A Room with a View by E.M. Forster is a novel that has stuck with me since I first read it as a teenager. Set in Edwardian England, it follows the story of Lucy Honeychurch, a young upper middle class woman who travels to Florence, Italy with her cousin Charlotte. While there, she meets the unconventional Emersons who encourage her to break free from the restrictive social conventions of her day.
Upon returning to England, Lucy becomes engaged to the pretentious snob Cecil Vyse, even though she has fallen in love with the passionate George Emerson in Italy. The bulk of the novel deals with Lucy’s inner turmoil as she tries to reconcile her true feelings with the expectations placed on her by early 20th century British society.
|A Room with a View
|E. M. Forster
|January 1, 1908
Where to Purchase
A Captivating Backdrop but Frustratingly Passive Protagonist
There’s no doubt that Forster vividly captures the beauty of Florence and the stifling formality of suburban England. Reading his lush descriptions of Florence’s gardens and art, I felt transported there. At times, the setting almost becomes a character itself, shaping the plot and destiny of the protagonists.
Lucy herself, however, frustrated me to no end. I understand she is a product of her environment, pressured to conform to rigid Edwardian social norms. But I wanted her to take more initiative in her life and boldly pursue love with George. Instead, she remains passive for much of the novel, bending to her cousin’s domineering wishes and becoming engaged to the thoroughly unsuitable Cecil.
During her time in Florence, she shows sparks of independence, but these disappear once she returns to England. It isn’t until the end that she finally expresses her true desires. I admire Forster’s commentary on the oppressive nature of early 1900s British society, especially for women. But I wish we could have seen more earlier hints of Lucy’s inner fire and passion.
Vivid Supporting Characters
Where Lucy falls short as a protagonist, Forster makes up for it with a cast of supporting characters who leap off the page. Few writers can match his witty dialogue and ability to capture a distinct personality in just a few lines.
From Lucy’s fussy and overbearing cousin Charlotte to the pretentious aesthete Cecil Vyse, Forster perfectly encapsulates personalities we’ve all met in real life. But he balances this with more open-minded figures like the Emersons, sharing their scorn for pointless social rituals. I loved the philosophical debates between the Emersons and Cecil about topics like religion and mortality. Their exchanges reveal so much about each character’s values and worldview.
A Commentary on Breaking Convention
At its heart, A Room with a View is about going against social conventions and following one’s passion. When Lucy finally does this in the end, throwing over Cecil for George, it’s a hugely satisfying moment. Forster seems to be arguing that we can only find true happiness when we listen to our hearts, not societal expectations.
While it takes Lucy most of the book to reach this conclusion, I’m glad she finally chooses her own path. Forster doesn’t condemn those like Charlotte who never break free from tradition. But he suggests a life of freedom, individuality and love is far richer.
Final Verdict: A Must-Read for Fans of English Literature
Frustrations with Lucy aside, A Room with a View is an undisputed English literature classic for good reason. Forster’s elegant yet accessible writing style makes this a book I would recommend to both seasoned literature geeks and reluctant readers. His vivid settings, sparkling dialogue, and commentary on Edwardian conventions all make this a hugely engaging read. While a bit light on plot, the novel more than makes up for it with endearing characters and timeless debates about societal norms and individual passions. This remains one of my favorite Forster novels, and one I hope to revisit many times throughout my life.