A Room With a View
An Analysis of Motifs in A Room With a View
“For a moment [George] contemplated her, as one who had fallen out of heaven. He saw radiant joy in her face, he saw the flowers beat against her dress in blue waves. The bushes above them closed. He stepped quickly forward and kissed her” (Forster 55). This scene from E. M. Forster’s Room with a View triggers a profound internal struggle within Lucy Honeychurch, the novel’s protagonist, initiating her quest for true passion and independence. Indeed, this scene exemplifies how Forster uses motifs–including light vs. dark and outside spaces vs. inside spaces–to develop the novel’s themes. Throughout A Room with a View, the author employs the motifs of outdoor vs. indoor places, light vs. dark and Renaissance vs. Medieval to illustrate the themes of freedom from social conventions, the value of honesty, and the contrast between Victorian and Edwardian social ideas.
Forster uses the motif of indoor vs. outdoor places, or rooms vs. views, to exemplify the shift from traditional Victorian ideals to Edwardian values and to demonstrate the beauty of finding freedom from social restrictions. From the beginning of the novel, the narrator associates progressive-minded characters with “views.” For instance, the first words uttered by Mr. Emerson in the novel are, “I have a view, I have a view,” meaning that Emerson’s room at the Pension Bertolini has a picturesque view (Forster 4). When Lucy Honeychurch enters her room, she opens the window and breathes the “clean night air,” but when Miss Bartlett enters a room, she immediately fastens the shutters and locks the door (Forster 11). By associating modern, progressive characters with views and more traditional characters with rooms early in the novel, Forster indicates that indoor spaces symbolize restrictive social conventions, while wide, outdoor spaces and views reflect open-mindedness and innovative ideas. This motif takes on further significance in light of England’s passage in the early 20th century from traditional Victorian society into the more modern, Edwardian culture. Hence, throughout the novel, the contrast between outdoor and indoor spaces parallels the contrast between socially conservative, older characters such as Miss Bartlett and Mrs. Honeychurch and forward-minded, Edwardian-era characters such as George and Mr. Emerson. The motif of rooms vs. views also accentuates the value of freedom from social conventions. Cecil, the embodiment of upper-class snobbery and petty societal values, is compared to a “drawing-room” with no view (Forster 86). In contrast, during one of the most refreshing scenes in the novel, George, Freddy and Mr. Beebe romp in the outdoors near the Sacred Lake, a place symbolic of freedom from social conventions (Forster 106). When the three strip off their clothes, they cast off the burden of social conventions, and their joy in romping around the lake exemplifies the bliss found in liberation from the norm. Hence, the motif of outdoors vs. indoors enables Forster to contrast Victorian ideas with Edwardian ones, and to emphasize how freedom from social conventions can bring true joy.
Besides using this motif, Forster also uses the motif of light vs. dark to communicate his theme of honesty vs. deception. One of the clearest examples of this motif occurs when George first kisses Lucy amid a sea of violets: “light and beauty” enveloped Lucy and “radiant joy” was in her face (Forster 55). Similarly, after George confronts Lucy about Cecil’s hard-heartedness, “the scales” fall from Lucy’s eyes and she beholds the truth about Cecil (Forster 138). Though this does not mention light directly, the image of scales brings to mind the biblical story of the Apostle Paul’s encounter with a blinding light on the road to Damascus. Thus, both of these examples illustrate how Forster associates light with beauty and honesty. Conversely, darkness comes when Lucy tries to deceive others and to deny her passionate love for George. After Lucy pretends that she does not love George, she enters the “vast armies of the benighted”; the night envelops her in its grim embrace (Forster 143). This image of night symbolizes Lucy’s own intellectual darkness and confusion. Night also has connotations of evil; the reader anticipates that some devilish misfortune will fall upon Lucy if she continues her web of lies. Through this motif of light vs. dark, Forster draws upon biblical undertones and literature’s tradition of associating these images with good and evil. Hence, the author communicates that deceiving oneself, as illustrated by Lucy’s refusal to recognize her love of George, can only lead to painful consequences and to that dreaded “muddle” described as worse than “Death and Fate” (Forster 165). Forster thus emphasizes the value of forsaking the darkness of deception and pursuing the purity and beauty of honesty. Clearly, through this motif of light vs. dark, Forster expands his theme of the value of honesty.
Forster uses a third motif, Renaissance vs. Medieval, to contrast Victorian and Edwardian views on gender roles and the nature of love. Throughout the novel, “Medieval” symbolizes Victorian ideas, while “Renaissance” reflects Edwardian ideas. For instance, Cecil Vyse, “Gothic” in appearance and ascetic in his tastes, is the archetype of the Medieval man (Forster 71). Indeed, his views on gender roles reflect the ideals of the Victorian age: men should always protect and guide women. In fact, Lucy is merely an object, “a work of art,” to Cecil (Forster 78). In regards to love, Cecil believes that it should always be delicate, rational, bound to convention. Conversely, the Emersons exude a Renaissance spirit–it is no coincidence that the reader is first introduced to them in Florence, the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. Unlike Cecil’s paternalistic attitude, George Emerson says he wants Lucy to have her own thoughts and have equal status (Forster 136). In addition, George’s father voices a more modern view on love: “Passion is sanity,” he says to Lucy (Forster 162). The contrasts between the Medieval and the Renaissance, between paternalism and equality, and between reason and passion underscore the shift from Victorian social decorum to the more modern, Edwardian values. Ultimately, Lucy embraces this Edwardian spirit and finds greater satisfaction in the Renaissance man than in the Medieval. Thus, Forster uses the motif of the Renaissance vs. Medieval to accentuate the contrast between Victorian and Edwardian ideas.
In short, each of these motifs enables Forster to develop his themes, whether it be the value of freedom from social norms or the need to embrace the truth about oneself. Truly, Forster’s use of imagery, detail and symbolism in these motifs makes the novel’s themes far more enduring than if he had simply relied on other, less vivid means. Renaissance and Medieval, light and dark, a room and a view–these are the images that will abide in the reader’s mind long after the narrative has ceased.
Works Cited Forster, E. M. A Room with a View. Dover Publications, 1995.
Conflicting Impulses: Desire and Convention in E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day.
The conflict between a conventional lifestyle and the desire to follow individual passion is a struggle that pervades both E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. Despite differing in subject matter and style, both novels depict social convention as repressive and question whether this makes for a happy and fulfilling existence. In A Room with a View, Forster strongly contrasts imagery as a means of visually representing of this divide. Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day maintains a similar theme. However, presenting a contrast to Forster’s omniscient narration, Ishiguro structures his novel in the first person, forming an elegant yet restrained memoir of his protagonist’s career as Butler at Darlington Hall. By subtly bedding Stevens’ unspoken desires and regrets into his predominantly formal language, Ishiguro creates a metaphor for the dangers of overly conforming to social convention as by suppressing his emotions, Stevens begins to lose sight of his true self.
In A Room with a View, Forster’s use of character highlights the divide between social convention and human desire. His depiction of Lucy Honeychurch’s cousin and chaperone Miss Bartlett, embodies the epitome of Edwardian propriety. Despite the decline of Victorian moral values in the early Twentieth Century, social protocol retained much of the previous era’s conventions. Forster presents ‘unselfish’ ‘unattractive’ Miss Bartlett as clinging to this social ‘delicacy’ with dogged fixation. In Chapter Four, he creates a strong juxtaposition by placing her amongst the sensuous statues of Florence’s Piazza Signora. This unlikely combination is highly comic as it highlights Miss Bartlett’s conventional distaste for sexual desire. This is furthered by her reaction to Lucy’s attempt to purchase a photograph of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus:
‘Venus, being a pity, spoiled the picture, otherwise so charming and Miss Bartlett had persuaded Lucy to do without it.’
By employing assonance in his description of ‘Venus’ as a ‘pity,’ Forster creates a condescending tone. Furthermore, by juxtaposing an ancient symbol of desire with the whimsical ‘charming,’ he suggests a conventional tendency to objectify sexuality as insignificant as opposed to a fundamental desire, consequently exposing social ideals as ridiculous. Thus, in advising Lucy to ‘…do without it,’ Forster presents Miss Bartlett as promoting the dictates of society as opposed to the expression of human emotion.
Forster presents Edwardian society as absurdly unappreciative of basic desire. However, he also illustrates the appeal of a conventional lifestyle as it promises a composed and comfortable life. Just as Miss Bartlett signifies safety as Lucy’s chaperone, Forster describes Lucy’s fiancé Cecil as possessing similar qualities:
‘He was Medieval. Like a Gothic statue. Tall and refined, with shoulders that seemed braced square by an effort of will…A Gothic statue implies celibacy just as a Greek statue implies fruition.’
By describing his shoulders as ‘braced’ and physique as ‘tall,’ Forster imbues stereotypical imagery of masculinity. Furthermore, his use of caesura moulds the language into short, clipped sentences, commanding a tone of respect. However, by concluding his description with the mention of ‘celibacy,’ Forster dispels Cecil’s appearance of masculinity, as by hinting at his lack of sexual desire, he denotes his impotence as a man. Forster extends this by referencing the motif of the classical world, which runs through the novel. While a ‘Greek statue implies fruition,’ Cecil resembles a Medieval saint. Ironically, this draws a parallel with Miss Bartlett as Forster suggests they share a conventional fear of sexual desire.
Ishiguro presents a similar situation in The Remains of the Day. Like Cecil, Ishiguro’s protagonist Stevens is described as physically imposing and his sharp, clipped attitude gains respect from the staff at Darlington Hall. However, his description of the attraction between him and the housekeeper Miss Kenton suggests that like Forster’s conventional characters, he fears his own sexuality:
‘…It was my impression that Miss Kenton’s manner also underwent a sudden change; there was a strange seriousness in her expression, and it struck me that she seemed almost frightened.’
By employing sibilance in his description of Miss Kenton’s ‘strange seriousness,’ Ishiguro softens the tone, creating a stark contrast to Stevens’ official language, used throughout the majority of the novel. When this is combined with his use of assonance, a new tone is introduced that borders on sensuality. However, by choosing the adjective ‘strange,’ Ishiguro nullifies any suggestion of sexual desire, creating a parallel with Forster’s Cecil as he presents his characters as estranged from their bodily instinct. This creates a disturbing image as, despite being fully developed adults, both characters are childishly mystified by their own desire and consequently, it is frightening. Thus, Ishiguro creates a sense of great sadness as he suggests that in conforming so rigidly to social convention, his characters have broken away from their emotions, resulting in a disconnected sense of self.
Ishiguro presents sexual desire as unsettling. However, he also highlights the dangers of leading a life devoid of passion. Throughout the novel, pathetic fallacy is used to parallel his characters’ emotional states. In the final chapter, Stevens describes a meeting with Miss Kenton. Years have passed and they are both approaching old age. Ishiguro creates a dreary image as they wait for the bus that will separate them, perhaps for a long time:
‘The rain was still falling steadily as we got out of the car and hurried towards the shelter.’
By employing cacophony in ‘still falling steadily,’ Ishiguro creates a resentful tone. When this is combined with the imagery of driving rain, he creates a metaphor for the consequence of the deprivation of his character’s desire. Furthermore, by drawing on the common association between water and emotion, Ishiguro signifies an emotional release as both characters break away from conventional formalities and express their regrets. However, the tension created by the approaching bus constrains their time together and suggests a lack of control. This fulfils Sam Jordison’s view of Stevens as ‘loyal to a fault’ as Ishiguro demonstrates how by conforming so rigorously to convention, both characters are never truly in command of their lives and desires.
Forster continues this theme in A Room with a View. Just as Ishiguro employs imagery of rain as a metaphor for convention, Forster projects a negative view of Edwardian society by associating its conventions with darkness. When Lucy turns away from George due to her fear of social disapproval, the Arno is ‘almost black in the advancing night’ This foreshadows the ‘the darkness’ that ‘receive[s]’ her after she has suppressed her true desire in favor of social convention by rejecting George’s love later in the novel. In the novel’s introduction, Professor Malcolm Bradbury describes how as a homosexual man in the early Twentieth Century, Forster ‘…spent his youth and young adulthood, as Lucy Honeychurch nearly did, repressing his sexual desires to adhere to the expectations of society.’ Understanding Forster’s own experience of social repression sheds light on his negative attitude towards convention as, like Ishiguro’s protagonist Stevens, Forster was unable to express his true desires.
Both novels present the damaging effects of social convention. However, In A Room with a View, Forster also illustrates the irrepressible nature of human desire. In Chapter Twelve, he structures a highly comical scenario as Cecil, Lucy and her mother come across Freddy, George and the local vicar Mr. Beebe bathing naked in the woods. Unlike Cecil, Forster portrays George Emmerson as an embodiment sexual desire. This is furthered by his description of his ‘Michelangeloesque’ physique as it links him directly with the classical world and thus with sensuality:
‘Bare footed, bare-chested, radiant and personable against the shadowy woods, he called: ‘Hullo Miss Honeychurch! Hullo!’
By imbuing imagery of light with the adjective ‘radiant,’ Forster forms a binary opposite to the ‘black’ of society. Not only does this suggest the positive outcome of not conforming to conventional ideals, it also evokes religious imagery, drawing on his belief in ‘the holiness of direct desire.’ Furthermore, by likening George to the symbol of the Noble Savage with his bare feet and chest, Forster creates a metaphor for the strength of desire, suggesting that, despite the restrictions of society, passion is irrepressible, as it is an integral part of human nature. This view also transpires for The Remains of the Day. Despite the novels’ overriding theme of regret, Ishiguro’s description of the lights of Weymouth pier at the end of the novel creates a symbol for hope:
‘The pier lights have just been switched on and behind me a crowd of people have just given a loud cheer to greet this event.’
The imagery of light dispelling the darkness of evening creates a parallel to Forster’s description of George as ‘radiant’ as it suggests a purging of restricting conventions in favor of human emotion. Thus, by contrasting the crushing effect of social propriety with the ‘light’ of true desire, both Forster and Ishiguro show the wisdom of pursuing a natural and human way of life.
They Ran, They Bathed, They Played: A Watery Freedom in A Room with a View’s “Twelfth Chapter”
E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View contains two curiously named chapters: “Fourth Chapter” and “Twelfth Chapter.” Every other chapter in this early 20th century novel has a descriptive, often humorous title. For example, the chapter that follows “Twelfth Chapter” is entitled “How Miss Bartlett’s Boiler Was So Tiresome.” From this obvious distinction, one can surmise that something important will take place in each of these strangely named sections of the book. In “Fourth Chapter,” Lucy has a highly pivotal encounter with George that makes her question her own emotions and upbringing. However, this paper will focus on a passage from “Twelfth Chapter,” which describes Freddy, George, and Mr. Beebe’s nude romp in the pond behind the Honeychurch’s home. The following passage from this chapter reveals the strict constraints that govern English society and the sense of freedom and interpersonal connection that accompanies an escape from these conventions–a theme that pervades not only this chapter, but the novel as a whole.
“They ran to get dry, they bathed to get cool, they played at being Indians in the willow-herbs and in the bracken, they bathed to get clean. And all the time three little bundles lay discreetly on the sward, proclaiming: ‘No. We are what matters. Without us shall no enterprise begin. To us all flesh turn in the end.’” (150).
The beginning of this passage describes Freddy, George, and Mr. Beebe’s actions in the pond before they are accidentally happened upon by Lucy, Cecil, and Mrs. Honeychurch. This passage accurately displays the evolution that has taken place in these characters over the course of “Twelfth Chapter.” Throughout first few pages of the chapter, when the party of three initially reconvenes, they are extremely aloof toward one another–despite Mr. Beebe’s best efforts to make conversation. It is stated that Freddy is “never amused” by “his fellow-creatures” and did not even want to pay a visit to the Emersons–he only tags along because Mr. Beebe persuades him to do so (142). Once the party begins walking through the woods toward the pond, the awkward silences remain–though one might have thought that being out of doors, in nature, would open the characters up. But, much to Mr. Beebe’s chagrin, though he is “compelled to chatter,” “neither of his companions would utter a word,” (146). And when George does finally deign to speak, he only does so “gravely” and without “enthusiasm” (146, 147). It is only once they have removed all of their clothing and submerged themselves in the pond that the men begin to interact in an unrestrained manner.
Ergo, it seems that clothing, in this passage, serves as a metaphor for the strict societal conventions of 20th century Britain. While fully clothed, the three men are unable to make a meaningful connection, but once their garments are removed, they enjoy each other’s company and seem to have the time of their young (and old) lives. In the first part of the selected passage, Forster exemplifies this connection by using repetition to add emphasis to the characters’ actions: “[t]hey ran…they bathed…they played…they bathed…” (150, emphasis added.) The subject is a unified “they,” which reveals how this deviation from traditional convention has brought the men together where mere conversation could not. The repetition in this passage also suggests that they spent quite a bit of time frolicking in and by the pond, as they continue the cycle of playing, getting dirty, cleansing themselves, and playing once again. One gets the sense that the men have lost track of time, and could continue in their revelry for much, much longer–if not interrupted by Lucy and company, who, as they are clothed, represent English society at large.
The mention of “bath[ing] to get clean” seems to suggest that this time spent frolicking in the pond is in some way purifying for the three participants (150). Here, society’s conventions can be seen as pollutants because such conventions seem to stifle human connection, freedom, and happiness. The playful debauchery that these men engage in can be seen as the solvent in which these “pollutants” are dissolved. Unbound by social restriction, they are able to come clean by washing off the false image of themselves that society has imposed upon them and be their true, instinctual selves.
This passage, with its focus on the men submerging and cleansing themselves in the water, could also evoke the religious imagery of a baptism. Many Christian baptisms–including that of Jesus himself, by John the Baptist–used to be (and sometimes still are) carried out in open, natural bodies of water, like the Honeychurch pond, rather than in a cistern in a chapel. It is also not uncommon for men of Freddy and George or even Mr. Beebe’s age to be baptized late, after a conversion or because they simply were not baptized as children. The religious implication is furthered when one considers that Mr. Beebe is a clergyman himself. However, it seems that rather than being indoctrinated into a Christian tradition by Mr. Beebe, the boys are the ones submerging him in the carefree customs of youth and freedom. So it seems that, here, Forster is utilizing religious imagery to convey a decidedly non-religious–but nevertheless important–message.
Mr. Beebe is the most reluctant to go in the water, only declaring that he “‘may as well wash too’” after the boys have already been in the pond for several minutes (149). But, as mentioned earlier, once he strips out of his clothes and steps into the water, he too becomes part of the unified “they” that swims and plays together, despite his advanced years and superior role as a clergyman. Thus, the water and removal of clothing manages not only to erase societal convention, but also to destroy the boundaries of class, profession, and age that lie between the boys and Mr. Beebe.
In the second half of this passage, Forster personifies the articles of clothing that the men have cast aside and tossed about by giving them a voice. Continuing the previously mentioned metaphor, the clothing speaks for British society, aghast at the freedom the men are currently experiencing. It tries to warn them that they are essentially nothing without clothing–i.e. the restraints that society imposes–by declaring, “[w]e are what matters. Without us shall no enterprise begin. To us all flesh turn in the end” (150). But, despite these grandiose proclamations, the clothing is described as “three little bundles” that “lay discreetly on the sward” (150, emphasis added). Thus, it seems that this message is in itself small, discreet, and unimportant; an empty threat that is easily drowned out by the shouts, splashes, and laughter of the three jubilant men. So, the men are able to ignore this preemptive warning and continue to enjoy themselves, even kicking and playing with the clothing, which further exemplifies their freedom. Here, through metaphor, they are not just abandoning societal conventions, but effectively kicking them to the side.
It is also important to note the personified clothing’s reference to the amateur inscription on the piece of furniture in the Emersons’ home, as presented earlier in the chapter. The “cornice of the wardrobe” reads “‘[m]istrust all enterprises that require new clothes’” (143). This is a variation of a quote from the first chapter of 19th century transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, which states, “I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.” This quote encourages one to be wary of changing one’s outer appearance merely to fit in with society at large, a notion that the George and his father certainly believe in. It also speaks to the personal harm that can be caused by conforming to a rigid society. The clothing’s statements attempt to enact a reversal of this quote, but ultimately fail to do so when the men pay no attention to them.
This theme of breaking from tradition and convention to find happiness resonates also in the novel’s main plot line–the romance between Lucy and George. Though it would certainly be more proper for Lucy to marry Cecil, who is older, wealthier, and much more established than George, it would bring her no happiness to do so. So, after much “muddle,” Lucy finally follows her heart and marries George, and is extremely pleased by this choice–just as the men are by frolicking in the lake. Even though the rules of English society are indeed highly strict, this novel suggests that those who break them can reap clear rewards.
Cecil and Lucy: The Pillar of Communication Falls
Every year, incredible amounts of time and money are spent on court cases for sexual harassment and divorce. Perhaps a male supervisor made an unwanted advance on a female employee because he thought that her body language or clothing invited a sexual encounter. Or maybe a married couple couldn’t understand each other’s wants and needs, so their relationship didn’t work out. In the end, it all comes down to one simple observation: since the beginning of time, men and women have had troubles communicating with each other. Whether through spoken words, written words, body language, song, or another method, sometimes messages cannot get through from one person to another. Although these problems are not specific to communication only between males and females, they do tend to occur most between the sexes. Actually, difficulties in communication are so common that writers frequently include them in novels written both in the past and the present. E. M. Forster’s early 20th century novel, A Room with a View, is no exception. In his novel, Forster does much more than merely present a lack of communication between two specific people. In fact, through his inclusion of the failed musical communication between Cecil and Lucy, he ultimately proves that communication is an essential part of a healthy relationship between a man and a woman in general, and without it, love simply cannot develop.To begin with, Cecil was the primary cause of the communication failure with Lucy in A Room with a View, ultimately causing the breakdown of his relationship with her. Cecil always saw Lucy as a work of art, and to him, she was an object, not a living person; she was always a something, not a someone in his mind. Because of Cecil’s selfishness in his relationship with Lucy, he never truly understood the connection that she had with her music, especially Beethoven. Music had the incredible ability to clear Lucy’s mind of all her troubles and to see and evaluate her life more clearly. Music played a huge role in the communication between Cecil and Lucy at Cecil’s mother’s dinner party. “The grandchildren asked her to play the piano. She played Schumann. ‘Now some Beethoven,’ called Cecil… She shook her head and played Schumann again. The melody rose, unprofitably magical. It broke; it was resumed broken…” (Forster 140). Cecil simply could not see that the music Lucy played on the piano was her passion, and as exemplified in the passage, Cecil asked Lucy to play something that was very dear to her: Beethoven. Lucy couldn’t expose herself to people at the party; she could not let the strangers see her true self and her passion for music. In fact, she could hardly play the lesser-invasive Schumann piece at the party. Thus, Cecil’s failure to understand Lucy’s main method of communication, music on her piano, showed that he did not understand her as a person. This made Cecil the primary cause of the communication failure between the two because a relationship, much less love, cannot flourish without understanding one another, and understanding cannot come without ample communication.Not only was Cecil the primary cause of the communication problems in his relationship with Lucy, his failure to see these problems ultimately damaged their relationship beyond repair. In talking with his mother after the party, Cecil unknowingly proved that he did not understand that Lucy’s small act of defiance by not playing Beethoven for his friends was actually a communication problem: “‘But her music!’ he exclaimed. ‘The style of her! How she kept to Schumann when, like an idiot, I wanted Beethoven. Schumann was right for this evening. Schumann was the thing” (Forster 141). Clearly, Cecil believed that Lucy simply avoided playing Beethoven because she knew that Schumann would be more appropriate for the occasion. If he understood that Lucy’s music was her main outlet and the key to her passion, he should have known the reason for her disobedience. In talking to his mother, Cecil almost tried to make himself feel and look better about Lucy’s direct defiance of his request to play what he wanted at the party. Again, because Cecil could not identify that he even had a problem listening to and understanding Lucy through her strongest method of communication, he could not take any steps to fix the problem. Her piano playing was her strength, her existence, and most importantly, her outlet. Cecil simply couldn’t understand the importance of Lucy’s music, so in effect, he was unable to understand the true essence of her. This ultimately ended their relationship because Cecil couldn’t see that Lucy needed to be a free and independent woman. She needed to be more than the “woman of Leonardo da Vinci’s, whom we love not so much for herself as for the things that she will not tell us” (Forster 102). This is what Cecil clearly wanted her to be, but it was not the life she wanted for herself. While most people can express themselves through words, whether written or spoken, Lucy is not able to express herself fully using words. Had Cecil realized how Lucy was able to communicate best, and had he understood what she was trying to convey to him, he could perhaps have avoided the failed relationship between the two of them. One of the pillars in a solid relationship is the understanding of one another, a pillar that Cecil and Lucy clearly lacked.Although the communication failure between Cecil and Lucy resulted in the failure of their relationship, Forster used the couple to represent men and women in general, proving that communication is a main pillar for a healthy, functioning relationship. Since Cecil and Lucy did not understand each other, they had little basis for a relationship besides of the fact that they were in similar social classes. Otherwise, Cecil knew little about Lucy’s ambitions and need for freedom.Communication can come in various forms, but the point of true communication in a relationship is to convey feelings, hopes, dreams, and to build trust. The key to trust and understanding, and ultimately love, all starts with getting to know the other person through communication. An important aspect to communication in general is that one person understands the other’s preferred mode of communication, or that if there is a problem, it can be recognized. This important characteristic was lacking between Cecil and Lucy, which, again, resulted in a failed relationship between the two.In his novel A Room with a View, E. M. Forster ultimately proves that communication is an essential part of a healthy relationship, and without it, love cannot exist. Through Cecil’s failure to understand Lucy’s need to communicate through her music and his failure to recognize his problem with communication, he lost a relationship with an incredible young woman whose passion and outlet in music he could never truly understand or appreciate.Works CitedForster, E. M. A Room with a View. New York: Vintage International, 1989.
Symbolical Values in E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View
High expectations coming from the external world always happened to cause a carefully hidden diversity between what people really felt inside and what they actually showed at the same time towards the ever observing gaze of their community. At the very beginning of the twentieth century, just before the shocking and bloody reality of the First World War in Europe, this differentiation was represented on a quite immense level by the seemingly still immovable barriers between social classes in England. While the Edwardian era was being formed around the English nation, the lasting effects of the former Queen Victoria could also be experienced, especially among the representatives of the upper-middle class who believed strongly in society’s moral codes. A quite overall, however maybe a slightly exaggerated, description about their behaviour was published in an iconic work by Edward Morgan Forster in 1908 called A Room with a View. This novel is not just deeply concerned with the everyday life of the upper-middle class but raises attention to the ones who want to leave behind this lifestyle and instead follow their inner emotional needs. The doubtful protagonist lady, Miss Lucy Honeychurch experiences many new values and feelings throughout the story and her variable character along with her interests generate meaningful comments from others which phenomena are certainly foreshadowing the very important part of fate in her eventual awakening.
On behalf of creating an appropriate conclusion from the foretelling symbols dealing with Lucy’s spiritual and intellectual trip in the novel, we also have to examine her background –the living space of the early twentieth century upper-middle class with all its expectations– and the most important turning points in her life before her transcendence. Through the events of the book we can easily keep track of her growing up into a clever and independent woman and this long road inconspicuously hints small details for the readers about the very end of her story, or to be more exact, the final result of the discovery of her own soul and desires.
To begin with, the first significant symbol which comes right before our eyes at the beginning of the novel is the main location Italy, more precisely Florence. “Lucy is in Florence with her atrocious old-maid cousin Charlotte Bartlett” (Bentley 351). The young lady and her “chaperon” (Forster 6) stay at the Pension Bertolini and this particular building along with the whole town around them, carry many new hidden values waiting for Lucy to discover one after another through her vacation. For example, Italy itself represents the total opposite of the still socially restricted England with its openness towards every kind of people, however this attitude is not exactly heart-warming for the “peevish” (Forster 2) English upper-middle class tourists. The representatives of the lower class from the pension guests whom Lucy meets are the Emersons who clearly have a straight and unique opinion about many aspects of living, moreover their manners and way of speaking are too harsh for “the better class of tourists” (Forster 2). Miss Bartlett certainly despises Mr. Emerson and his son, George, “she knew that the intruder was ill-bred, even before she glanced at him” (Forster 2), however for Lucy, from the first sight, these odd people signify something impressively interesting to observe and she constantly thinks that “the old man is just as nice and kind as he can be” (Forster 9). In an early scene, Lucy suddenly finds herself left alone with the Emersons in the Santa Croce church which socially unacceptable situation reminds her the proper ladylike behavior but after a while her removable curiosity and the incipient awakening of her rebellious nature or in other words her true inner desires, chains her to their magical presence. “She was sure that she ought not to be with these men; but they had cast a spell over her. They were so serious and so strange that she could not remember how to behave” (Forster 22). Not even her sudden disapproving thoughts can dissuade her from talking to them if they were all on the same level in status. “She also felt that her mother might not like her talking to that kind of person, and that Charlotte would object most strongly” (Forster 24).
Lucy’s next steps towards clairvoyance, developed by Italy’s influence on her, show themselves during a trip to the hills of Fiesole, where even Lucy recognizes the important role of fate on her life. “She looked on the expedition as the work of Fate” (Forster 58). At this point of the novel, the beautiful country appears as the personification of spring in nature which is clearly equal to love when the two Italian drivers start kissing in front of the tourists. The rude English chaplain, Mr. Eager immediately wants to separate the young folks in the name of insulting his faith and dignity, Mr. Emerson, on the other hand, commissions himself as the protector of the couple. “Leave them alone, … Do we find happiness so often that we should turn it off the box when it happens to sit there? … If we part them it’s more like sacrilege than anything I know” (Forster 61). The Italians also appeal to Lucy for help, who suddenly does not really understand why their request is pointed at her. Later on in the chapter, the answer behind their hope for assistance seems to be that the young foreigners perfectly sensed some glowing but hidden desire between Lucy and George all along their shared trip. The male driver also encourages them to love freely before George kisses Lucy for the first time in the terrace of blue violets. “George loves Lucy and in a heavenly Tuscan landscape of violets and mountains unexpectedly kisses her” (Bentley 352).
George’s honest passion towards the love beyond his reach has a perfect pair in Lucy’s life in the foreshadowing symbol of playing the piano. “It so happened that Lucy, who found daily life rather chaotic, entered a more solid world when she opened the piano. … The kingdom of music is not the kingdom of this world; it will accept those whom breeding and intellect and culture have alike rejected” (Forster 28). The protagonist can run away from the upper-middle class traditions she belongs to because music means a possible escape for the girl but only in her heart. This activity therefore is strictly attached to the burden of lying to everyone since Lucy’s true curious and independent self is hidden deeply in her soul, behind her desire for a free spirit. Her constantly worn mask becomes more visible and creates a real two-faced character from her after reuniting with her family in Windy Corner, England. “Italy worked some marvel in her” (Forster 85), which change in her manners battles with the expected image of an obeying, non-thinking wife by the side of her betrothed, the “medieval” (Forster 84) Cecil Vyse. Although Lucy often tries not to raise attention to her new rebellious temper she brought home from her vacation, by suppressing what she really feels, some of her late fellows from her Italian tour can see straight through this camouflaged behavior. For example, Mr. Beebe, the rector in the Honeychurches’ town, finds that Lucy is certainly starving for an outbreak from the boring regulations of a lady’s life. “There was simply the sense that she had found wings, and meant to use them. I can show you a beautiful picture in my Italian diary: Miss Honeychurch as a kite, Miss Bartlett holding the string. Picture number two: the string breaks” (Forster 90). After a couple conflicts between the intended pair, not even Cecil can believe anymore that Lucy now can be tamed. “A rebel she was, but not of the kind he understood – a rebel who desired, not a wider dwelling-room, but equality beside the man she loved. For Italy was offering her the most priceless of all possessions – her own soul” (Forster 108).
The last prominent symbol which appears in the story as a guide of Lucy for discovering her genuine self is the title itself. The image of the perfect view is most probably can be interpreted as the clearest sight of the truth behind everything. The whole novel starts with an unacceptable failure of the pension owner by giving rooms without a proper view to Miss Honeychurch and her cousin. However, at the dinner table Mr. Emerson offers a change between their rooms, this option “is out of the question” (Forster 3) for Miss Bartlett but “Lucy cannot help feeling that acceptance might be less delicate but more beautiful” (Bentley 352). Eventually the change takes place and now Lucy’s window with the nice overlook to “the lights dancing in the Arno” (Forster 12) gets another meaning and function when at the night of their trip together to Fiesole, George bravely looks up to his lover’s room. Lucy blows out the candle before she can clearly take cognizance of the person standing right under her window and this another action of hers just develops into the biggest lie to herself. She continuously refuses to recognize the truth, George’s honest love for her and her own growing affection for this young man, and a reason for this is the fear from the conventions stated by her family. She always keeps back the events and happenings connected to George from her family, except for Charlotte, and when the Emersons buy a house in the same street where the Honeychurhes live, this house of cards from lies seems to be shattered by George’s approach. “I do love you – surely in a better way [Cecil] does. … I want you to have your own thoughts even when I hold you in my arms” (Forster 165). Although, not George is the only person who finally plays a role in giving Lucy her desired independence, Cecil also puts a halter round his own neck. “It is his mockery, his patronising condescension, and bloodless amusement at other people’s words and actions, … that create the turns of plot and inadvertently sends his bride-to-be into the arms of his unsuspected rival” (Scherer Herz 144). The last confrontational push is actually given nearly at the end of the novel by Mr. Emerson and with his contribution Lucy can successfully face her fate without regretting it. “You love the boy body and soul, plainly, directly, as he loves you, and no other word expresses it. You won’t marry the other man for his sake” (Forster 201).
In conclusion, it can be stated that the symbols of Lucy’s awakening given by fate during the whole novel are all equally responsible for shaping her naïve nature into a right, open-minded and truthful woman who is perfectly aware of her inner needs. Italy certainly opened her narrow, young eyes about the unnecessary conventions both in society and religion, moreover it showed her first the importance of the happily free love. Lucy’s attachment to playing the piano, when the outside world seems chaotic, releases carefully locked up desires and passion to assist her finding freedom and the value of complete independence. At the end, by accepting the absolute truth in her life which was hidden for some time from her, Lucy finally gets what she deserves: she can live fully with a truely free soul.
Bentley, Phyllis. “The Novels of E. M. Forster.” College English 9.7 (Apr., 1948): 349-356.
Forster, E. M. A Room with a View. Cambridge: Penguin Group, 1978.
Scherer Hertz, Judith. “A Room with a View.” The Cambridge Companion to E. M. Forster. Ed. David Bradshaw. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
The Pension Bertolini: A Gateway to Defiance in ‘A Room with a View’
The beginning of the 20th century marked a key turning point in English history: the Victorian traditions and values of before were now being contended by the increasingly progressive thinking of the Edwardian Era. Yet, the wealthy classes of England still controlled what was perceived as normal in society, including proper gender and class constructs. E.M Forster, who was keenly aware of these issues, illustrates the struggle of going against the norm through the character of Lucy Honeychurch in his A Room with a View. Much of his motivation for writing this novel came from his vacation to Florence with his mom, in which he distinctly remembers his mom asking for a view over the river Arno at the hotel where they stayed (Penguin). When Lucy visits Florence and stays at a similar hotel, which Forster calls the “Pension Bertolini,” she too finds herself desiring a room with a view. Many of the English vacationers she meets at the hotel force on her their socially confining beliefs. But on the other hand, the beautiful, picturesque sights of Florence as well as the unique encounters she has there force her to question the values of the society that she is so accustomed to. While the Pension Bertolini embodies the social standards of England that Lucy finds so restricting, it at the same time inspires her to defy these conventions.
The Bertolini acted as a bubble of English society in the heart of Florence. The lodge was owned by a Cockney women as Lucy admits disappointedly to her cousin Charlotte in the first lines of the book. Because of this, any attempts to include aspects of Italian culture in the hotel proved futile. Lucy makes this clear as she watches the signora bow greetings to the guests in the evening, commenting, “It made a curious little scene, this attempt of the Cockney to convey the grace and geniality of the South” (Forster, 7). The hotel was also decorated in a traditionally English fashion. Lucy compares its drawing-room to a Bloomsbury boarding-house because of the clear emphasis it made on comfort. An authentic Italian hotel’s drawing room of the time would in reality consist of much different furniture than that in a Bloomsbury boarding house of the time—the “tightly stuffed armchair” that Charlotte sits in would never appear in a legitimate Florentine pension (Zwack). Artwork, such as portraits of Queen Victoria and the famous Victorian poet, Lord Alfred Tennyson, two prominent figures in Victorian English history, further support this notion of the Bertolini as a purely English hotel (Forester, 34). All of this is enough to make Lucy wonder, “Was this really Italy?” (Forster, 7) The Bertolini clearly strives to make English tourists feel as comfortable as they would be in the confines of their own society.
In this fully English-occupied space, Lucy witnesses the limitations of society that she is beginning to realize take away heavily from her sense of freedom and independence. Immediately, from the moment she arrives, the other members of the Bertolini accept her as one of their own. As Forster writes, “The Pension Bertolini had decided, almost enthusiastically, that [she and Charlotte] would do,” simply because of their social status as upper class Englanders (Forster, 6). In contrast, the Bertolini’s treatment of the poorer Emersons shows the upper class’s unwillingness to include people of lower social standings in their circles. When Mr. Emerson interjects into Lucy and Charlotte’s conversation at dinner about their dissatisfaction with their room, Charlotte views him as suspicious. Even though he was being genuinely kind (and offering a solution to their problem), his intrusion into their conversation was an act of extreme impoliteness in her eyes, and she knew that he “was ill-bred, even before she glanced at him” (Forster, 4). Not until the trustworthy Mr. Beebe vouches for the Emersons does Charlotte accept his offer to switch rooms. Later, as Lucy is playing the piano one afternoon in the drawing room, she hears Miss Catherine Alan, an old rich lady, harshly describe her feelings about the Emersons. Even though the Emersons have only been kind and generous up to this point, Miss Catherine still asserts that she does “not like the Emersons. They are not nice… They don’t understand our ways. They must find their level” (Forster, 35). This is representative of how English high society viewed people who were “below” them. If people did not conform to their ways of thinking and behaving, members of the wealthy class viewed them as less important. Because of this, Lucy feels somewhat inclined to fit in and follow these unwritten rules, which prohibits her from truly acting as herself.
The part of Lucy that wants to break these rules and live her own life, though, still resides undeniably inside her. The Bertolini exposes her to a high concentration of these oppressors of society, which only fuels her increasingly harsh disposition towards high society. When she switches rooms with George and finally has a view of her own, the beautiful hills, river and other aspects of the landscape draw her to an alternative life, in which she would not be confined to the walls of her room in the Bertolini, nor the barriers that exist within English society. The Italian scenery was “unfamiliar” to Lucy, which she found both pleasant and curious (Forster, 14).
The freedom Lucy feels from looking out her window, and exploring Florence and its countryside, sparks her growing curiosity in living independently from English social norms. After watching the stabbing in the Piazza Signoria, Lucy, although deeply disturbed by the scene, wishes for more action in her life. She expresses her boredom to George, “How quickly these accidents do happen, and then one returns to the old life,” as she longs to escape the strict boundaries imposed on her in England (Forster, 42).
Later, after George kisses her on the terrace, Lucy feels confused. She understands that Charlotte and most other upper class members disapprove of George because of where he stands socially in comparison to her. Yet, Lucy does not view this as a severe hindrance to a relationship. As she and Charlotte argue over what to do about the situation, Lucy exclaims, “I want to be truthful… it is so hard to be absolutely truthful,” referring to the pressure she feels to conform to what society wants her to say (Forster, 67). This echoes her earlier quote, “I don’t know what I think, nor what I want,” and further emphasizes Forster’s claim about the social conformity that existed in England (Forster, 52). The Italian world outside the Bertolini provides Lucy with the opportunity to experience what she otherwise would not in England.
Flashing forward to the closing scene of the novel, after she has married George and left Cecil, she and George make their way back to the room with a view in the Pension Bertolini. At this point, Lucy finally realizes that acting on her on own accord gave her more freedom even if it meant losing the support of other people. By marrying the lower-class George, Lucy gains her independence from the social constraints she has faced her entire life. When she and George reach the Bertolini again, the novel has come full circle. Although Lucy still feels some societal pressure, she has grown enormously since the last time she visited. And although she still feels the restricting nature of the hotel itself, she is now well aware of the opportunities that exist just beyond it, which she witnesses with her view.
Forster, E.M. A Room with a View. New York, Penguin Books, 2018.
Zwack, Anne Marshall. “In Florence, Rooms with a View.” New York Times, 30 June 1985. https://www.nytimes.com/1985/06/30/travel/in-florence-rooms-with-a-view.html
“A Room with a View Reader’s Guide.” Penguin Random House, accessed 24 April 2019. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/296528/a-room-with-a-view-by-e-m-forster-introduction-by-wendy-moffat-notes-by-malcolm-bradbury/9780141183299/readers-guide/
Sullivan, Zohreh T. “Forster’s Symbolism: ‘A Room with a View’, Fourth Chapter.” The Journal of Narrative Technique, vol. 6, no. 3, 1976, pp. 217–223. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30225594.
Roszak, Suzanne. “Social Non-Conformists in Forster’s Italy: Otherness and the Enlightened English Tourist.” Ariel 45.1-2 (2014): 167-94. ProQuest. Web. 26 April 2019.