E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View is a classic…isn’t it? The title is described as “the most popular of his early works…a delightfully satiric comedy of manners and an immensely satisfying love story.” I have to disagree. I found the love story immensely unsatisfying actually. Just as you can’t judge a book by a cover, you can’t judge an author by only one of their books; so I’m not going to denounce Forster because of one dud title. To be fair, I did watch the 1985 version of the movie prior to reading it, so I knew what I was getting myself into. I had hope that the book would be better than the movie, yet, it isn’t so.
The first half of the book wasn’t terrible. The book opens with the main character, Lucy Honeychurch, and her aunt on vacation in Florence, Italy. Once arriving at their accommodations, Lucy and her aunt are very displeased with their rooms–of course, they each want a room with a view. After voicing their displeasure at dinner, the Emersons (a father-son duo) offer up their rooms to please Miss Honeychurch and her aunt. The rest of the book revolves around Lucy’s search for a metaphorical room with a view. Despite the Emerson’s kindness, they’re outsiders who are socially inferior to Lucy and her aunt and therefore are off-limits. But you know us women, we love any man who is deemed unacceptable and denounced by our families. Lucy falls for George and the rest is history–cliché, unimaginative history at that.
The reason I picked up A Room with a View was for the love story, but the only reason that I stuck with it was for the coming-of-age tale. Lucy clearly struggles with differentiating what she wants for herself, with what the rest of her family want for her. She’s used to other people telling her what to think, so much so that she even asks Mr. Beebe, “old Emerson, is he nice or not nice? I do so want to know.” She’s incapable, at the beginning of the novel, of determining anything for herself. Forster even writes, “she was accustomed to having her thoughts confirmed by others…it was too dreadful not to know whether she was thinking right or wrong.” As the novel progresses, Lucy becomes more resolute in herself and her decisions, but it’s frustrating to watch her before she has her transformation. Yet, I can relate. I’ve found that the minute I stop trying to think the ‘right’ way and just think about what I believe, my own opinions become much clearer to me. Lucy is slow to this conclusion, but when she finally chooses George in the end, I think she gets it.
To illustrate Lucy’s coming of age and growth, Forster uses Spring as a sort of metaphor. It is Spring when Lucy first arrives in Florence. The signs of Spring are all around, but Forster focuses in on them particularly when Lucy and George’s relationship starts to flourish. I mean they kiss in a meadow of violets–how much more Spring-y can you get. On the trek up to the meadow, the conversation is filled with myriad references to the season. During the ride, this question is posed: “Do you suppose there’s a difference between Spring in nature and Spring in man? But there we go, praising one and condemning the other.” This quote reinforces the parallel of Spring as both a season in nature and a season in one’s life. Lucy, I daresay, is in the spring of her life. After kissing George, she finds herself thinking that “In the company of this uncommon man the world was beautiful and direct. For the first time, she felt the influence of Spring.” She opens herself up to love like a flower blossoms in Spring.
As I’ve said, I didn’t love reading A Room with a View. My advice is that, if you pick it up, just know what you’re getting yourself into. My personal opinion is, that instead of reading it, just watch a romantic movie (my personal favorites are Anna Karenina or Jane Eyre, for something classic, and Remember Me or 10 Things I Hate About You, if you’re in the mood for something more modern. Oh, and I can’t possibly leave out Sixteen Candles). All of these movies are far better alternatives to enduring Forster’s novel. However, I haven’t given up on the man entirely. I’ve already acquired A Passage to India, although it might be awhile before I can commit to it. I’ll have to forget about the treachery of A Room with a View first.