A Room with a View is a story of love, a story of self-realization of a young woman, and a story of the Edwardian English society still governed by strict Victorian values. Written at the beginning of the Edwardian era, Forster critically exposes the cultural restrictions, class differences, and rigidly maintained social status that had swallowed the English society. The story is set up in England and Italy and Forster with his crafty and witty writing style draws a comparison between English cultural rigidity and Italian cultural relaxation.
The opening of the book is a scene in a pension in Italy, where a group of English tourists who, being in a foreign country, were still divided by class. There was the assumption that George Emerson was a porter just because he works on the railway, although in fact, he is a clerk. And he is outrightly considered a cad because of his “lower” class and somewhat relaxed behavior toward those who are stifled by convention. The old Emerson who speaks out his mind freely is considered vulgar by the “respected” English. Although civility is maintained on the face of it, the Emersons are ignored and isolated for the most part because of the highly revered concept of “class difference”. I was genuinely struck by the severity of this division and enjoyed Forster’s exhibition of displeasure through his witty writing.
The focus of the story is a young woman named Lucy and her journey of finding both herself and love. It is not an easy journey, as she has to hurdle through strong social barriers. The inner struggle that she goes through is the struggle of young men and especially young women in Edwardian society, being torn between strict conventions and emerging modern opinions. Forster is radical. He mocks the Victorian perceptions to which strings the old generation still held fast and supports the view of mixed-class marriages in the wake up of a new middle class which was steadily brought forth by industrialization.
Forster’s writing is both poetic and picturesque. He draws us into a world that is beautiful notwithstanding its imperfections, petty differences, and minor annoyances and irritations. There is also irony and humour. And Forster’s use of symbology, subtly or otherwise, is simply marvelous. The sun, the river, the mountains, fields of violets, Italy, the water, the playing of music – everything has its own mystery, its own workings on the human mind. Forster has captured this beautifully and sincerely.
The most important however is the “view”. When the young Lucy who belongs to the upper-middle class arrives at the Italian pension, she finds her room has no view. Forster tells us that that should be just. Overprotected and bound by conventions, chaperoned by an old lady who worships Victorian ideals, Lucy has no “view”. But the Emersons, who represent the newly emerging working class have a “view”. The newly learned working class is slowly adapting themselves to the new modern way of thinking and is no longer weighed down by conventions. So, they have a “view.” Lucy, still at the impressionable age, falls for young Emerson with a “view”, but it is nipped in the bud by the Victorian chaperon. And the flower to which Lucy was to be bloomed was handed to the upper-class Cecil who is in a closed room with no “view” whereby the flower slowly withers. But sunlight, water, love, and joys of youth come to the rescue and present Lucy with a solid and lasting “room with a view”.
A Room with a View undoubtedly is one of the masterpieces that I have had the privilege to read. It is complete; it is perfect.