Synopsis from Goodreads: Lucy has her rigid, middle-class life mapped out for her, until she visits Florence with her uptight cousin Charlotte, and finds her neatly ordered existence thrown off balance. Her eyes are opened by the unconventional characters she meets at the Pension Bertolini: flamboyant romantic novelist Eleanor Lavish, the Cockney Signora, curious Mr Emerson and, most of all, his passionate son George.
Lucy finds herself torn between the intensity of life in Italy and the repressed morals of Edwardian England, personified in her terminally dull fiancé Cecil Vyse. Will she ever learn to follow her own heart?
I read EM Forster’s A Room with a View for the “classics” prompt in the Fall Into Reading Challenge, since I realized I had seen the movie eons ago but not ever read the original book. Set at the turn of the 19th into 20th century, Forster’s tale of Lucy Honeychurch and her quest for her own self and identity are wrapped inside a novel that also points out other social changes that were happening at the beginning of the 20th century. In this short novel, Forster manages to discuss gentry versus upper class morals and beliefs, socialism, the change in the English countryside and religion, free thinking and women’s rights. The first half of the book takes place in Florence, Italy, where Lucy and her staid, somewhat prim and fuss-budget’y chaperone, her cousin Charlotte, have arrived to take in the Italian countryside, culture and art, and find themselves in a tiny set of rented rooms with no view. The metaphor of a “room without a view” represents Lucy’s constricted upbringing and the fact that social changes are occurring all around her that would enable her to live a more open life (in both thoughts and deeds), much preferrable to a path in life as the pampered wife of a wealthy man who, while rich in money, is poor in terms of soul. While in Florence, Lucy meets the Emersons, who are also visiting from England for a tour; the elder is retired and the son, who works for the railroads, wind up becoming integral to Lucy’s arc of realization that the world could hold so much more for her. The younger Emerson, George, also becomes a love interest for Lucy, even when she returns home to England.
Lots of wonderful details packed into this little book, although I think the writing may not be as approachable for 21st century readers who are perhaps used to more action and less character development. However, the characters completely drove this story for me and I loved savoring Forster’s use of symbolism and English word choices. The writing is definitely more of a “classics” style and less conversational than today’s style, but I still loved reading it and the story Forster had to tell.
I enjoyed it enough that I wound up renting the movie and re-watching it since it had been years since I had originally seen it. Featuring a stellar cast, including Helena Bonham Carter and Maggie Smith, as well as several other British actors most fans of current BBC productions will recognize, it is lushly filmed on location and I think would be a good introduction to the basic story (although some parts of the prose are less well represented in the movie version, and other lesser parts of the prose are given a bit more emphasis) if you wanted an entertaining movie with gorgeous scenery and costumes, for a rainy fall afternoon and a cozy cup of tea.
This was book 12/24 for the Fall into Reading Challenge – halfway there!