I will admit that I only ever read this book for my English Literature coursework. Nevertheless, it doesn’t make a boring read; quite the opposite, really. E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View follows Lucy Honeychurch, a ladylike and increasingly radical young woman in Edwardian England. Throughout the book, Lucy abandons the upper middle class expectations forced upon her, starting on her holiday in Italy.
It is in a too-English hotel in Florence with her controlling cousin Charlotte that Lucy meets the charming Mr Emerson and his mysteriously tormented son George. After Charlotte demands that they simply must have rooms with a view of the River Arno, the men kindly offer to swap rooms. As the Emersons are socialists in a hotel bristling with reserved conservatives, the contrast of Edwardian and Victorian ideals sparks tension. This tension peaks when George kisses Lucy in a field of violets in the Italian countryside.
Back home in Surrey, Lucy gets engaged to Cecil Vyse, a perfect Victorian gentleman who therefore holds the Victorian belief that women are inferior to men. This idyllic and sickening setting of snobbish propriety and female insignificance makes Lucy question her rather restricted view of life and compare it to the passion she experienced in Italy. It is made clear that Lucy doesn’t really want to marry Cecil, but rather that she feels she must because it’s the proper thing to do. George and his father move across the street from Lucy, her mother and her brother, and George slowly becomes part of Lucy’s life in England, posing a devastating awkwardness for Lucy and poor Charlotte. Lucy’s true desires overpower her conservative conditioning, eventually making her choose between a traditional and socially appropriate life with Cecil and a life of equality and happiness with George.
This book is perfect to read in the summer. It is charmingly light-hearted, and Forster’s clever cynicism towards all things snobbish and aloof lift the book above a mere narrative of the changing views of society in the early 1900s. At times, this cynicism results in scenes of laugh-out-loud comedy, the highlight being the pettiness around Charlotte’s troublesome determination to find enough change to pay the taxi driver without having anyone be in debt to anyone else; the polite and stereotypical ‘Englishness’ of this promotes fits of giggles. A Room with a View is truly a lovely book and, despite it being one I had to study, I found it more than an enjoyable read.
Words by Caitlin O’Connor