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.
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