A Room With a View ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
E. M. Forster’s 1908 novel, A Room With a View, has as its heroine an upper-middle-class English girl named Lucy Honeychurch. Lucy is about twenty-two and is a product of her time. She has hairy armpits, plays the piano (too much Beethoven makes her cross), and is thoroughly conventional. She has a fussy mother and an obstreperous eighteen-year-old brother named Freddy.
Lucy is engaged to a fellow name Cecil Vyse. He is everything you might expect in a prospective match for Lucy: snobby, prissy, conventional, priggish. He has his own idea of the “feminine ideal” and expects Lucy to conform to it. He is constantly “correcting” Lucy to “make her better.” Lucy is all too willing to try to be what Cecil wants her to be. At first.
Lucy’s family, even though they’re not rich, have time and money to travel. When Lucy undertakes a trip to Florence, Italy, she takes as her “companion” and “chaperone” her cousin, Miss Charlotte Bartlett. Charlotte is described as a “nervous old maid.” She is annoyingly self-effacing and proper. When Lucy looks at Charlotte, she sees what she is likely to become herself in twenty or twenty-five years if she isn’t careful.
At their “pension” (small hotel) in Florence, Lucy and Charlotte encounter a problem with their room. They were promised a room with a view of the River Arno, but instead have only a view of a courtyard. Two “gentlemen” staying at the pension, Mr. Emerson and his son George, kindly offer to switch rooms with the two English ladies. Charlotte doesn’t think it’s “proper” to exchange rooms with two strange men, but she agrees in the end for Lucy’s sake.
Lucy doesn’t know what to make of the Emersons. Mr. Emerson is eccentric and seems to not have a full row of buttons; he is rumored to have murdered his wife. George is alarmingly uninterested in propriety or in what people might think of him. When he evinces a romantic interest in Lucy (culminating in a furtive kiss among a profusion of flowers on a hillside), she doesn’t know what to make of it. Her instinct is to run away.
Back in England, Lucy is preparing to marry Cecil Vyse, believing she has put the memory of George Emerson behind her. Wait a minute, though! George and his father are renting a “small villa” in the neighborhood where Lucy lives with her mother and brother. She and George will be neighbors and she’ll be running into him around every corner! Gasp! What’s a girl to do?
George and Freddy, Lucy’s brother, become friends. When Freddy invites George to the Honeychurch home for a round of Sunday tennis, George, cad that he is, steals another kiss from Lucy, this time on the “garden path” when he thinks nobody is looking. Now Lucy is completely thrown off-course! Can she go ahead and marry Cecil Vyse when she has such conflicting (hot and cold) feelings about George?
It seems that spending time in Italy has changed Lucy, made her look at life in a different way. She has “found her soul” and it’s all because of Italy. She is ready to slough off the stultifying convention of her age and upbringing. She is ready to step away from the straight-and-narrow course that has been laid out for her and step into a course of her own choosing.
E. M. Forster’s novels are gem-like, so carefully and precisely written; never pretentious or overly wordy. Every word has its place. There’s none of the extraneous claptrap and tortuously twisted sentences that you might find in the work of writers such as Virginia Woolf or Henry James. If you’ve never ready any books by E. M. Forster, you’re missing out on something good. If, on the other hand, you don’t give a rat’s ass about good writing or good fiction, you’re probably better off to have never heard the name.
Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp