Friday, 28 July 2000

E.M. Forster: A Room With A View (1908)

Edition: Penguin, 1990
Review number: 555

On a more or less annual basis, I've made some attempt to read a novel by Forster; it seems unreasonable that a writer so highly regarded should be impossible to get through. I found both Howard's End and A Passage to India incredibly dull, though I expected to do better with this novel - I had at least enjoyed the film.

The plot of A Room With a View is a basic romantic one. Lucy Honeychurch, visiting Italy, happens to mention the lack of a view from her room at breakfast in a Florentine pensione, prompting George Emerson and his father to offer to swap rooms. Lucy's initial impression that the Emersons are a little vulgar, not the right sort of people, prompts her to be reluctant to swap; and this impression seems confirmed when George kisses her during a picnic in the Tuscan countryside. But it is only after returning to England, when the Emersons rent a cottage near the Honeychurch home, that Lucy begins to realise that something is wrong in her engagement to Cedric Vyse, an acquaintance whom she got to know much better after fleeing to Rome from the Emersons.

However, the plot is not particularly important; A Room With A View is principally an ironic commentary on the morality and customes of the English middle class at the beginning of the twentieth century. The humour in the novel is much more apparent than in Forster's other works (one reason for its greater readability). Touches like having chapter four entitled "Fourth Chapter" maintain the awareness that this is a novel and that Forster means us to remember this, in a manner mildly reminiscent of the much less subtle (but far funnier) Tom Jones.

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