E.M. 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. I love this book’s contrasts between an uptight English Edwardian village and the passion and beauty of Italy.
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.
“E.M. Forster is for me the only living novelist who can be read again and again and who, after each reading, gives me what few writers can give us after our first days of novel-reading, the sensation of having learned something.”
– Lionel Trilling, 1943
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.
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