E. M. Forster: A Room with a View
Though the third of his novels to be published, Forster actually wrote the first part (the part set in Italy) before he wrote Where Angels Fear to Tread and The Longest Journey. Interestingly enough the appendix – View with a Room – which updates the story to fifty years later, was one of the last pieces of fiction he wrote (it is included in many published editions of this novel). The novel is about passion or, more particularly, passion versus intellect.
For Forster there are two Italys. On the one hand there is the Italy that many English people – including Forster himself and several of the characters in this book – enjoy. This is the Italy that the tourist and the lover of art sees – the churches, the paintings and other tourist attractions. This is the Italy that Philip Herrington knows and loves in Where Angels Fear to Tread and tries to introduce his sister-in-law to. Unfortunately, she finds the second Italy, the Italy of the Italians, the passion and the earthiness which the English (of Forster’s era) rarely see and, when they do, tend to turn away in disgust, as the Herringtons did in Where Angels Fear to Tread. Forster compromises here by finding this Italianness in an Englishman.
Lucy Honeychurch is on holiday in Florence with her older cousin Charlotte Bartlett as a chaperone. Their rooms in the Pension Bartolini do not have a view but two gentlemen also staying in the pension – George Emerson and his father – do and gallantly agree to exchange rooms, though their gift is initially repulsed. There are three key incidents involving George Emerson that affect Lucy. Firstly, while in Santa Croce, Emerson Senior, who apparently has socialist leanings, is critical of the church or, rather, the Church, causing some embarrassment to Lucy. He is supported by his son in his views. Later, Lucy briefly faints when she sees an Italian stab another Italian in the Piazza Signoria. George Emerson endeavours, against her wishes, to drag her back to the pension. Finally, a couple of days later, when the English contingent is out on a trip in the outskirts of Florence, George Emerson kisses Lucy, witnessed by both the Italian driver and Charlotte Bartlett, causing the two ladies to immediately leave for Rome.
The second part is set in England, specifically in Summer Street, where the Honeychurches live in a house called Windy Corner. Lucy lives there with her brother Freddy and her widowed mother. At the beginning of this part, she has just become engaged to Cecil Vyse, the complete antithesis of George Emerson, a snob, an intellectual, interested in Italy but only in its art and architecture. Cecil has money but no profession and lives in London with his mother. He puts down everyone, including Mrs. Honeychurch and Freddy. He engineers the letting of a cottage owned by a local squire to two people he met in the National Gallery looking at Italian paintings. They are, of course, the Emersons. After Cecil’s very funny feeble attempt to kiss his fiancée (with her consent), it is only a matter of time before Lucy chooses passion over intellect or Italy 2 over Italy 1.
Forster tells the story well. The various machinations of the different parties and the activities of the other characters are very well done. The other characters include the local rector Mr. Beebe, who was in Florence with Lucy and Charlotte, Charlotte herself, the local squire, Sir Harry Otway, a man of little passion or intellect, and the woman novelist, Eleanor Lavish, who is savagely mocked by Forster. And it is not many novels that end with an update on the plot written fifty years later.
First published 1908 by E. Arnold