The first time I read A Room with a View was after watching the movie in my high school English class. So it’s been some time since my first encounter with the book. I have to admit that the movie stayed with me more than the book, so I wanted to re-read it to see if the book would have more of an impact this time around.
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A Room with a View is an enjoyable book and an easy read. I liked Forster’s style of writing, and there are some interesting characters. But scenes from the movie kept popping into my mind, proving that it still had more of a grip on me than the book.
The book is full of contrasts and therefore an ideal vehicle for Forster to criticize the rigid conventions that ruled life when he wrote this novel. There is the contrast between Edwardian England and “free,” art-loving Italy, the one between “proper English ladies and gentlemen” and the straightforward Emersons, and finally the contrast between the spinster Aunt Charlotte, who knows how to behave in every situation, and young Lucy Honeychurch, the central character, who senses that life can be more and who has to ultimately choose between a conventional life (with Cecil Vyse) and one that promises love and happiness (with George Emerson).
While I never got the feeling that I knew George Emerson well, I had no problem picturing Cecil Vyse with his condescending and snobbish behavior. If I hadn’t disliked him so much, I would probably have felt sorry for him, if that makes any sense. He tries so hard to affect an “I-don’t-care” attitude. While Lucy feels confused by George, she has no problem picturing her life with Cecil. And when she tells Cecil that she thinks of him as always being inside, the reader is presented with yet another contrast, since Lucy’s most memorable encounters with George all take place outside (the kiss among the violets, their encounter at the pond in Surrey).
I actually found the book pretty funny, too. Consider this:
“In spite of the season, Mrs. Vyse managed to scrape together a dinner-party consisting entirely of grandchildren of famous people. The food was poor, but the talk had a witty weariness that impressed the girl. One was tired of everything, it seemed. One launched into enthusiasms only to collapse gracefully, and pick oneself up amid sympathetic laughter. In this atmosphere the Pension Bertolini and Windy Corner appeared equally crude, and Lucy saw that her London career would estrange her a little from all that she had loved in the past. The grandchildren asked her to play the piano.”
What a backhanded way to make fun of Mrs. Vyse, the party guests, and their behavior!
I loved the chapter about the swimming excursion to the pond, and Lucy’s disengagement is one of the most gracious breakups I know of in literature. At some point, I plan to read Forster’s A Passage to India and Howard’s End, although they seem to be less light-hearted than this classic.