Opening a Window
A Room with a View by E.D. Forster explores the struggle between the expectations of a conventional lady of the British upper class and pursuing the heart. Miss Lucy Honeychurch must choose between class concerns and personal desires.
Honeychurch is a respectable young lady from a well-known family. She travels with Miss Charlotte Bartlett to Italy at the turn of the century. In Italy they meet Mr. Emerson and George Emerson. George is young man who falls in love with Lucy. Mr. Emerson is an idealist and a dreamer.
Only a couple of days after they get to Italy George kisses Lucy while standing in the middle of a waving field of grass. George does this with out her permission or discussion. Even though this surprises Lucy and backs away she still participates in the kiss that tells the readers that there is something in her heart that drives her toward George. George?s function in A Room with a View is clear: he is a source of passion in a society that is tightly sealed with convention, timidity, and dryness. When Lucy comes home to Britain she is proposed to by Cecil. She accepts the offer because she knows that it is the proper thing to do. Cecil is an intelligent, well-respected man but lacks the passion that George penetrates. When Cecil attempts to kiss Lucy it is very different than George. He first of all asks permission, then Cecil timidly moves in to kiss her, and lastly his glasses fall off. This example shows the difference between Cecil and George and how Cecil lacks the aggression and desire that George has. Lucy has to make the decision between the mind and the heart. She is torn between Cecil?s world of books and conformity and George?s world of passion and nature. This decision is not easy for Lucy to make.
Lucy came really close to marring the wrong man due to her lack of thought. She has grown up and lived a life of proper existence. However, Lucy possesses passionate qualities they have just been repressed her entire life. Her only emotion outlet is the piano, in which she prefers dramatic pieces by Beethoven. She plays the piano in order to let out her frustrations brought on by her surrounding characters. Lucy is brought up to be proper and not outgoing or passionate. George will eventually show her how to be passionate and open to new ideas. George is a man that breaks the chains of conformity to free Lucy?s spirit and he does this efficiency.
George kisses Lucy for the second time and he explains that love exists between them. He tells Lucy that she can not marry Cecil because he does not understand women and will never understand Lucy. George also explains that Cecil only thinks that he loves but in actuality only wants her for an ornament. George, on the other hand, wants her as his partner in the great adventure of life. Lucy has lied to herself and to everyone else around her until she is eventually cornered into tearfully admitting her love for George.
A Room with a View is a love story about a young proper women who is engaged to a proper man she does not love, and the frantic efforts a another young man to her see what love is and that she loves him. Lucy struggles between what is expected of her and what she really wants. By the end of the novel, George will have offered Lucy a view out of the window of her life. George will have opened a window for her.
British social comedy examines a young heroine’s struggle against straitlaced Victorian attitudes as she rejects the man her family has encouraged her to marry and chooses, instead, a socially unsuitable fellow she met on holiday in Italy. Classic exploration of passion, human nature and social convention.
A Room with a View was published in 1908. It was one of Forster’s earliest novels, and it has become one of his most famous and popular. E.M. Forster was twenty-nine at the time of publication; two earlier novels, Where Angels Fear to Tread and The Longest Journey, had been poorly received. A Room with a View was blessed with good reviews, but it would not be until 1910 and the publication of Howard’s End that Forster would have his first major success.
The novel deals with a group of British characters in two major settings: Part One and the final chapter are set in Florence, Italy, and Part Two is set mostly in a quiet part of Surrey, England. Forster’s characters, like Forster himself at the time of the novel’s writing, live in the time of the British Empire’s zenith. With possessions in every part of the globe, the British Empire was as yet untouched by the difficulties of the two world wars. The monarch of England was also the king of Canada and the emperor of India; English citizens enjoyed the fruits of a system of exploitation and oppression that touched the far corners of the world.
The remnants of Victorian sensibilities were still very much alive. Prim and proper Brits worried about refinement, the virtue of young girls, and the control of the passions. But it was also a time of change. Women began to clamor more loudly than ever for equal rights. Socialists were challenging old ideas about class and religion, and artists and thinkers began to challenge Victorian attitudes about emotion and sexuality. A Room with a View was one of those challenges. The story of young Lucy Honeychurch’s choice between propriety and love, the novel casts Socialists as heroes and prim spinsters as antagonists. Lucy’s dramatic choice at the end of the novel is not only a victory for passion, but for woman’s independence.
It was common for British citizens, particularly young men and women, to take the “grand tour” of Italy. The idea was for educated Brits to expose themselves to the work of Renaissance and Roman artists and architects, but like tourists throughout the ages, many travelers only had a superficial experience of Italy. They stayed with other British travelers, looked down on the Italians, and went to museums and ancient churches with their books of art criticism in hand. Forster criticizes this kind of tourist, but with some gentleness and a good deal of humor. A Room with a View is wonderful social commentary, but it is no acrid satire. The novel prefers to laugh lovingly at its subjects, and in the end the good in people matters much more to Forster than their shortcomings.
The novel deals with Lucy’s growth toward self-awareness; by the end, she has learned the importance of expressing passion honestly. At the time, Forster was at the beginning of his first important relationship. A Room with a View is dedicated to H.O.M., Hugh Meredith, Forster’s first love and the model for George Emerson. Throughout the novel, Forster speaks with great insight on the subject of repressed passion and the war between desire and society’s conventions. His experiences as a gay man at the beginnings of his first relationship undoubtedly had a great influence on the writing of the novel. His lack of sexual experience also explains some of the novel’s shortcomings; although he writes beautifully about the beginning stages of the courtship between Lucy and George, in the final chapter he seems less certain, less insightful. Still, the book is an accomplished and beautiful love story, full of cutting but ultimately generous insights. And there are unforgettable moments: the first kiss between George is Lucy, passionate and unexpected on a hillside covered with violets, is one of the finest kisses in modern literature.
Propriety and Passion: The conflict between social convention and passion is a central theme of the novel. Lucy’s match with George, by social standards, is completely unacceptable. But it is the only match that could make her happy. Her match with Cecil is far more conventional, but marriage to Cecil would destroy Lucy’s spirit. The Emersons are truly unconventional people. They care almost nothing for propriety. Mr. Emerson, a Socialist, speaks with great feeling about the importance of passion and the beauty of the human body. The British characters of the novel have very strong ideas about the need to repress passion and control young girls. To achieve happiness, Lucy will have to fight these standards, many of which she has internalized, and learn to appreciate her own desires.
The beauty of human beings: A Room with a View is social commentary, but Forster’s depictions of people are ultimately generous. He gently mocks the Honeychurches for their bourgeois habits, but he does not shy from depicting their strengths. They are loving and sincere, generous with guests and with each other. Cecil’s greatest fault is that he is entirely too critical of people. He cannot appreciate the good in the simple country gentry with whom Lucy has grown up. Even Charlotte, the prim spinster who is a major obstacle to the love between Lucy George, is allowed to have a moment of grace. In the end, Forster appreciates his characters’ goodness much more than he mocks their faults.
Travel and the idea of Italy: Travel is a powerful force in the novel, and at its best it can be a life-altering experience. The heart of travel is to allow a place to get under one’s skin; staying at British pensions and scorning Italian peasants do not the constitute the best experience one can get out of Italy. Italy gives Lucy insights into her life back at Windy Corner. It changes her perspective of herself. Although her experiences there confuse her, in working through the confusion she becomes a self-assured and independent young woman.
The beautiful and the delicate: Lucy asks in the first chapter if beauty and delicacy are really synonyms. One of Lucy’s important lessons is that beauty need not be refined; much is beautiful in the gesture of kindness that oversteps propriety, or the act of passion that ignores convention. Lucy has to learn to see beauty in things that her society scorns or condemns.
Woman’s position and independence: The Emersons are fervent believers in the equality of men and women. Lucy is not a rebel at heart, but she is often frustrated by the limitation put on her sex. Her marriage to Cecil could never be one between equals. Cecil is not so much in love with Lucy as he is in love with some idea of what a woman is supposed to be. He constantly compares her to a work of art, which, although it may be flattering, also objectifies her and ignores that she is a living person. What Lucy needs, although she does not know it, is a relationship between equals. She has no desire to be protected or instructed.
Connection between nature and man: One of Mr. Emerson’s convictions is that man and nature are inextricable from each other, and only the mistakes of civilization separate man from his natural state. Closely connected to the theme of passion and the body, this theme runs throughout the novel. Forster emphasizes it by having the weather often mirror the thoughts of his characters. He also connects George and Lucy to the land at key points.
Passion and the body: If nature and man are inextricable from each other, it follows that there should be no shame for the body or passion. Society’s conventions try to hide both. The body must be hidden, a thing of which one should feel ashamed; passions must be controlled and regulated by rules tied to class and gender. Lucy has to overcome these conventions if she is to allow herself to love George.
The Medieval/the Renaissance/the Classical: Forster uses time periods to represent characters and their attitudes. Uptight Cecil is always associated with the medieval; George is associated with the myths of the classical world. Italy is the land of both the classical Roman world and the Renaissance, and Forster uses these eras as symbols of beauty and passion.
Music: Lucy’s relationship to her music is an important insight into her character. Her playing is an indication that she has untapped reserves of passion; Mr. Beebe remarks that one day Lucy will live as well as she plays. Lucy’s music also articulates her feelings better than her words can, and after playing she is more certain of what she wants.
The Muddle: Forster constantly uses the word “muddle” to describe Lucy’s state of mind. The muddle arises when everything that one has been taught suddenly is thrown into doubt. It is one of the marks of growing up. Lucy’s muddle is frightening and confusing, but in working through it she will become a stronger and wiser person.
Class snobbery: Class snobbery is a constant feature of A Room with a View. The Emersons, because they are not refined, are the most frequent victims of this snobbery. Country gentry look down on those who work hard for a living; Cecil looks down on the suburban ways of country gentry. Lucy has to overcome the class bigotry that she has been taught.
Lucy Honeychurch, a young English woman, is vacationing with her cousin, Charlotte Bartlett, at an Italian pension for British guests. They are vacationing in Italy together, and currently they are in Florence. While bemoaning the poor views outside their windows, Lucy and Charlotte are interrupted by another guest, an old man by the name of Emerson. Mr. Emerson offers them a room swap; he and his son George are both in rooms that offer beautiful views of Florence. Charlotte refuses; for a woman to accept such an offer from a man would make her indebted to him. It would be a serious breach of propriety. But later that evening, after the intercession of another guest, a clergyman named Mr. Beebe, Charlotte accepts the offer.
Their stay in Florence continues, and Lucy continues to run into the eccentric Emersons. They are socially unacceptable by the snobbish standards of the other guests, but Lucy likes them. One day, while Lucy is walking alone in Florence, she witnesses a murder. George happens to be there, too, and he catches her when she faints. On the way home, they have a strange, intimate conversation as they walk along the river. But George stirs up feelings in Lucy that she is not ready to face, and she resolves not to see him again. However, later that week, they both end up on a carriage ride into the hills near Florence. The various British travelers disperse and wander around the hills, and Lucy finds herself alone. She stumbles onto an earth terrace covered with violets, and finds herself face-to-face with George. He kisses her, but the kiss is interrupted by Charlotte. The next day, under Charlotte’s direction, Lucy and Charlotte leave for Rome.
Part 2 begins after the passage of several months. We are back at Windy Corner, the Honeychurch home in Surrey, England. In Rome, Lucy spent a good deal of time with a man named Cecil Vyse. The Vyses and the Honeychurches are on friendly terms, but Cecil and Lucy only knew each other superficially before Italy. In Italy, Cecil proposed to Lucy twice. She rejected him both times. As Part 2 begins, Cecil is proposing yet again. This time, she accepts.
Now that they are engaged, Cecil and Lucy must spend time with Lucy’s various neighbors. Cecil, an aristocratic Londoner, despises the ways of the country gentry. He also dislikes Lucy’s brother, Freddy, and is not overly fond of Lucy’s mother. But Lucy puts up with it. At Charlotte’s request, she has never told anyone about her kiss with George.
But before too long, the Emersons move into Cissie villa, a home not far from Windy Corner. Lucy is forced to face George Emerson again, but she manages to deal with him at a distance. She continues her engagement to Cecil, even though signs indicate that she is anxious about the marriage on a deep psychological level. To the reader, it is obvious that they are completely unsuitable for each other, but Lucy persists in the engagement. Soon, things come to a head: Charlotte’s boiler is broken, and she comes to stay as a guest at Windy Corner. And during her stay, Freddy, who has befriended George, invites George to come play tennis. It is all to take place on Sunday, and Lucy is terrified of what might happen.
On Sunday, Cecil refuses to play tennis and pesters everyone by reading aloud from a bad British novel. Lucy soon realizes that the novel is written by Miss Lavish, a woman who stayed at their pension in Florence. Cecil reads a particularly humorous passage aloud, but Lucy sees nothing humorous about it: it is a fictional recreation of her kiss with George. The names are different, but the situation is unmistakable. She realizes that Charlotte told Miss Lavish what happened. George is also present for the reading of the passage. On the way back to the house, George catches Lucy alone in the garden and kisses her again.
Lucy confronts Charlotte angrily about her indiscretion. She resolves to put George in his place. She has Charlotte sit in the room as support and witness, and she orders George never to return to Windy Corner. George argues with her passionately. He tells her that Cecil is stifling and unsuitable for her; Cecil will never love her enough to want her to be independent. George loves her for who she is. Lucy is shaken by his words, but she stands firm. George leaves, heartbroken. However, later that night, Cecil refuses again to play tennis with Freddy. Something in his refusal makes Lucy see him truthfully for the first time. She breaks off the engagement that very night.
But Lucy still cannot admit to anyone, including herself, her feelings for George. Rather than stay at Windy Corner and face George, she resolves to leave for Greece. But one day not long before she is supposed to leave, she goes to church with her mother and Charlotte and meets Mr. Emerson in the minister’s study. Mr. Emerson does not know that Lucy has broken off the engagement, but Lucy realizes before long that she cannot lie to the old man. She talks with him, and Mr. Emerson realizes that she has deep feelings for George. He presses the issue, forcing her to confront her own feelings. Finally, she admits that she has been fighting her love for George all along.
The novel closes in Florence, where George and Lucy are spending their honeymoon. Not having her mother’s consent, Lucy has eloped with George. Things are difficult with her family, but there is hope that it will get better. Whatever happens, George and Lucy have each other, and their life together promises to be full of happiness and love.
We open in Florence at the Pension Bertolini, a pension for British travelers. Young Lucy Honeychurch and her cousin, Charlotte Bartlett, are bemoaning the poor rooms that they have been given. They were promised rooms with views. The two women sit at dinner in their pension, along with the other guests. Lucy is disappointed because the pension hostess has turned out to be British, and the dÃ©cor of the pension seems lifted right out of a room in London. While Miss Bartlett and Lucy talk, an old man interrupts them to tell them that his room has a nice view. The man is Mr. Emerson; he introduces his son, George Emerson. Mr. Emerson offers Miss Bartlett and Lucy a room swap. The men will take the rooms over the courtyard, and Lucy and Charlotte will take the more pleasant rooms that have views. Miss Bartlett is horrified by the offer, and refuses to accept; she begins to ignore the Emersons and resolves to switch pensions the next day.
Just then, Mr. Beebe, a clergyman that Lucy and Charlotte know from England, enters. Lucy is delighted to meet someone she knows, and she shows it; now that Mr. Beebe is here, they must stay at the Pension Bertolini. Lucy has heard in letters from her mother that Mr. Beebe has just accepted a position at the parish of Summer Street, the parish of which Lucy is a member. Mr. Beebe and Lucy have a pleasant talk over dinner, in which he gives Lucy advice about the sites of Florence. This vacation is Lucy’s first time in Florence. Soon, almost everyone at the table is giving Lucy and Miss. Bartlett advice. The torrent of advice signifies the acceptance of Lucy and Miss Bartlett into the good graces of the pension guests; Lucy notes that the Emersons are outside of this fold.
After the meal, some of the guests move to the drawing room. Miss Bartlett discusses the Emersons with Mr. Beebe; Beebe does not have a very high opinion of Mr. Emerson, but he thinks him harmless, and he believes no harm would have come from Miss Bartlett accepting Mr. Emerson’s offer. Mr. Emerson is a Socialist, a term that is used by Mr. Beebe and Miss Bartlett with clear disapproval. Miss Bartlett continues to ask Mr. Beebe about what she should have done about the offer, and if she should apologize, until Mr. Beebe becomes annoyed and leaves. An old lady approaches the two women and talks with Miss Bartlett about Mr. Emerson’s offer. Lucy asks if perhaps there was something beautiful about the offer, even if it was not delicate. Miss Bartlett is puzzled by the question; to her, beauty and delicacy are the same thing.
Mr. Beebe returns: he has arranged with Mr. Emerson to have the women take the room. Miss Bartlett is not quite sure what to do, but she accepts. She takes the larger room, which was occupied by George, because she does not want Lucy to be indebted to a young man. She bids Lucy goodnight and inspect her new quarters, and she finds a piece of paper pinned to the washstand that has an enormous “note of interrogation” scrawled on it. Though she feels threatened by it, she saves it for George between two pieces of blotting paper.
Lucy is young and naÃ¯ve; she is bright but not brilliant, although she has enough imagination and compassion to begin to look beyond the social conventions of her class and time.
Forster’s novel is full of insightful social commentary on the stuffiness of British social conventions. Modern readers are often surprised by Miss Bartlett’s deep anxieties about accepting a room trade with the generous but socially outcast Emersons. Miss Bartlett is acting under social pressures from several different directions. For one thing, Lucy’s mother has paid for Miss Bartlett’s travel expenses, and Miss Bartlett therefore feels responsible for guarding Miss Honeychurch from any possible harm. For Miss Bartlett, life is lived in accordance with what are arguably very precious and ridiculous concerns. Nothing is worse than “a scene,” and she must also guard Lucy from feeling obligation to a young man. Sex is a source of terrible anxiety for the British of this period, and a young woman’s reputation must be guarded at all costs.
Lucy brings up an important theme of the novel when she asks about the delicate and the beautiful. Lucy wonders if delicacy and beauty might be different things, while Charlotte assumes that they are synonymous. As her social world defines beauty and delicacy, the two qualities are one and the same; beauty is found in politeness, in circuitous and subtle conversation, in avoidance of direct confrontation or over-earnest expressions of emotion. There is not beauty, therefore, in Mr. Emerson’s generous offer of a room trade. But Lucy is more imaginative than her cousin, and she is able to see that there is beauty in Mr. Emerson’s socially clueless but generous offer. He is completely unaware of the anxiety he is causing Miss Bartlett; either that or his is completely unconcerned about it. The important thing to him is the generosity of his offer. He does not intend to put Lucy or Charlotte under obligation. He sincerely thinks that a room with a view should go to the one who most enjoys the view. Lucy will have to learn to come to her own understanding of beauty.
We see more of Lucy’s sensitivity and naturally sympathetic and sensitive disposition when she realizes that she and Charlotte have been accepted by the other guests of the pension. She sees that Mr. Emerson and George have not been accepted, and this knowledge makes her feel sorry for them. But Lucy is not strong enough yet to affect the world around her. Note that Charlotte handles all the details of the room trade, and Lucy is not yet confident enough to articulate her doubts about the stuffiness and petty concerns of her social world.
Italy and travel make another important theme. The heart of this theme is a new place’s ability to get under the skin of the traveler, transforming her. Though she is not yet fully aware of it, Lucy longs for this kind of experience. She is deeply disappointed by the Pension Bertolini, which to her seems like another piece of England. She wants to go out into Italy and feel it fully, as richly as she can, away from the safety of British dÃ©cor and sensibilities. The pension is juxtaposed to the world outside; the inside of the pension is decorated like a room in London. British social conventions are preserved and protected from the foreign country that surrounds the pension on all sides. The pension protects the guests from Italy, and so it prevents the transforming experience that is the best result of travel. Italy is also a direct challenge to the idea of beauty and delicacy being identical. Italy’s beauty is refined and sophisticated, but there is nothing delicate about its colossal Roman ruins, dramatic countryside, or rustic peasants.
Lucy’s longing for a room with a view is a metaphor for her longing to connect with Italy and the new experiences the country offers. Instead of a view of the courtyard, she wants a view of the country. The window opening out into Florence symbolizes Lucy’s openness to a new world.
Chapter Two In Santa Croce with No Baedeker:
Lucy looks out her window onto the beautiful scene of a Florence morning. Miss Bartlett interrupts her reverie and encourages Lucy to begin her day; in the dining room, they argue politely about whether or not Miss Bartlett should accompany Lucy on a bit of sightseeing. Lucy is eager to go but does not wish to tire her cousin, and Miss Bartlett, though tired, does not want Lucy to go alone. A “clever lady,” whose name is Miss Lavish, intercedes. After some discussion, it is agreed that Miss Lavish and Lucy will go out together to the church of Santa Croce.
The two women go out, and have a lively (but not too involved) conversation about politics and people they know in England. Suddenly, they are lost. Lucy tries to consult her Baedeker travel guide, but Miss Lavish will have none of it. She takes the guide book away. In their wanderings, they cross the Square of the Annunziata; the buildings and sculptures are the most beautiful things Lucy has ever seen, but Miss Lavish drags her forward. The women eventually reach Santa Croce, and Miss Lavish spots Mr. Emerson and George. She does not want to run into them, and seems disgusted by the two men. Lucy defends them. As they reach the steps of the church, Miss Lavish sees someone she knows and rushes off. Lucy waits for a while, but then she sees Miss Lavish wander down the street with her friend and Lucy realizes she has been abandoned. Upset, she goes into Santa Croce alone.
The church is cold, and without her Baedeker travel guide Lucy feels unable to correctly view the many famous works of art housed there. She sees a child hurt his foot on a tomb sculpture and rushes to help him. She then finds herself side-by-side with Mr. Emerson, who is also helping the child. The child’s mother appears and sets the boy on his way. Lucy feels determined to be good to the Emersons despite the disapproval of the other pension guests. But when Mr. Emerson and George invite her to join them in their little tour of the church, she knows that she should be offended by such an invitation. She tries to seem offended, but Mr. Emerson sees immediately that she is trying to behave as she has seen others behave, and tells her so. Strangely, Lucy is not angry about his forwardness but is instead somewhat impressed. She asks to be taken to look at the Giotto frescoes.
The trio comes across a tour group, including some tourists from the pension, led by a clergyman named Mr. Eager. Mr. Eager spews commentary on the frescoes, which Mr. Emerson heartily disagrees with; he is skeptical of the praise and romanticizing of the past. The clergyman icily leads the group away. Mr. Emerson, worried that he has offended them, rushes off to apologize. George confides in Lucy that his father always has that effect on people. His earnestness and bluntness are repellent to others. Mr. Emerson returns, having been snubbed. Mr. Emerson and Lucy go off to see other works. Mr. Emerson, sincere and earnest, shares his concerns for his son. George is unhappy. Lucy is not sure how to react to this direct and honest talk; Mr. Emerson asks her to befriend his son. She is close to his age and Mr. Emerson sense much that is good in the girl. He hopes that these two young people can learn from each other. George is deeply saddened by life itself and the transience of human existence; this cerebral sorrow all seems very strange to Lucy. George suddenly approaches them, to tell Lucy that Miss Bartlett is here. Lucy realizes that one of the old women in the tour group must have told Charlotte that Lucy was with the Emersons. When she seems distressed, Mr. Emerson expresses sympathy for her. Lucy becomes cold, and she informs him that she has no need for his pity. She goes to join her cousin.
Although Miss Lavish prides herself on being “original” and “unconventional,” Forster subtly shows that her radicalism is polite, precious, and limited. She disapproves of the Emersons just as much as everyone else does, and though she pretends to be worldly and well traveled (she takes away Lucy’s Baedeker guide), she gets the two women lost. Nor does she understand the value of getting lost: she is so fixated on getting the women to Santa Croce that she rushes past the beautiful Square of the Annunziata without noticing a thing. Her attitude toward the Italians is patronizing in the extreme: she defines democracy as being kind to one’s inferiors. Although Forster is writing incisive social commentary on the stuffiness of British society, he uses Miss Lavish as an example of a certain kind of false rebelliousness. She is ultimately as snobby and precious as everyone else, and her brand of radicalism tends to reinforce stuffy conventions rather than challenge them.
Lucy is not a brilliant girl, and she lacks the originality and confidence to make her own judgments about art. In Santa Croce, she longs for her Baedeker guide so that she can know “good art” from bad. She lacks the confidence to just look at the paintings; she wants to know which frescoes have been pronounced by the critics to be “truly beautiful.” Lucy has some generosity of spirit and often feels uncomfortable with stifling social conventions, but she is not a genius or revolutionary. She is still young and very naÃ¯ve; by the novel’s end she will be a much wiser and independent person. Part of Forster’s brilliance is his restraint. He resists the temptation to make Lucy into a brilliant firebrand, and instead makes her to be, in many ways, a very typical girl for her class and education. She is often caught between convention and an inner sense of what is “beautiful rather than delicate.”
She is unquestionably drawn to George Emerson. In Santa Croce, she notices that his face is rugged and handsome, and she also notices the strength and physical attractiveness of his body. But his melancholy attitude puzzles her, and his angst seems humorous to her in some ways. Mr. Emerson compares him to the child that stumbled and hurt his toe on a tomb statue of Santa Croce. The tomb becomes a symbol of mortality, and George has stubbed his too; George is upset by mortality and the transience of human existence. Life itself hurts and puzzles him.
Mr. Emerson’s social awkwardness and earnestness combine to make him a very unpopular man. Even Lucy rebuffs him at the end of this chapter, resenting his pity for her. But we can see from his attempted apology to Mr. Eager that he does not mean to offend; in fact, he earnestly desires that everyone should always have a nice time. And his criticism of Mr. Eager’s romanticizing of Giotto’s art and time has its own valid perspective, although Mr. Emerson has difficulty expressing his ideas tactfully.
Chapter Three Music, Violets, and the Letter “S”:
One day after lunch Lucy decides to play the piano. The narrator tells us that Lucy has a great love for playing; she is no genius, but she is talented and passionate, always playing “on the side of Victory.” Mr. Beebe recalls the first time he heard her play, back in England, at Tunbridge Wells. She chose an unusual and intense piece by Beethoven. At the time, Mr. Beebe remarked to someone that if Lucy ever learned to live as she plays, it would be a great event. Now, Mr. Beebe makes the same remark to Lucy directly. Miss Bartlett and Miss Lavish are out sightseeing, but it is raining hard outside. Lucy asks about Miss Lavish’s novel, which is in progress. Lately, Miss Lavish and Miss Bartlett have become close, leaving Lucy feeling like a third wheel. Miss Catharine Alan enters, complimenting Lucy’s playing. She discusses the impropriety of the Italians with Mr. Beebe, who half-agrees with her in a subtly and playfully mocking way.
They discuss Miss Lavish, who once wrote a novel but lost the thing in heavy rains. She is working on a new book, set in modern Italy. Miss Alan talks about Miss Lavish’ first meeting with the Emersons. Mr. Emerson made a comment about acidity of the stomach, trying to be helpful to another pension guest. Miss Lavish was drawn to his directness. She tried to stand up for the Emersons for a while, talking about commerce and how it is the heart of England’s empire. But after dinner, she went into the smoking room with them. A few minutes later, she emerged, silent. No one knows what happened, but since then, Miss Lavish has made no attempt to be friendly to the men. Lucy asks Miss Alan and Mr. Beebe if the Emersons are nice; after some discussion, Mr. Beebe gives a qualified yes and Miss Alan a no. Mr. Beebe, though he does not say it, does not approve of the Emerson’s attempts to befriend Lucy. Mr. Beebe feels badly for the Emersons nonetheless; they are thoroughly isolated at the pension. He silently resolves to organize a group outing so that everyone will have a good time.
Evening comes on and the rain stops. Lucy decides to go out for a walk and enjoy the last bit of daylight. Clearly, Miss Alan disapproves and Mr. Beebe does not approve entirely. But Lucy goes out anyway; Mr. Beebe chalks her behavior up to too much Beethoven.
Music and Lucy’s relationship to her music is one of the novel’s themes. Mr. Beebe’s comment becomes the reader’s hope for Lucy: perhaps one day she will play as well as she lives. Forster speaks in this chapter’s opening pages of music’s transcendent abilities. It can be the gift of anyone regardless of social class or education. Through Beebe’s statement, Forster is suggesting that these qualities also apply to passionate living. To live life well is within the grasp of anyone, despite the prejudices and proprieties of Lucy’s world. Her choice of unusual Beethoven pieces is indicative of her passion. She needs more of an outlet than music, but for now her music will have to do. Music puts her in touch with her desires and feelings; the passion of Beethoven makes her resolve to go out alone, despite the disapproval of others.
Lucy goes out longing for adventure, hoping for something great. She buys some photographs of great artworks at a junk shop, but remains unsatisfied. She wanders into the Piazza Signoria; it is nearing twilight, and the world takes on an aura of unreality. Nearby, she sees two Italians arguing. One of them is struck lightly on the chest; he wanders toward Lucy, trying to say something, and blood trickles from his lips. The light strike was actually a stabbing. A crowd surrounds them and carries the man away. She sees George Emerson, and then the world seems to fall on top of Lucy; suddenly, she is with George Emerson, sitting on some steps some distance away. She fainted, and George has carried her here.
She thanks George and asks him to fetch her photographs, which she dropped in the square; when he leaves to get them, she tries to sneak away. George calls to her and persuades her to sit down. The man who approached her is dead or dying. A crowd surrounds the man, down by the fountain, and George goes to investigate. George returns, and they talk of the murder. They walk back to the pension along the river, and George suddenly tosses something into the water. Lucy angrily demands to know what he threw away, suspecting that they might be her photographs. After some hesitation, George admits that they were. He threw them away because they were covered with blood. At George’s request, they stop for a moment. He feels something incredible has happened, and he wants to figure it out.
Leaning over a parapet, Lucy apologizes for her fainting and asks that he not tell anyone at the pension what happened. She realizes that he is not a chivalrous man, meaning he is a stranger to old-fashioned ideas of courtesy and propriety, but she also realizes that George is intelligent, trustworthy, and kind. She says that events like the murder happen, and that the witnesses go on living life as usual. George replies that he does not go on living life as usual. Now, he will want to live.
Forster spends the first part of the chapter explaining Lucy’s character. She is naÃ¯ve, but she has some strength and passion. She is frustrated by the constraints on her gender, but she is also no firebrand by nature. She feels that she should be ladylike, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, but in practice she wants to be more free and adventurous than that label allows. She feels her emotions most passionately and deeply after she has played piano.
Forster often uses the landscape to mirror Lucy’s mood. After she finished playing the piano, the rain cleared, mirroring Lucy’s tendency to know her own desires most clearly after playing music. As she wanders into the square, the world seems touched by unreality. She longs for an adventure, and she is conscious of being in a different place and wanting to see something rule. It is twilight, a transitional time between day and night, and Lucy is about to have a very confusing and important experience.
She is rescued by George, and she cannot seem to decide what to think about it. For his part, George is as taciturn and strange as ever. Forster lets us into his characters’ heads, but with George and Mr. Emerson we have only their outward actions and dialogue. Lucy’s experience is confusing not only because she watches a man die, but also because she is not sure how to deal with George and how he makes her feel. She recognizes that he is not chivalrous or proper, but she sees goodness in him. She stops by the river and feels somehow comfortable with him, but she nervously asks him not to tell anyone that she fainted and he carried her.
For George too, the experience is important. For whatever reason, and in ways that Forster will not allow us to see directly, he is changed. He tells Lucy that he will not return to life as he lived it before; now, he wants to live. The experience has made him appreciate life, perhaps in part because he shared something extraordinary with Lucy.
Mrs. Honeychurch, Lucy, and Cecil attend a neighborhood garden party. Cecil is disgusted by the experience, appalled by the niceties of country gentry. On the carriage ride home, he shares his feeling with Lucy, spinning out convoluted metaphors about fences between people. He is impressed by his own travel record, and seems to think of himself as some kind of Bohemian dynamo; Lucy is intelligent enough to know that a few quiet months in Rome with one’s mother do not a rebel make. He implies that he does not like Mr. Beebe; while on the subject of unlikable clergymen, Lucy vehemently expresses her hatred for Mr. Eager, the chaplain of the British colony in Florence. She talks about how Mr. Eager slandered a certain friend of hers, and when Cecil and Mrs. Honeychurch ask the identity of this friend, Lucy lies. She says the man’s name was Harris. Cecil makes naÃ¯ve comments romanticizing the countryside and its people.
The carriage stops at Cissie and Albert, the two estates recently acquired by Sir Harry Otway. Sir Harry has bought the estates in part out of a sense of duty to the community; he wanted to fix the two homes up (both buildings are eyesores) and find desirable tenants. While discussing the problem of tenants, Lucy suggests Miss Teresa and Miss Catherine Alan, the two spinster sisters whom she met at the Pension Bertolini. Mrs. Honeychurch and Cecil object to the idea of having two depressing old maids in the neighborhood, but Lucy stands by them and asks Sir Harry if she can write to them and ask if they are interested. He gives his consent. Cecil wishes to walk back to Windy Corner with Lucy instead of riding the carriage, and Mrs. Honeychurch grants her consent.
Cecil complains about Sir Harry; although Lucy sees that there is truth in his criticisms, she wonders if these truths matter so much. Lucy begins to worry that Cecil will harshly judge the people close to her, like her mother and Freddy. Lucy is about to take the road home, but Cecil insists on walking through the woods. He complains that she seems most comfortable with him in a room, and after a moment’s consideration Lucy realizes that he is right. In the woods, Lucy shows Cecil the Sacred Lake, a little pond where she and Freddy used to bathe. Cecil points out that he has never kissed her, and asks if he can kiss her now. She grants permission, and the kiss is embarrassing and awkward. There is absolutely no spontaneity or natural passion in the kiss. As they continue their walk, Lucy confesses to Cecil that the name of the old man whom Mr. Eager slandered was not Harris, but Emerson. He seems to think it a strange and unimportant comment for her to make, but the narrator tells us that it is the most intimate conversation that they have ever had.
Cecil has contempt for the world in which Lucy grew up. She, too, recognizes that garden parties and Sir Harry are silly, but she sees no reason to condemn them. Since Italy she has been more aware of the provinciality of her life at Windy Corner, but her family and old neighbors are still dear to her. The title of the chapter is “Lucy as a Work of Art”: Cecil’s dissatisfaction with Lucy’s town is a rejection of something that is an important part of her. He wants to remake her into something as urban and critical as himself; he seeks to shape her as he would shape a painting or a sculpture.
The theme of women and their independence is here again: in many ways, Cecil sees Lucy as an object that needs to be refined, or a creature that needs to be trained. He constantly compares her in his mind to a woman painted by Leonardo DaVinci: mysterious, beautiful, the embodiment of a certain mystique. While Cecil’s view of Lucy might be flattering, it is naÃ¯ve and fails to treat her as a living person. He is more in love with the idea of Lucy than he is with the person.
Lucy’s lie about Mr. Emerson shows that she is very guarded about her experience with George. The need to lie about a name shows her awareness that something about her experience in Florence needs to be concealed. The memories are uncomfortable, just as George’s company was uncomfortable, because she cannot reconcile the honesty and intensity of her interactions with George to the dull and conventional suitor she is now engaged. Cecil is completely unaware of what is going on: when Lucy tells him Mr. Emerson’s real name, she is letting him see a vital part of her life. But Cecil has no way of knowing this, and Lucy is too afraid of her own feelings to pursue the topic.
Chapter Ten Cecil as a Humourist:
The narrator explains Lucy’s family history. Her father was a successful solicitor, and he built Windy Corner before the neighborhood had really been built up. When rich people from London began moving into the neighborhood, they mistook the Honeychurches for an old aristocratic family with a long history in the area. Without explicitly lying, Mrs. Honeychurch took advantage of their mistake to procure good society for her children; by the time the new neighbors learned the truth about the Honeychurches, they liked them enough so that it did not matter. Lucy has learned to see her old neighbors in a new light since her return from Italy, but although she recognizes that her old neighbors are provincial and silly, she does not want to despise them. Cecil cannot abide the social situation, and seeks to introduce Lucy into high levels of London society.
Freddy, Lucy, and Minnie Beebe (Mr. Beebe’s niece) are playing bumble-puppy, a silly game played with tennis balls. Mrs. Honeychurch and Mr. Beebe are enjoying the fine weather, and Cecil is indoors. Lucy, Mrs. Honeychurch, and Mr. Beebe discuss the imminent arrival of the Miss Alans to Cissie villa. Freddy chimes in that the Miss Alans aren’t going to be occupying Cissie at all. He has just spoken to Sir Harry, who told him that he has procured different tenants for the house: some people called the Emersons. Lucy is not sure if they are the same Emersons, but the possibility throws her into a daze. Freddy mentions that Cecil arranged the whole thing. Mr. Beebe and Lucy discuss the possibility that these Emersons might be the same ones from Florence; Mr. Beebe mentions that Mr. Emerson was rumored to have murdered his wife. Mrs. Honeychurch remembers that Lucy told her about another friend, a man named Harris, who supposedly killed his wife. Lucy is mortified at having told a lie without ever correcting it, but the subject is fortunately dropped.
Lucy rushes in to confront Cecil: he has arranged this whole thing as a joke on her. Lucy went to a great deal of trouble to arrange an agreement between the Miss Alans and Sir Harry, and now she will be seen by the Miss Alans as having let them down. Cecil’s joke goes further: he met the Emersons at the National Gallery in London, and saw that they were exactly the kind of “undesirable” person feared by the snobbish Sir Harry. He did the whole thing as a joke. From Cecil’s description, it becomes clear that these Emerson’s are indeed Mr. Emerson and George.
We see the separation of Cecil from Lucy’s family and Lucy from everyone else. Cecil stays inside rather than join the other outdoors. Forster slips in that they would not be playing bumble-puppy if Cecil were around. His snobbery makes it difficult for the Honeychurches to act naturally; he rejects many of the things that bring pleasure to Lucy’s family.
Lucy’s isolation is different and more profound. Confronted with her earlier lie, she has no one to be her confidante. More prone to see the faults of her neighbors since her return from Italy, she is also unable to join with Cecil in despising them. Cecil seeks to introduce her to what he views as more suitable circles, but the narrator explains to us that this move will not work. Forster writes, “Nor did he [Cecil] realize a more important pointâ€¹that if she was too great for this society, she was too great for all society, and had reached the stage where personal intercourse would alone satisfy her” (108). Lucy has moved beyond superficial interaction with “society”; she longs for something deeper. Cecil will not be able to provide it.
The great irony is that Cecil, in attempting to play a cruel joke, brings George back into Lucy’s life. If Lucy is to break away from Cecil and, paraphrasing Mr. Beebe, learn to live as beautifully as she plays, she must confront George Emerson again. Being forced to deal with George will remind her of the feelings she has tried to suppress since she returned from Italy. Lucy has not yet realized that Cecil is unsuitable for her needs, and she reacts to the news of George’s imminent arrival with a confusing mix of intense and contrary emotions. Here again is the “muddle”; it will take George to help Lucy work through this confusion.
Chapter Eleven In Mrs. Vyse’s Well-Appointed Flat:
Lucy is in London visiting with Cecil’s mother when the Emersons move into Cissie Villa. She has convinced herself that the Emersons’ arrival does not matter in the least.
Things have been quite cold between Lucy and Charlotte since Italy; Charlotte sends a letter telling her that she has heard about the arrival of the Emersons at Cissie. She gives Lucy much unsolicited advice, instructing Lucy to tell her family about the incident in Italy and to stay away from George. Lucy sends Charlotte a polite but frigid response telling her that Lucy intends to follow none of Charlotte’s advice.
Lucy is quite impressed by the cynicism of Cecil’s aristocratic friends. Lucy dines with the almost-famous: “In spite of the season, Mrs. Vyse managed to scrape together a dinner-party consisting entirely of the grandchildren of famous people” (118). She plays piano for them, starting with some Schumann. Cecil calls for some Beethoven, but Lucy tries to play another Shumann piece. She falters and stops playing.
After the guests leave, Mrs. Vyse chats with Cecil. She is a woman who is weary without knowing it; the pace and intensity of life in London has robbed her of real vitality. Mrs. Vyse adores Lucy, and she tells her son to “make Lucy one of us” (119). Cecil is clearly enamored with Lucy. Later that night, Mrs. Vyse is woken by a scream from Lucy’s room. When she goes to investigate, she learns that Lucy has been having bad dreams. She comforts Lucy, telling the girl that Cecil adores her more than ever. Mrs. Vyse returns to bed; Cecil has slept through the whole incident.
It is natural for Lucy to be somewhat awed by the London friends of the Vyses. She thinks that she should try to be more like the Vyses to please them, and that to marry Cecil she will have to leave behind anything in her that is of Windy Corner. At this point, Lucy thinks that this kind of self-transformation is necessary and beneficial. But something about this environment stifles her passion. We return to the theme of music, and its power to express passion and transcend social barriers. But Lucy cannot play a truly passionate piece for Cecil’s friends. She opts for Shumann, and when Cecil calls for Beethoven Lucy tries to play Shumann again. Remember that Beethoven was established earlier in the novel as a symbol for passion and victory. She falters horribly during the second piece; Lucy’s music is a symbol of her vitality and passion, and in the Vyses’ home her music fails her. The faltering functions as both symbol and psychological insight. Forster is showing us that Lucy will have to give up much of the good in her if she marries Cecil. The reader cannot help but feel menaced by Mrs. Vyses’ well-intentioned but ominous advice to Cecil: “Make Lucy one of us.” What is at stake is Lucy’s individuality. Already, the Vyses are planning to remake her to be acceptable to their social world.
Forster criticizes this world gleefully: the image of Lucy dining with the grandchildren of famous people, all full of cynicism and pretentious wit, balances some of the darkness of this chapter with humor. Forster refers to the guests throughout the chapter as “the grandchildren,” demoting these adults to perpetual childhood. Forster’s social commentary is most cutting when it is funny, and A Room with a View is a consistently funny book.
On a psychological level, we see that some part of Lucy understands what she will lose. Her music fails her, and later that night Lucy has a terrible nightmare. There is a moment of irony when Mrs. Vyse tries to comfort Lucy by assuring her that Cecil admires her. The reader knows, as some part of Lucy does, that Cecil is the source of Lucy’s anxieties. Visiting with Cecil and realizing what kind of world she will live in if she marries him terrifies Lucy. Typically for her character, she cannot articulate or name the source of her own fears, which must then express themselves as nightmares.
Mr. Beebe and Freddy go to see the Emersons, who have just moved in. The house is in a state of disarray, and the visitors have to squeeze past a wardrobe to get inside. George’s voice answers Mr. Beebe’s greeting, but he does not come down for a while, and Mr. Beebe and Freddy have a chance to look at George’s books. There are a good number of texts in German; the book collection reveals an extremely educated reader with eclectic tastes. When George finally comes down, Mr. Beebe introduces George to Freddy and Freddy immediately asks if George wants to go for a swim. Mr. Beebe laughs at the forward greeting, and jokes that as women cannot greet each other in such a manner, they cannot be equal to men. Mr. Emerson, now coming down the stairs, promises that they will be. He explains to Mr. Beebe that humans, to progress, will have to rid themselves of shame for their bodies.
Freddy, George, and Mr. Beebe go to swim. On the way to the pond, Mr. Beebe and George talk about the strangeness of the Emersons having ended up in the same town as Mr. Beebe and the Honeychurches. Mr. Beebe talks of an idea from his youth, a “History of Coincidence,” which he never got around to writing. George believes that he has ended up in Surrey because of Fate. Mr. Beebe argues with him, saying that they all met in Italy, and the Emersons ended up in Surrey because they met Cecil in the National Gallery’s rooms of Italian art: it is not Fate, but an interest in Italy that has brought them back together. George insists that it was Fate, and he tells Mr. Beebe to call it Italy if it makes him feel better.
Freddy strips and hops into the water enthusiastically. George disrobes and gets in, but with a much more apathetic attitude. Mr. Beebe stays on shore, clothed. George begins to loosen up, and Mr. Beebe, after making sure no one is around, strips down and gets in the pond. George warms up considerably, until all three of them are playing in and out of the water. Time passes pleasurably, until Lucy, Mrs. Honeychurch, and Cecil come along the path. Freddy and George, racing about naked on the banks, nearly run headlong into the three interlopers. The two naked men both run away and take cover. Cecil feels the need to protect the women; Mrs. Honeychurch is shocked; Lucy says very little but hides her face behind her parasol. They continue on, leaving the naked men behind. As they are leaving, George, half-dressed but still bare-chested, calls out amiably to Lucy. She tries to ignore him, but he calls out to her again. At Mrs. Honeychurch’s request, Lucy turns and bows.
In the scene at the Emerson’s new home, we learn more about the intellectual and political inclinations of the Emersons. George is extremely well educated, fluent enough in German to read Nietzsche and Shopenhauer in the original. Mr. Emerson is keenly interested in politics. He talks about the liberation of women, which he sees as inextricable from the liberation of man. He imagines that the Garden of Eden lies not in the past but in the future, and it will come when women and men both rid themselves of shame for their bodies. His point ties together themes about propriety, gender, and passion. For Mr. Emerson, the primness of English society is an enemy of progress. The many British anxieties about the human body are an obstacle of love, affection, and the progress of women’s rights. His comments remind the reader of the comments he made on the carriage ride in Italy, when he defended the driver and the girl. Mr. Emerson values happiness and passion, and from his perspective any force that stands in the way of these things is wrong.
The talk about fate, coincidence, and Italy brings together other important themes. Although Forster never makes any strong pronouncements about fate, part of A Room with a View is the fact that unlikely coincidence happen, often with life-changing results. George is now back in Lucy’s life because of a series of coincidences. Although Forster does not say emphatically whether Mr. Beebe or George is in the right, one must at least admit that coincidences are a part of life. It is now up to the book’s characters to make the best of the coincidence that has brought them back together.
The scene at the pond ties in with Mr. Emerson’s point. Even the normally dour George is invigorated by the experience of swimming and playing nude. Forster lovingly describes the beautiful landscape surrounding the pond. We return to the theme of connection between the land/nature and man. Stripping symbolizes the removal of the inhibitions imposed by civilization; in the next chapter, Forster refers to the swim as the “rout of a civilization” (130). Just as the land is beautiful and without concern for propriety, so too can man be. Here, just as in the violets scene, George becomes part of the land. The beautiful weather and landscape reflect the happiness and vitality he feels. When uptight Cecil and the two ladies come up the path, the imposition of Cecil’s viewpoint and the women’s prudishness is not enough to dispel what the men have gained. Freddy and George take cover so as to maintain some level of propriety, but Freddy is apologetic without being regretful and half-dressed George calls out to Lucy. For this scene, Forster does not go inside Lucy’s head at all; the effect is that the reader, who usually knows everything that Lucy is thinking, suddenly has no idea about how Lucy feels when she sees George nude. Although Lucy shows the outward signs of being offended, we still are cut off from her thoughts. Her emotions on seeing George again (naked, no less) are probably more complicated than prudish shock.
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