Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries many English citizens travelled to Italy and even settled there. Some went for the warmer climate, others because it was a cheaper place to live or they wanted to study Italian art, or simply escape the English class system. However, many of these travellers refused to really adapt to an Italian life-style. In Rome they ate scones with jam and cream at the Babington Tearooms. They attended English churches, stayed in pensione run by Cockney landladies, ordered English newspapers, and roundly condemned the Catholicism and greater freedoms in Italian society.
Forster began A Room with a View soon after his 1901 visit to Italy, sketched out a list of its characters, but struggled to get it into the shape he wanted. It was not published until 1908 and when it appeared, many readers thought it had been written by a woman.
“It isn’t possible to love and part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.” – E.M. Forster, A Room with a View
Although I recognise that A Room with a View is not as great or complex a novel as is A Passage to India, I do prefer it. I love the book’s contrasts between an uptight English Edwardian village and the passion and beauty of Italy, I love the way music is used to tell us so much about each character, and I always laugh over Charlotte Bartlett who is just like one of my own relatives.
Forster makes superb comedy from the contrasts. When Lucy is at the picnic, she wants to go in search of Mr Beebe, and asks the coachman “Dove buoni uomini?” meaning ‘Where is the good man?”. The coachman immediately takes her to George Emerson – he knows exactly what sort of ‘good’ man Lucy needs. Miss Lavish likes to think she ‘connects’ with Italy and scatters Italian words throughout her speech, but she fails to see the real Italy and can never resemble the relaxed Italians. Most of the English characters see the tourist sights, but return home unchanged.
Join me as we delve into Forster’s very repressed life, analyse the importance of ‘views’, and follow Lucy as she escapes being one of “the vast army of the benighted, who follow neither the heart nor the brain, and march to their destiny by catchwords.” And you can top it all off by watching that gorgeous film version, just one more time …
Learn more about Evelyn Waugh’s life and work, the actual house which was the model for Brideshead (no, not Castle Howard), the themes, styles and characters in the book, and perhaps enjoy sharing discussion questions with your book group – or even here with me. My Reader’s Guide has all this and more about this evocative and memorable novel. I always love to hear what you think. Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
Here are some links for E.M. Forster & A Room with a View.
E. M. Forster: A Biography by Harry T. Moore
Morgan: Biography of E.M. Forster/em> by Nicola Beauman
A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E.M. Forster by Wendy Moffat
E.M. Forster and His World by Francis King
E.M. Forster: A Life by P.N. Furbank
You might like to watch this Zeffirelli film on DVD for a depiction of English people living in Florence before WWII. While it is clearly later in period than A Room with a View, you still get a good sense of English cafes, afternoon teas and a desperate clinging to English ways amongst the expatriates there. And it is a lovely film to watch!
I only recommend books I have read or know. Some of these links are my affiliate links. If you buy a book by clicking on one of these links I receive a small commission. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but does help cover the cost of producing my free newsletter.
I always love to hear what you think.