. Meyers furthers his claim by noting that Forster believed in art as a means for people to learn how to take up the Emerson view and celebrate life. The characters satisfy this principle to the degree to which they proceed to adopt a new view.
A Room with a View cemented Forster's reputation as a writer that began with his short stories and his first two novels. The third novel won him the compliment of being Austen-like in his observational ability and gained him admittance to a line of comic writers from Fielding to Dickens. Frederick C. Crewes comments, in his "Comic Spirit," that Forster and Austen's "comedy is generated by ironic contrasts between what is superficially 'proper' and what is truly reasonable." Land, in his E. M. Forster, writes that Forster doesn't simply write about class or race "but rather like Jane Austen he uses the attitudes and habits of a class as a framework or image for the exploration of human behavior." At the same time, the novel found him accused of writing melodrama.
"Technically," writes Walter Allen in The Modern Novel, Forster's work—except A Passage to India—"are as melodramatic as any in Victorian fiction." Forster is redeemed, for Allen, by his personal attitude whose pure humanism allows him a tone as pure as Fielding or Thackeray. A few years later, Forster defender Joseph Epstein responded in his review for the New York Times Book Review. "Technically … Forster's novels form a connection between the ethical-culture and traditional forms of the 19th century novelists and the main preoccupation of the novelists of the 20th—Forster takes up, that is, where George Eliot leaves off and leaves off where D. H. Lawrence takes up." But, he goes on to say that placing Forster there "is really not to place him at all." For Forster looms so large in English letters that he transcends it. Forster, for Epstein, rooted himself in his nation's character and remained decent about it. Though Forster, like Jonathan Swift and Samuel Butler, satirizes his nation through fantasies, he never humiliates his characters.
Forster attempted to deal with timeless themes by modernizing ancient myths. Lionel Trilling, in his E. M. Forster, uncovers Forster's secret way of doing this when he notices that there is a "barricade" in each of Forster's novels. "The opposed forces on each side are Good and Evil in the forms of Life and Death. Light and Darkness. Fertility and Sterility … all the great absolutes that are so dull when discussed by themselves" are made interesting in Forster because he uses the "comic manner." Forster wrote in light of the comic theory being developed in his day by George Meredith, Sigmund Freud, and others. This theory holds that characters who have too much of an absolute within them need to be adjusted—usually, as Northrop Frye says, by a chaotic clash with nature. John Lucas deftly shows how this works in Room with a View as well as the essential role music plays in the novel.
In his essay "Wagner and Forster," Lucas first places Forster's novel in its cultural milieu. He describes how Wagner dominated European arts at the close of the nineteenth century. He also notes the importance that Forster himself ascribed to the art of music. He relates these two facts to the dynamics of the novel. Thus Wagner's Parsifal—a retelling of the Grail legend with only one major change—is shown to be a guide to deconstructing the text. Also, music proves to be the only available technique to wire in the problems Lucy faced. By making her a pianist, Forster can quickly build up her character in notes familiar to the music fans of 1908. To the reader of today, this element is easily forgotten but in 1908, playing Beethoven or Mozart was a crucial distinction. According to Lucas, Lucy's "transition from Beethoven through Schumann to Mozart … [prefigures] her decline into a probable future of middle-class sterility." The call for Parsifal, but Lucy's inability to deliver as George steps into the room, is, therefore, an essential scene to the novel's denouement. Lucy cannot play the score of a work in which she plays the lead role.
In light of Maurice, critical interest in Forster's third novel was revived by gender identification theory. For example, Claude J. Summers, in his E. M. Forster, declares the novel "a bold festival of domestic comedy and sexual celebration; A Room with a View assimilates into a heterosexual plot the ideology of homosexual comradeship." Summers' essentialism, fortunately, becomes rational in the hands of other critics who point out that Forster's sexual identity motivated his insight into Edwardian personal relationships. Forster, soon after the publication of the novel, worried that it already appeared dated. By all accounts, A Room with a View remains one of the best Edwardian novels and a novel whose observations on human nature retain relevance.
Jeremy W. Hubbell
Hubbell has an M. Litt. from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and currently seeks a Ph.D. in history at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. This essay purports that the place of technology in civilization haunts A Room with a View.
Though they had profited handsomely by industrialization, Britain's upper classes did not view technology with the enthusiasm characteristic of Americans. They still held to the feudal or "medieval" view, which held that profit should accumulate in their pockets—they saw themselves as the center of the universe. Technology, for the elite, achieved a good investment return, which they enjoyed, but it also increased the prosperity of the lower classes. Gains in productivity allowed for healthier wage packets while union action shortened the workweek. Thus, members of the working class began to play sports on their off days, women went shopping in arcades built with new building technology, families rode bikes and went on outings to museums and parks. The elite did not meet this alteration bravely and continued to insist on class separation. This tension is at the heart of E. M. Forster's novel A Room with a View, whose message of ultimate compromise includes dismantling the nature versus civilization dichotomy. Cecil Vyse, who offers a speech to Lucy Honeychurch to the effect that the classes ought to intermingle, notes that the rabble are even eating better so that "the physique of the lower-middle classes was improving at a most appalling rate."
Before industrialization accelerated in the eighteenth century, Europeans regarded themselves as warring against nature for their very lives. That changed when the Renaissance revived science and took advantage of medieval mechanics. Attitudes altered as civilization gained the upper hand and began to control nature. By the nineteenth century, control was all but attained and philosophic figures like Thomas Carlyle began to suggest a new attitude of harmony. They declared that the battle was over; civilization and its technics were harmonious parts of nature, not at war with it. Theories of evolution helped bolster the idea that by cooperating with nature, humans would prosper in both wealth and health. One technology stands out in this period and in Forster's novel because it was the growth engine of the nineteenth century economy, the steam engine atop a wheel carriage.
The rich invested heavily in the railroad in the late nineteenth century and they received handsome rewards. However, the railroad allowed unprecedented social mobility and created an entirely new class of rich people. Walt Whitman captured the appreciation of this technology in his 1851 poem, "To a Locomotive in Winter." There, the locomotive was a beautiful creature set free in nature. The railroad quickly became more than just a creature; it became a liberator of people and latent potential. The railroads enabled greater prosperity for all people which led, of course, to increased mingling of the classes. The railroad, as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it in "The Young American," "is the magician's rod, in its power to evoke sleeping energies of land and water." Emerson celebrated technology because it enables people to further their abilities to
What Do I Read Next?
- The first novel of Forster's Italian series, Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), sequentially follows from A Room with a View. The novel anticipates the themes Forster would explore in his later works through a story about two journeys to Italy. On the first, an English widow, Lilia Herriton, goes to Italy, falls in love with an Italian, and dies in childbirth. Fearing the idea that this child should grow up Italian causes another journey to Italy to be made by English people. The goal of this journey is to recover the baby.
- Set in Cambridge, Forster's The Longest Journey sits in the middle of the Italian series. In this novel, the comfortable university world is forever disjointed for young Rick Elliot when he falls in love with Agnes Pembroke. The novel captures the essence of university life in turn-of-the-century Britain as well as the experience of tea with a dowager.
- With some autobiographical touches, Forster memorialized the house of his youth, Rooksnest, in his fourth novel, published in 1910, Howards End. Here, the children of the Wilcoxes try to ignore the note by their mother, Ruth, which bequeathed the house to Margaret Schlegal. Margaret marries Ruth's surviving husband, Henry, and gains the house regardless. After a series of traumas, Margaret and an ailing Henry return to the house.
- The 1924 work Passage to India was the last novel Forster published and it has been widely acclaimed as his best work. The novel examines the themes of race and colony through the problems that develop when Adela Questad, an Englishwoman, accuses Dr. Aziz, an Indian, of attacking her on an outing. During the trial, Dr. Aziz befriends Cecil Fielding but colonialism impossibly complicates their relationship.
- Iris Murdoch has been favorably compared with Forster. A Severed Head, from 1976, displays Murdoch's abilities to observe humanity in its complexities. In this novel, Martin Lynch-Gibbon believes he can have both a wife and a mistress but when his wife leaves him his sense of reality crumbles.
- Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James, was first published in three volumes in 1881. This work about a young American woman, Isabel Archer, who is "doing" Europe has many points of comparison and contrast with A Room with a View. James' heroine becomes a victim of her provincialism as she is the focus of an examination of American values.
- A very different approach to analyzing relationships and society appeared in 1925 from Forster's friend Virginia Woolf. Written under the influence of James Joyce, Mrs. Dalloway follows the title character through one June day as she confronts her surroundings and remembers the past.
- After Forster, the person most responsible for creating the stereotypical early twentieth-century British gentlemen is P. G. Wodehouse. His ninety-some stories concern the chaos of society life as experienced by Bertie Wooster and his manservant, the original butler, Jeeves. The first of Wodehouse's success was the 1913 novel Something New.
- Quite easily, the domestic scene did not exist before Jane Austen and certainly the genre of spoiled rich kid depends on her 1815 novel, Emma. Emma Woodhouse thinks she knows what is best for everyone in her provincial society and she attempts to resolve fates accordingly. Her plot lines are not exactly carried out and she finds herself married in the end to George Knightley.
- The 1988 Pulitzer Prize winner by Anne Tyler, Breathing Lessons, is an American domestic comedy set, appropriately, in the car. The Morans display their familial difficulties through flashbacks as they travel to an old friend's funeral.
open up land to agriculture and the progress of civilization. Only by the employment of technology can people build a Garden of Eden where everyone is fed and clothed—a garden, after all, employs cutting-edge agricultural technology. That is the message of Forster's book, a realization that the American spirit is a good one and Britain would do well to learn from it. Britain, as the novel shows, may not be able to Americanize because of people like the Vyses and, therefore, places like Italy might be the better place for that spirit.
The discussion of technological advance occurs at several points in the novel. While in Florence, Mr. Eager notes the way in which trams enable people of the lower classes to take outings in the countryside. However, the reality of a working person's life justifies Mr. Eager's pity for them. Still, trams enable the "poor" to walk where only the rich had previously. Sir Harry Otway enunciates the anxieties of the rich to Mr. Vyse. He fears, he says, that he will rent to the wrong sort of person because the physical barriers that had kept the rich apart have been overrun. The rich had always been able to afford the time and expense of country estates, but both time and expense were being leveled by the railroad. "The train service has im-proved—a fatal improvement, to my mind. And what are five miles from a station in these days of bicycles?" He worries that the bike and the train will enable the working-class man to afford a home away from the toxicity of industry (cars will soon make the matter worse). His fears are realized when the Emersons, the working-class heroes of the novel, move in. Though only Mrs. Honeychurch makes the connection, Mr. Emerson, who was a mechanic before going into journalism for socialist organs, follows the teachings of the American philosopher already mentioned. George, appropriately, works as a clerk for a railroad company. Otway had hoped for a bank clerk, an occupation he understood, but in the new economy, suggests Forster, the railroad clerk becomes the victor.
The novel assesses the anxiety of the wealthy classes in terms of its inability to change its view of life by which is meant, philosophies of life or interpretations of the universe—how things work. The rich, like Otway and Vyse, are conservative; they want class separations maintained with themselves at the top according to the medieval ideals. They see nature as something to be controlled for their benefit as it was in feudal times. They can be thought of "as in a room" or protected by "fences" and ensconced in palaces and churches. Members of this view "have no profession." Instead, they manage and accumulate wealth—the Vyses are parasites whose salary is made up of dividends. The Emersons are liberals, meaning they believe in individual rights and democratic institutions. They are humanists and base their judgments about society on empirical data "of," not from (as in stolen), nature. Thus, they can be thought of as a view without obstructing walls. People who share the Emer-sons' view live by their own labor and they enjoy bodily pleasure. Reason governs their behavior.
In Freudian terms, a person of cathexis focuses his mind toward one goal or view of life. Such a person can be described as anal or unyielding. This person frequently becomes the center of a comedy whose end is his catharsis. That is, events and experiences of disruption force the person of cathexion to see things differently and realize he had been narrow-minded. A catharsis is, literally, a release of psychic energy, a release from being anal, which allows for a readjusted and more balanced psyche. Forster's comedy is different. The Vyses cannot help but live up to their name, which conjures the Latin verb "to see." Vyse also conjures the mechanical apparatus, the vise. As the leading members of society, such allusions are fitting. The Vy-ses stick to their rules and view of society normally described as hive-like. The blending of the biologic and mechanical is no accident. The society which the Vyses lead is, in modern parlance, like the Borgs from Gene Rodenberry's Star Trek series. They attach people to their system after a period of molding. In terms of the history of technics, the society of Vyse is a megamachine whose purpose is to maintain its members and itself by acquisition of new members and adamant adherence to decorum. The cathected are not saved by the story; hope lies in the young who have not yet made up their view.
Forster hated the megamachine of the Vyses'. In a short story written after A Room with a View he was even more vitriolic in his characterization of this tendency in humans to live in cathexion. In "The Machine Stops," a machine does all of society's work so that the humans can sit in their rooms away from each other and continually fabricate aesthetic systems. The body is left to atrophy. However, Forster does not foresee total divorce from the body and, therefore, maintains the hope of reconnecting with the body or giving the room a view. The Emersons are that hope. They are part of the middle class whose physique has improved with industrialization. They believe in communal recreation of the Garden where technology does not take over society but positively aids people in their lives. The Emersons, in their ideal, can be thought of as a utopic view of boundless progress. Forster, a pragmatist, believes in a compromise made possible by Lucy who, as light, can bring the two worlds together. She brings music, art, and literature to match George's modern philosophy and technology.
The marriage of the two views happens in Florence—one of the cities responsible for the change in Europe described as the Renaissance. That epoch of rediscovery held out the possibility of compromise from the outset. A historical example of this can be found in the efforts of a man who lived in Florence during the Renaissance and arguably has had the greatest view of the cosmos. His very name has become a synonym for clear sight. His sight would not be obfuscated by religious doctrine or doubt but fueled by Baconian practice. Galileo Galilei, court mathematician to the Medici, had the clearest view of all the Renaissance thinkers and it was straight up. His observations led to the downfall of the old geocentric view of the universe and the rise of a heliocentric view of the universe. Forster's location of his novel about views and technological attitudes was appropriately placed in Florence. Forster's sense of compromise matches Galileo's, who did not want to overthrow or disagree with the Catholic Church (the story often told about his "trial"). Instead, Galileo believed he utilized his God-given talents to explore God's wondrous creations in order to glorify the Catholic faith. Galileo failed to observe a separation between religion and science.
"It was the old, old battle of the room with a view." The statement stands like a thesis within a theory about human nature. While it appears to announce that there is nothing new in the Lucy problem, it also luxuriates in the timelessness within the problem. Industrial progress can be a boon so long as its goal is to make human lives better; industrial progress cannot be, for Forster, an end in itself. In other words, humans cannot be bound to machines. The choice depends upon our view of things, a problem as old as Plato's room. The old, old battle is over whether or not humans will stay looking at the shadows on the wall or go out of the cave. The Emersons remind the reader that "there is only one perfect view—the view of the sky straight over our heads, and … all these other views on earth are but bungled copies of it." Forster celebrated life and sunlight but he was not against technology. Forster, writing at a time when Europe had created a science of fatigue and was obsessed with industrial efficiency, points out that the important things are to observe nature as our forebears did. And maybe observe and pay attention to each other. Machines, as critics of Taylorism were quick to see, can numb the senses of the human worker. Forster wants that worker to be able to have fun in the sun once in a while far from "the world of motor cars."
Source: Jeremy W. Hubbell, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale Group, 2001.
Twayne Authors Series
The following essay analyzes the structure of A Room with a View and Lucy's journey toward enlightenment.
Forster began A Room with a View (1908) before Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) and finished it after The Longest Journey (1907). Since it is the most halcyon and direct of his novels and since it was the work with which he started, we shall begin with it. Though it is his least complex book, it is his most Jane Austen-like and perhaps his most delightful. As in the earlier-published Angels, Italy acts as the chief source of vitality, and the two novels reflect the intense impact that the South made upon him in his early twenties. In Room, after the characters return to England in Part II, Italy retreats to the background but still acts as a formative influence.
In any case, Italy is the main force which in Part I of Room contributes to Lucy Honeychurch's liberation. The conventional Reverend Beebe reluctantly acknowledges the intuitive wisdom of Italians though it chiefly annoys him: "They pry everywhere, they see everything, and they know what we want before we know it ourselves." So "Phaethon," the driver of the carriage taking the English to the hills above Florence, reads Lucy's heart and directs her to George Emerson rather than to the Reverends Beebe and Eager when she asks in faltering Italian "where the good men are." Both Italy and the English countrywide encourage a free and open existence as compared to cramped, stereotyped, middle-class British life. The primary impression produced by the novel, the prevalence of wind and air and sunlight, establishes, as in George Meredith, the primary role of nature as redemptive power.
The English and Italian settings, rendered with complete immediacy, reveal Forster's sensitivity to place. Houses and buildings take on life in his fiction: the church of Santa Croce and the Pension Bertolini in Florence, for example, and Windy Corner, a Surrey country house. The Florentine pension and the Surrey house focus the action in the two sections of the novel. Chapter 1 presents at the Pension almost all the actors who figure in Part I: Lucy; Charlotte Bartlett, her "proper" chaperone; George Emerson, a troubled but vital young man; his father, the prophetic proponent of the free and natural life like that advocated by the American Ralph Waldo Emerson; the Reverend Mr. Beebe, the ascetically inclined but socially agreeable clergyman of Summer Street near Windy Corner; Eleanor Lavish, an "emancipated" novelist whose unconventionality is superficial; and the Misses Alan, elderly and genteel lady travellers. Only the snobbish chaplain to the English colony, the Reverend Cuthbert Eager, remains for Chapter 5.
The opening chapter of Part II introduces at Windy Comer all the other principles: Mrs. Honeychurch, Lucy's impulsive and affectionate mother and an endearing portrait of Forster's maternal grandmother whom he loved intensely; Freddy, Lucy's playful but instinctively sound brother; and Cecil Vyse, a "medieval" young man to whom Lucy has become engaged after his third proposal. She breaks her engagement when Mr. Emerson convinces her that she really loves his son. In the concluding chapter, Lucy and George return for their honeymoon to the Pension Bertolini which provides a frame for the novel and a reminder of Italy's pervasive power.
Structure depends upon a number of encounters between Lucy and George which revise her staid outlook. In Chapter I the Emersons offer the ladies their room with a view; and, before retiring, the now restless Lucy gazes beyond the Arno at the hills which betoken the freedom that she has not yet achieved. In Chapter 2 George appears in the Church of Santa Croce at his most lugubrious, and Lucy disdainfully pities him; but in Chapter 4 he reveals his potential strength as he supports her in his arms when she faints after witnessing a quarrel between two Italians over money, a quarrel that results in the sudden murder of one of them. After Lucy's "rescue," she and George gaze at the Arno flowing beneath them and respond to its mystery and promise (though with her rational mind, Lucy is later ashamed that she has given herself away to this extent). With the death of the Italian, Lucy feels that she, too, has "crossed some spiritual boundary," though she is not sure at the moment just what it may be. When they go back to Florence for their honeymoon, it is as if to place themselves under the spell of a force—the river—that has never ceased to exert itself. In Italy violence enlarges Lucy's horizons, and she now feels that something has indeed "happened to the living."
In Chapter 4 Forster also suggests the effete quality of the casual tourist's culture when Lucy buys photographs of works by the great masters. Reality impinges upon the pictures when the dying man's blood spatters them and when George throws them into the Arno to have them, as it were, washed pure in its waters. The principal picture, Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, has symbolic meaning that is at once lucid and profound. The picture connects with the Italian springtime, the pagan atmosphere of the novel, and the birth of love in Lucy's soul. Just as the blood of the murdered man defiles the pictures, so Lucy would, through her own blindness and obstinacy, do violence to her instincts. Just as the soiled photographs return to the water that has given birth to Venus, so Lucy must immerse herself in elemental passion, in order to cleanse her soul and to attain a new life. The birth of the goddess and the death of the Italian man also suggest the nearness of love and death as the most fundamental and mysterious of our experiences.
Lucy has another encounter with George when in Chapter 6 the Bertolini guests go for a drive above Fiesole. Lucy discovers that her standards have altered and that she does not know how to account for the change. She doubts that Miss Lavish is an artist and that Mr. Beebe is spiritual, but previously she would have been less critical. She judges them by a new criterion. Vital energy, she thinks, should animate them, but she finds them lacking in warmth and spontaneity, qualities that she has begun unconsciously to associate with George. Lucy is a woman who registers the effects of an emotional awakening before she can acknowledge its existence and cause. The Arno Val-ley is once more present in the distance from above Fiesole when George kisses Lucy after she surprises him on the bank covered with violets. Going against the dictates of instinct, Lucy seeks the advice of her proper chaperone, Miss Bartlett, who dismisses George, and the ladies depart forthwith from Rome where Lucy first meets Cecil Vyse.
Encounters with George also organize the narrative in Part II, although in the first chapters it is Cecil Vyse, Lucy's fiance (or "fiasco" as Freddy calls him), who dominates. Another kiss, Cecil's self-conscious one in Chapter 9, contrasts with George's spontaneous embraces. Cecil not only takes the place temporarily of George as his temperamental opposite, but assumes in Part II the role of Charlotte Bartlett as exemplar of the proprieties. In Chapter 12 Lucy regains contact with George as he emerges like a pagan god from "The Sacred Lake," a charming country pool near Windy Corner, and emanates all of nature's freshness.
Part II is a contest between George and Cecil for the control of Lucy's inner being. In Chapter 15 a kiss again enlivens the novel. George has just beaten Lucy at tennis; while the contestants rest, Cecil reads from Miss Lavish's novel, which features an incident similar to George's first kissing of Lucy on the heights over Florence. Miss Lavish had learned of the incident through the duplicity of Charlotte Bartlett who had enjoined Lucy to tell no one about it, even her mother. The memory of this scene arouses George, and he kisses Lucy in a copse close to Windy Corner. The outraged Lucy again does violence to her true self; she retreats from the light of truth and passion and prepares to enter "the vast armies of the benighted". After this second kiss and the lies that she tells about herself to George, Cecil, Mr. Beebe, her mother, and Mr. Emerson, pretense all but conquers her. In Florence, after George's kiss, she had realized how difficult it was to be truthful, but by this point she has become less conscientious.
The overall movement of the novel results in enlightenment for Lucy, after several divagations into falsehood. With one side of her nature she responds to passion as it concenters in George; with another, she aligns herself with upholders of Victorian social standards, Charlotte Bartlett and Cecil Vyse. With unremitting force Lucy's instincts carry her toward a larger life than these mentors will allow. Finally, Mr. Emerson sweeps away her accumulated errors of perception when he divines her love for George, instructs her about the sanctity of passion, and gives her the courage to claim the man she loves.
From the beginning Italy is a subversive influence, causing Lucy's well-known world to break up; and in its place the "magic city" of Florence elicits all that is unpredictable. Passionate, vibrant, violent Italy all but overwhelms Lucy. Her sympathies for "Phaethon," the coach-driver, startle her, as he embraces his "Persephone" on the drive to Fiesole. If she had been able to see more clearly, she would have recognized a god in George Emerson, who would, for his part, have seen in a liberated Lucy a real goddess. Before he kissed her in the hills, she had seemed "as one who had fallen out of heaven"; and, before her inhibitions stifled her, Lucy could identify him with "heroes—gods—the nonsense of schoolgirls". Later when she greets him at "The Sacred Lake," she thinks of herself as bowing "to gods, the heroes, to the nonsense of school girls! She had bowed across the rubbish that cumbers the world". And George was here a "Michelangelesque" figure, the essence of heroic vitality; earlier he had similarly appeared to her as a figure appropriate to "the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, carrying a burden of acorns". But, in repudiating George a second time, she turns from a god incarnate to the academic study of Greek mythology as she prepares for her journey to Greece with the Misses Alan. She is rejecting in the actuality a god, knowledge of whose counterparts she is pursuing in the abstract.
In order to intensify Lucy's conflict with convention and to convey the force of her muted passion, Forster uses imagery drawn from music. Music lifts her out of herself and permits her to see, at least for the moment, the irrelevance of prescriptive standards: "She was then no longer either deferential or patronizing; no longer either a rebel or a slave". By force of will, she transforms Beethoven's tragic sonatas, for example, into expressions of triumph. Lucy, moreover, instinctively suits her music to her mood or situation. In Italy where she can acknowledge the elemental, she leans toward Beethoven. When she plays for Cecil and his guests in London, she performs the decorous Schumann, who suggests to her "the sadness of the incomplete." It is as if she has some intimations that she is now denying the demands of life, and so cannot play her beloved Beethoven in these artificial surroundings. At Windy Corner she plays the erotic garden music from Gluck's Armide and makes her audience restless (as if they reflect her own conflicts), and she also finds it impossible to play the sensual garden sequence from Parsifal in George's presence, since she is sexually distraught at this time. When she plans to renounce the call of passion, she indulges in the artifices (for her) of Mozart.
Forster suggests Lucy's progress toward enlightenment in terms of light and shadow images (these are so numerous that full discussion is not possible). Light and darkness suffuse natural phenomena, as these respectively signify freedom and inner fulfillment or bondage and human waywardness. Forster also associates light with the Emersons to the extent that father and son represent spiritual truth. In Italy Mr. Emerson urges Lucy to expose her thoughts to the sunlight rather than keep them in the depths of her nature. She resists full illumination, however, because she resists as yet the full promptings of instinct. George is, like Lucy, in danger of spiritual disablement, and he will enter the abyss if Lucy does not return his love, his father tells her in England. Lucy, in fact, will condemn herself by her evasions and lies to "marching in the armies of darkness", so long as she resists the truth about herself.
Though the clouds of pessimism often surround George, he becomes a source of light to Lucy. Both darkness and bright light characterize her encounter with him in the Piazza Signoria. To correspond with the crime that takes place there, the Piazza is in shadow and the tower of the palace arises out of a sinister gloom. Yet the tower is emblematic of the sexuality that Lucy experiences and represses, rising as it does "out of the lower darkness like a pillar of toughened gold. It seemed no longer a tower, no longer supported by earth, but some unattainable treasure throbbing m the tranquil sky". In Surrey George's kindness to his father strikes Lucy as "sunlight touching a vast land-scape—a touch of the morning sun". He has just said that "there is a certain amount of kindness, just as there is a certain amount of light," and that one "should stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine." When he wins at tennis from Lucy, he is brilliant against the sunlight, godlike in appearance. In defending himself in Surrey after he kisses her, he emphasizes how his love had been kindled when he saw her the day that he bathed in the Sacred Lake; the life-giving water and the glorious sunlight combined to make her beauty overwhelming. It is with this sunlight, too, that Forster identifies George and suggests that he is a Phaethon figure.
After she breaks the engagement with Cecil, Lucy realizes that George has gone into darkness; but she does not yet perceive that by her denial of sex she is fashioning an "armour of falsehood" and is about to go into darkness herself. She now becomes as one who sins "against passion and truth", or against Eros and Pallas Athena. She resists taking others into her confidence lest inner exploration result in self-knowledge and "that king of terrors—Light", the light that her own name (from the Latin, lux, meaning light) signifies and that she must acknowledge to become her true self. But for the intervention of Mr. Emerson, Lucy would stay in darkness. He gives her "a sense of deities reconciled"; he enables her, in short, to balance the claims of Eros and Pallas Athena, of sense and soul.
George, who is in part a nature god, is at his most vital seen against the expanses of the Florentine and English hills. Appropriately enough, his earliest memory is the inspiriting landscape seen from Hindhead in company with his mother and father, a prospect which unified the family in deepest understanding. In symbolic terms, both the Emersons now have, and have always had, "the view" that Lucy must acquire. External nature is always seen in motion, as if it too is in protest against Cecil's static existence and in sympathy with George's dynamic energies. Kinetic and auditory images dominate so that nature seems always active rather than passive. The Arno River after a storm bounds on like a lion, and at several points it murmurs a promise of a free and open existence for the lovers. In Surrey and Sussex the atmosphere, comprising "the intolerable tides of heaven," is always in motion. Glorious lateral views dominate the region; but this landscape becomes ominous as Lucy represses sexual passion. The sounds and movements of nature intensify to register their protest as Lucy denies life and love. Now the sky goes wild; the winds roar through pine trees; and gray clouds, charging across the heavens, obscure the white ones and the blue sky, "as the roaring tides of darkness" set in. The novel closes on a serene note, however, with nature's forces finding fruition in human beings, as Lucy on her honeymoon surrenders not only to George but to the Florentine spring and to the Arno's whispers.
When Mr. Emerson counsels Lucy toward the novel's end, he emphasizes the difficulties of life, the continual presence of muddles, and the consequent need to clear them away; he quotes a friend of his (actually Samuel Butler): "Life is a public performance on the violin, in which you must learn the instrument as you go along". Lucy acquires now a sense of the complexities of life; and she finds that she cannot plan for it and know in advance its contingencies. This lesson she learns from her first meeting with George in Surrey, for she had not thought of meeting him when he is happy and exuberant, as a godlike being at the Sacred Lake against the background of verdant nature. Lucy herself shines with intensity throughout the novel, with the result that a rather ordinary young woman is transfigured into a radiant presence, the resolution of whose conflicts becomes a matter of genuine urgency.
George is designedly less complex than Lucy, since he need not so much modify his values as gain the courage to assert them. Early in the novel George gives Lucy "the feeling of greyness, of tragedy that might only find solution in the night", though Forster fails to establish the precise intellectual grounds for his pessimism. Forster misses in George some opportunity to convey the complicated mentality of a young man suffering from a Weltschmerz characteristic of the late Victorian age and induced, among other forces, by the loss of a dynamic religious faith. But George is, on the whole, a successful creation, an archetypal personage embodying the freshness, the power, and the passion of youth.
Lucy's chief mentor and George's father, Mr. Emerson, evinces a rousing candor that is refreshing, but on the whole Forster conceived him with less decisiveness and complexity than the novel demands. His valetudinarianism, for example, is too far removed from the vitality attributed to him, and his message is too direct to be aesthetically compelling. But what damages Mr. Emerson as a presence chiefly is the dated quality of some of his ideas, ideas which reveal how shallow he is when he assumes that he is being profound. In his scathing remarks about the Reverend Eager's Giotto lecture, in the Church of Santa Croce, Mr. Emerson exhibits a literalness of mind not far different from the fundamentalism he criticizes. Thus, he asserts that an edifice built by faith means that the workmen were underpaid and that Giotto's Ascension of Saint John is ridiculous because a "fat man in blue" could not be "shooting into the sky like an air-balloon". It is therefore difficult to agree with Forster that Mr. Emerson is "profoundly religious," for he seems to operate on the surface, rather than at the depths, of religious issues.
Forster's great success in the novel is with his rendition of the humorous and satirically envisioned persons. Some of them—the Reverend Eager, Mrs. Honeychurch, and Eleanor Lavish—Foster presents in brief, through epigrammatic summary or through their spoken words. He tells us, for instance, all we have to know of Reverend Eager, in this account of his unctuous ministrations for transient visitors: "… it was his avowed custom to select those of his migratory sheep who seemed worthy, and give them a few hours in the pastures of the permanent". The portrait is made complete when Eager discourses patronizingly upon the way in which the "lower-class" Emersons have risen: "Generally, one has only sympathy with their success. The desire for education and for social advance—in these things there is something not wholly vile. There are some working men whom one would be very willing to see out here in Florence—little as they would make of it". Reverend Eager's apparent generosity, in fact, masks feelings of snobbishness, contempt, and exclusive-ness.
But it is with Lucy's antagonists that Forster does best: Charlotte Bartlett and Cecil Vyse. Although he presents them satirically, he also sees them sympathetically; as a result, his humor at their expense is genial as well as satiric. Charlotte and Cecil are misguided, they are hypocrites, and they extinguish the generous instincts; they cause unhappiness and they propagate darkness. But, since they are not conscious of wrongdoing, Forster not only tolerates them but feels affection for them. As a consequence, he fully delineates them; and they become large-scale figures even if they are not complex individuals who develop dynamically.
Charlotte is given to excessive propriety and is deficient, therefore, in graciousness, kindness, and consideration. Her hypocrisies are the source of much fine comedy, as is her penchant for the irrelevant. Specious and superficial incidents and ideas gain ascendancy in her mind and allow her thereby to evade uncomfortable realities that a conscientious individual would feel obliged to facet. She is able to rationalize any occurrence in her own favor. Thus she stresses Miss Lavish's perfidy in using for her novel Lucy's being kissed by George on the Florentine heights. As a result, Charlotte diverts attention from her own perfidy in telling Miss Lavish in the first place: "Never again shall Eleanor Lavish be friend of mine". Her incompetence as a person who is "practical without ability" is the source of much humor. Her packing in Florence is protracted further than it ought to be, she is unable to pay the driver at Windy Corner because she arrives without small change and then becomes confused in her monetary calculations, and she "impedes" Mrs. Honeychurch with offers of help in tying up dahlias after a night of storm. Her sense of decorum is outlandish, as she recoils from George's casual mention in Chapter 1 that his father "is in his bath," and only she could be quite so thorough a martyr in her home to a "tiresome" boiler.
The portrait of Cecil is equally authoritative. He is the diffident man who finds it difficult to become emotionally involved even with an attractive woman. Forster describes him as resembling a "fastidious saint" in the facade of a French cathedral and as being by temperament self-conscious and ascetic. His courtship follows the are from "patronizing civility" to "a profound uneasiness." The uneasiness arises when Lucy threatens to become vital and dynamic, to be more than a Leonardesque work of art. Cecil calls himself a disciple of George Meredith, agreeing with his mentor that the cause of comedy and the cause of truth are identical, though Cecil cannot realize that he will be the individual, in the course of his engagement to Lucy, to be unmasked as self-server and hypocrite.
George Emerson appraises well his adversary. He perceives that Cecil "kills," when it comes to people, by misjudging or undervaluing them, by playing tricks on them instead of cherishing "the most sacred form of life that he can find", and by being snobbish and supercilious toward those inferior to him in station and income. Accordingly, Cecil patronizes Lucy when she confuses two Italian painters, winces when Mr. Emerson mispronounces the names of artists, becomes bored and disdainful of the Honeychurches for whom "eggs, boilers, hydrangeas, maids" form part of reality, and fails to see that it is sometimes an act of kindness for a bad player to make a fourth at tennis. In short, as with Meredith's Sir Willoughby Patterne, Cecil is an egoist, with the egoist's inability to see himself as he is, with the egoist's tendency to assume that other people exist to minister to his well-being. Something of the large dimensions of Sir Willoughby inheres in Cecil's portrait, though Lucy hardly attains the dimensions of Clara Middleton, her prototype in The Egoist.
Northrop Frye's discussion of the mythos of comedy illuminates A Room with a View which is the only Forster narrative that can be fully assimilated to these ideas of Frye's. This mythos devolves about the central characters attainment of a new society after the influence of those who obstruct their free development has been neutralized (Charlotte Bartlett and Cecil Vyse are the "blocking" figures in Room). There transpires a new life for the hero and the heroine as they move "from a society controlled by habit, ritual bondage, arbitrary law and the older characters to a society controlled by youth and pragmatic freedom," under the aegis of "a benevolent grandfather,"—Mr Emerson in this novel. There are also occurs a visit to "the green world" of romance, to the healing powers of na-ture, as George and Lucy participate in their ritualistic honeymoon beside the life-restoring Arno River before they return, reinvigorated, to middle-class life in England. If anything, the mythic and archetypal—and romance—aspects of Forster's imagined universe are even more to the fore in his subsequent fiction.
Source: "A Sense of Deities Reconciled: A Room with a View," in Twaynes Authors Series: Twayne English Authors, Twayne, 1999.
In the following essay excerpt. Haralson analyzes the homoerotic elements of the Sacred Lake episode in A Room with a View.
A Room with a View, published in the same year as Forster's meeting of James, gives a convenient gauge of his progress along his different novelistic "road," as well as an inventory of the obstacles lying in it. In this monitory tale in which young lovers transcend "the rubbish that cumbers the world," obstructing both emotional and physical expression, old Mr. Emerson's much-quoted pronouncement that "love is of the body" seems a staunch rebuttal of the austerity that Forster disliked in James. Further, the novel (unlike James's) boasts characters whose clothes explicitly "take off," as with the three men who disport themselves in the Sacred Lake, a scene memorably circulated in popular culture through the Merchant Ivory film adaptation. Already in 1908, that is, Forster found himself searching—in the terms of Bristow's analy-sis—for "a public and plausible form" of representing homoeroticism in unobjectionable relation to both heterosexist taste and feminine authority; and already his text betrayed a crisis of representation, remaining "regulated—if not, by necessity, mystified—by profoundly heteronormative assumptions". As a narrative hot spot, the bathing scene conveys Forster's sense of the male body, in especial, as a "restless captive of culture" that "animates and disrupts the social order" and that the social order struggles always to recontain. Yet just as the clothes that "take off" eventually go back on—"To us shall all flesh turn in the end," they taunt from the lakeshore, countermanding the Thoreauvian dictum on the Emersons' wardrobe—Forster is ultimately compelled to cloak his critique of the "normal" in the garb of the normal, thus risking the same "cocooning and muffling" he deplored in James.
Before addressing the Sacred Lake episode in detail, however, it will be useful to review Forster's characterization of his three bathers—Fredd), Honeychurch, George Emerson, and the clergyman Mr. Beebe—and of the negative countertype Cecil Vyse, who will show up with his intended, Lucy Honeychurch, and her mother to put "a confining and depressing end to the affair," as Samuel Hynes says. Young Freddy, whose letters to his sister Lucy are "full of athletics and biology" and who is seen "studying a small manual of anatomy," can easily be pegged as the earnest, hail-fellow-well-met creature of such homosocial institutions as the British public school and (prospectively) the medical establishment. Forster has fun with Freddy's efforts to sever the maternal apron strings ("Oh, do keep quiet, mother … and let a man do some work") and permits Cecil to sneer at him as the sort of muscular-Christian "healthy person … who has made England what she is," but Freddy also scores points for his glad animal movements: "Apooshoo, apooshoo, apooshoo … Water's simply ripping".
In George Emerson, who will dislodge Vyse as Lucy's true mate, Forster tests out a prototype of the new-age male—a character, as Bristow writes, who incorporates "an idiosyncratic blend of cultural interests … where the appreciation of art and 'love … of the body' are not separate". Yet, although George is dedicated to securing the heterosexual love-plot, and will emerge from his dip "bare-chested" and "radiant" to smite Lucy's vision, Forster simultaneously invites another frame and another kind of gaze—not only by annexing the post-Whitmanian tradition of bathing-boys scenes but also, and less obviously, by stocking George's library with his own early readings of a homoerotic hue, notably Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh and A. E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad, which, as Forster said, "mingled with my own late adolescence and turned inward upon me".
Completing the trio, the "stout but attractive" Mr. Beebe is a slightly more hopeful incarnation of the Victorian bachelor figure whose line of descent, as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has shown, includes John Marcher of "The Beast in the Jungle" (1903) and other "poor sensitive gentlemen" whose psychic constitution opens onto homosexual panic, it not homosexual possibility In a tactful but no longer difficult allusion, Forster notes that Beebe has "rather profound reasons" for responding coolly to women and for seeing them as objects of strictly anthropological curiosity, even though as a "feminized" man of the cloth he lives mainly among them. Forster's indirection in describing Beebe, moreover, is inscribed in the cleric's own manner of commentary—or what Freddy calls his "funny way, when you never quite know what he means." Not coincidentally, what puzzles Freddy's amiable but restricted mind is Beebe's contention that Vyse can only impersonate a (hetero)romantic suitor, being in actuality "an ideal bachelor … like me—better detached." And even though Forster satirizes Charlotte Bartlett's lament to Lucy, bemoaning the death of chivalry ("Oh, for a real man!… Oh, for your brother!"), Charlotte's sense of Beebe as "hopeless" in this regard also tags him as exemplifying another style of masculinity.
An extra emphasis on "masculinity" is warranted here, for Forster takes pains to discriminate between Mr. Beebe and Cecil Vyse as, respectively, the hearty and mostly sympathetic "ideal bache-lor"—one who, as Charlotte primly objects, "laughs just like an ordinary man"—and the repugnant variety, one of the "despicable and regressive species of mocking intellectuals" who combined, for Forster, a precious Paterian-Jamesian aestheticism with a Wildean lassitude and antiathleticism ("I have no profession," says Cecil, "It is another example of my decadence". It is Beebe, after all, who analogizes Vyse to a Gothic statue, implying "celibacy," where a Greek statue implies "fruition"—who perceives, in a word, that Vyse is insufficiently masculine for either heterosexual or "masculine love" (as it will be named in Maurice) and thus perniciously opposed to the currents that replenish and "fructify every hour of life". In this way, too, Beebe distinguishes himself from the novel's other clergyman, the Reverend Cuthbert Eager, who fatuously praises Giotto's frescoes for being "untroubled by the snares of anatomy" and for avoiding the corporeal "taint of the Renaissance". Beebe's consent to strip and swim, then, aligns him provisionally with the adversaries of "drawing-room twaddle" and genteel Baedeker discourse (echoes of Lamb House, to Forster's ear), which chastely applauds Giotto's "tactile values" and holds that "a pity in art … signified the nude"—as in Charlotte's disdain for another water-borne being, Botticelli's Venus. Like Mr. Emerson, who pontificates about the paradise to be regained when "we no longer despise our bodies," like Lucy Honeychurch, who "by touch … come[s] to her desire" and "entertain[s] an image that [has] physical beauty," but decidedly unlike Cecil Vyse with his "depths of prudishness," Beebe votes for—and with—the body at the Sacred Lake.
What makes the lake sacred in Forster's fable is no great mystery, although here again the level of popular, heteronormative signification and reception shades into more covert "messages" and a queerer take on the scene As a medium of more or less generic lubrication, tumescence, nakedness—and notice that Lucy, too, had bathed there until "found out" and reclaimed for gentility by Char-lotte—the take emblematizes Mr. Emerson's projected paradise on earth: "set in its little alp of green … [it was] large enough to contain the human body, and pure enough to reflect the sky". Further, to the extent that the episode advances George's conquest of Lucy, the lake reprises the riverine bed of violets in which they first kissed in Italy—that ejaculative "primal source whence beauty gushed out" to "irrigate" the grass with "spots of azure foam". At this level, both the hyperidealized scenery—the "beautiful emerald path, tempting the feet towards the central pool"—and the sacramentalized passion it induces ("a call to the blood … a momentary chalice for youth") subserve an Eden whose beckonings and indulgences wear a look familiarly heterosexual, or at the very least "neutral". To put this another way, Forster's obligatory insistence on scenic "purity" and, by extension, on the innocent frolicsomeness of his male bathers does little to retard the normative thrust of the narrative or to disturb the normative valence of the "floods of love … burst[ing] forth in tumult" that it seeks to celebrate.
Yet as we remarked in sorting through George Emerson's library, in which Housman huddles next to Nietzsche, the heralded bathing scene manages to gesture toward a different call to the blood and a different kind of sexual immersion as well. As hinted by the unidentified "aromatic plant" flour-ishing near the pond's "flooded margin"—almost certainly a tribute to Whitman's calamus, or sweet-flag—Forster provides a comic, if inevitably veiled, variant of the "greenwood" fantasy of masculine love that concludes Maurice. In a setting "beyond the intrusion of man" and nestled in the bosom of nature—in an aqueous vessel, no less, that conjures up both seminal and amniotic associations—Freddy, George, and Mr. Beebe find a social space where not only anticorporeality but also heterosexist presumption and regulation are put in suspense—where for a moment, in the parlance of Maurice, the Law slumbers. Whether "rotat[ing] in the pool breast high"—in Forster's campy depiction—like "the nymphs in Gotterdammerung," or "play[ing] at being Indians," or kicking their bundled clothes like schoolboys at soccer, or "twinkl[ing] into the trees," the three men try on alternative genders, ethnicities, and social roles in a temperate carnival of deviance. In fact, they even try on each other's costumes in a homoerotically coded sequence of exchanges: Freddy, who significantly cannot see the repressed Cecil Vyse "wearing another fellow's cap", here makes off with Beebe's waistcoat, while George dons Beebe's "wide-awake hat" and ends up wearing Freddy's "bags." These often phallically connotative swap-pings and sharings, in turn, culminate in a figurative instance of male-male conception when Freddy announces, giddily: "I've swallowed a pollywog. It wriggleth in my tummy".
But as we know—and as Forster, for all his lighthearted treatment, underscores—the Law only slumbers, soon to arouse and reinstate itself, as the amalgamated powers of the maternal, the domestic, the female-amative, and the bourgeois-respectable intervene to terminate this idyl of masculine adhesiveness. Freddy's weak protest against the restoration of conventional rule ("Look here, mother, a fellow must wash,… and if another fellow—") is quelled when Mrs. Honeychurch declares that, being naked, he is "in no position to argue" and gains his compliance by means of a time-honored token of motherly concern: "All these colds come of not drying thoroughly." Meanwhile George, in all his "barechested" radiance, gets carefully reinvested in the heterosexual paradigm, calling Lucy to her romantic fate "with the shout of the morning star," and Mr. Beebe finds himself painfully recalled to reality and propriety, imaging—in his paranoia—that "every pine-tree [is] a Rural Dean".
Perhaps most telling, from the standpoint of Forster's adjudication of masculinities, is his casting of Cecil as unwittingly arrayed with the feminine forces of normalization—a notion embedded in Beebe's sentinel cry of alarm, "Hi! Hi! Ladies!," which seems to collapse Vyse with his female companions. By now well-established as a condescending poseur who "believe[s] that women revere men for their manliness," Vyse here shows even more sharply as a walking parody of the English patriarch, "who always felt he must lead women, though he knew not whither, and protect them, though he knew not against what". To this ersatz version of an already corrupt gender style the Merchant Ivory film furnishes an added accent as Cecil—gloriously overplayed, as hardly seemed possible, by Daniel Day-Lewis—bushwhacks through the bracken, "ladies" in tow, in quest of new territory to colonize on behalf of the constrained body, male privilege, and imperial aggrandizement. We may confidently speculate that Forster, whose later novels criticize just such a "desire for possessions [and] creditable appendages," would have appreciated this touch.
A Room with a View might be read then as a concerted attempt to reject what Forster saw as the mistaken scheme of values informing James's oeuvre, as well as a critique of the sociopolitical context that surrounded and conditioned those writings. In a calculated riposte to authors like James, who believed fiction should delineate the "elementary passions … in a spirit of intellectual superiority" and who anticipated modernist misgivings about sentimentalism's "connection to a sexual body", Forster set out to give his third novel a "stifling human quality"—to make it "sogged with humanity" (in the aptly fluid terms of Aspects of the Novel) and not to deny the "sentimentality … lurk[ing] in the background" of much readerly pleasure. As I began this essay by suggesting—and as would become apparent in the experiment of Maurice—one powerful (if still hidden) motive of Forster's campaign to make a great good place for the body and naked feeling in fiction was the hope of clearing a narrative field for homosexual sub-jectivity—for the "generous recognition of an emotion and … the reintegration of something primitive into the common stock". Not only did the "common stuff" that Forster missed in James's characters need to be reanimated in the conversation of culture, but that same move should open a way toward acceptance of less common—or rather, less commonly acknowledged—sexualities as well.
In the final analysis, though, we must ask whether A Room with a view accomplishes or even effectively predicts such a "rout of … civilization" in this more ambitious sense or whether instead—as queer theory posits, and as Forster would perceive with growing acuity—certain costs attach to the traditional "marital teleology of the comic text" with its policing of nonnormative masculinities. If one means to contest the cultural position that Forster found inadequately contested in James by asserting that love is "of the body," why stipulate (as Mr. Emerson does) that love is "not the body"? Might stopping this one step shy of fully "carnal embracement"—a last-ditch reticence encountered in all of Forster's fiction, including Maurice—involve renewed concessions to a spiritualized "love" that is always in peril of being (re)engulfed in heteronormativity? Doesn't A Room with a View forfeit something politically vital by deferring to the usual script with its "idiotic use of marriage as a finale," as Forster wrote in Aspects of the Novel, repeating an opinion he held even at the time of the novel's composition? Or if one does nod, in the same work, toward other possible desires and consummations, how much gets changed, in the realm of the real, when the nod is only to those in the know?
The rhetorical posture of such a line of inquiry is perhaps unavoidably invidious, and as we have seen, Forster's private ruminations were not without self-doubt and self-recrimination on this score. Yet to charge "queer Forster" with not being queer enough—or with failing decisively to subvert heterosexist narrative conventions—would seem to miss the point. For how, in fairness, was one to "reveal the hidden life at its source" when "mutual secrecy" had always been the enabling premise of society, and especially when the state and its agencies of sexual regulation made one pay with one's body for certain disclosures? To leave Forster's perennial quarrel with Henry James simply in the region of psychobiography—the influence of somebody upon somebody, to adapt Woolf—would be to neglect the collective testimonial of their works to the efficacy and resilience of homophobia in what is called, evidently without conscious irony, the life of man.
Source: Eric Haralson, Queer Forster, edited by Robert K. Martin and George Piggford, The University of Chicago Press, 1997, pp. 66-72.
Allen, Walter, The Modern Novel, Dutton, 1964, pp. 36-7.
Crewes, Frederick C., "Comic Spirit," in his E. M. Forster: The Perils of Humanism, Princeton University Press, 1962.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, "The Young American," in Complete Works, Vol. 1, Houghton Mifflin, 1903, p. 364.
Epstein, Joseph, Review, in New York Times Book Review, October 10, 1971, pp. 1-2, 28-9.
Frye, Northrop, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays, Princeton University Press, 1957.
Land, Stephen K., Challenge and Conventionality in the Fiction of E. M. Forster, AMS Studies in Modern Literature, No. 19, AMS Press, 1990.
Lucas, John, "Wagner and Forster: Parsifal and A Room with a View," in ELH, Vol. 33, Issue 1, March 1966, pp. 92-117.
Masterman, C. F. G., "The Half-Hidden Life," in The Nation, November 28, 1908, pp. 352, 354.
McDowell, Frederick P. W., E. M. Forster, Twayne Publishers, 1982.
Meredith, George, "On Comedy and the Uses of the Comic Spirit," in Comedy: An Essay on Comedy, edited by Wylie Sypher, Peter Smith Publishers, 1983.
Meyers, Jeffrey, "The Paintings in Forster's Italian Novels," in London Magazine, February/March 1974, pp. 46-62.
Review in the Morning Leader, October 30, 1908.
Summers, Claude J., E. M. Forster, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1983, 406 p.
Trilling, Lionel, "E. M. Forster," in New Directions, 2d ed., 1964.
Woolf, Virginia, "The Novels of E. M. Forster," in The Death of the Moth and Other Essays, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1942.
The greatest representative of its genre, Adams' 1906 autobiographical bildungsroman grapples with the themes of the corruption of humanity. In one chapter, "The Dynamo and the Virgin," he compares the figure who unified the Middle Ages, the Virgin Mary, with the technological enthusiasm of the dawn of the twentieth century. Adams fears that modernism will devolve humans into greedy beasts incapable of appreciating those finer elements of civilization—such as art.
Ellman, Richard, "Edwardians and Late Victorians," edited by Richard Ellman, Columbia University Press, 1960.
Ellman's volume reveals the differences between the Edwardians and the Victorians. Philosophically, the Edwardians sought to create a more modern view of the world, though it was not modern enough for some.
Forster, E. M., Aspects of the Novel, 1927.
Forster was the first novelist invited to deliver a Cambridge University Clark Lectures series and his se-ries remains the most well-known. The lectures he delivered were gathered together as Aspects of the Novel in 1927. Forster argued in favor of remembering that a novel represents life, that it is not a dead work of art.
Frye, Northrop, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays, Princeton University Press, 1957.
Frye's work, and others like it, has helped to show the way in which cultural artifacts, like literature, are a part of a greater record of human civilization. In this work, Frye attempts to reveal the taxonomy of literature. For Frye, the literature of the West has historically utilized the same structural principles although it moves, chronologically, from pure myth to works of realism. In the "Third Essay," he diagrams the four basic patterns: romance, comedy, tragedy, and satire. Frye's work almost accomplishes the scientific analysis of literature that Forster's contemporaries, like George Meredith, desired.
Nead, Lynda, The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity, and Sexuality, Routledge, 1992.
The dominating discussion in A Room with a View hovers around the way women are viewed by society, or should be viewed. The depiction of women in artworks, Nead argues, has been historically constructed out of the long-running aesthetic debate and that depiction impacts women. She begins her discussion with a violent act by a suffragist against a painting of Venus in 1914. The work gradually journeys to female artists who are reacting to the artistic tradition.
Nye, David E., American Technological Sublime, MIT Press, 1994.
Nye traces the evolution of America's attitude toward technology back to the eighteenth-century aesthetic discussion of the sublime. Nye shows that technology does not have its own agency but must be championed and utilized by farsighted individuals.
Wagner, Richard, Parzival, directed by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Image Entertainment, 1999.
Early in the thirteenth century, Wolfram von Es-chenbach used the unfinished epic poem by Chretien de Troyes to introduce Germans to the Grail legend. At the end of the nineteenth century, Richard Wagner—one of the most famous composers of his day—adapted the story to the stage in the form of his last opera. Elements of this story can be seen in Forster's Room with a View whose heroine, Lucy, cannot perform the piece for her suitor, Cecil. Image Entertainment has produced a DVD of Syberberg's 1988 production.
Walkowitz, Judith, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London, University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Late-nineteenth-century London was a dynamic period which ushered in recognizable consumerist habits. These habits were altering social customs governing young women especially and new dangers cropped up attempting to maintain traditional gender roles. Walkowitz examines the murders ascribed to the elusive Jack the Ripper and their social fallout in this book. She hypothesizes the underlying reason as a cultural habit of anxiety over women who venture out into the city alone.