E.M. Forster

A Room with a View

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A Room with a View Summary

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E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel A Room with a View concerns an adventurous young woman, Lucy Honeychurch, who falls in love with an idealistic lower-class man, George Emerson, earning her family’s disapproval. Both a social satire and a touching love story, A Room with a View is widely regarded as a major achievement of twentieth-century British fiction. In 1985, the novel was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film of the same title, starring Helena Bonham-Carter as Lucy.

The novel opens in Florence, Italy, where Lucy is staying at the Pension Bertolini with her chaperone, Charlotte Bartlett. The two women are annoyed to find that their rooms do not have a view, as they had been promised. As they discuss it, they are interrupted by two men, Mr. Emerson and his son George, who offer to switch rooms with the ladies. Charlotte disapproves of the lower-class Emersons and refuses the offer as improper.

An English vicar, Mr. Beebe, approaches Charlotte, vouching for the decency of the Emersons. Charlotte agrees to accept Mr. Emerson’s offer, and the ladies move into their new rooms.

The next day, Lucy arranges to go sightseeing with Miss Lavish, an English novelist who is also staying at the Pension. Miss Lavish goes off in search of local color, abandoning Lucy at a church. There, she encounters the Emersons. George explains to her that his father is a good man, if a little lacking in manners, while Mr. Emerson tells her that his son suffers from “world-sorrow.” Lucy finds that she likes them both, but when she talks about them with other guests at the Pension, she finds they are almost universally disliked.

On another sightseeing expedition, Lucy witnesses a knife-fight between two local men. One of the combatants is badly wounded. As Lucy faints, she is caught by George, who happens to be passing. He picks up some photographs that she has dropped as she fainted.

When Lucy has recovered, they take a boat back to the Pension. On the way, George notices that Lucy’s photographs have blood on them, and he throws them into the water, announcing enigmatically, “I shall probably want to live.”

Lucy and Charlotte, together with Miss Lavish, the Emersons, Mr. Beebe, and another vicar, Mr. Eager, who disapproves of the Emersons, take a day trip to the hills outside the city. As they all wander freely around, Lucy comes upon George alone on a terrace. Overwhelmed by her beauty and the beauty of the setting, George kisses her. The kiss is interrupted by Charlotte’s arrival. When the party reconvenes for the journey back to Florence, George has disappeared, and the other guests leave without him.

At the pension, Charlotte rebukes Lucy, but she also blames herself for not being a better chaperone. She decides that they must leave Florence for Rome.

In Part II, the novel jumps forward in time. Lucy has returned to England, where she accepts a proposal from Cecil Vyse, a young man whose family she stayed with in Rome. Lucy’s mother, Mrs. Honeychurch, is delighted that her daughter has made such a good match, and she shows Cecil off to her friends. Cecil behaves snobbishly at a garden party, making it clear that he is bored by country society. He takes a particular disliking to Sir Harry Otway, a local aristocrat. Sir Harry wants to rent out a villa on his property, and Lucy suggests some spinster sisters whom she met in Florence.

Lucy and Cecil walk in the woods, where Cecil asks Lucy’s permission to kiss her. She grants it, and they share an awkward kiss.

Lucy learns from her brother Freddy that Cecil has arranged tenants for Sir Harry’s villa—not the spinster sisters but the Emersons. Lucy confronts Cecil, who explains that he met these two lower-class men at a gallery and offered them the tenancy to rile Sir Harry.

When the Emersons move in, Lucy is staying with Cecil’s family in London. She receives a letter from Charlotte, who is worried about George Emerson living so close to Lucy’s home. Charlotte suggests that Lucy tell her mother about George’s “insult” to Lucy in Florence. Lucy refuses. Meanwhile, Lucy is hurt by the snobbery of Cecil’s mother, who suggests that Lucy needs purging of “the Honeychurch taint.”

Mr. Beebe and Freddy visit the Emersons. During their conversation, Mr. Emerson reveals some of his radical views, including his belief that mankind needs to be freed from “despis[ing] our bodies.” George, Mr. Beebe, and Freddy decide to go for a swim in the “Sacred Lake,” a pond in the woods where Freddy and Lucy played as children. The three men strip and swim; they have to hide when Lucy, her mother, and Cecil arrive.

Mrs. Honeychurch insists that Lucy invite Charlotte to stay. When Charlotte arrives, she wants to know whether Lucy has told her mother about her kiss with George. Lucy insists she wants to keep it a secret.

The next weekend, Freddie invites George to play tennis at the Honeychurches’ house. Cecil refuses to play with them, so Lucy takes his place. Cecil reads aloud from a novel he finds amusingly bad. Lucy realizes that the author is Miss Lavish, with whom she went sightseeing in Florence. Lucy and George discuss the view from the house; Lucy is enjoying their conversation so much, she realizes she is ignoring Cecil. She asks Cecil to read some more from the novel. He reads a scene in which the hero and heroine, finding themselves alone in the country, suddenly kiss. Lucy recognizes the passage is based on her kiss with George. She interrupts Cecil, and they set off for home. Cecil has to go back for his book, and George takes this opportunity to kiss Lucy.

Lucy accuses Charlotte of telling Miss Lavish about the kiss in Florence. Charlotte admits that she did and apologizes. Lucy goes to George to insist that he leave. George tells Lucy that he loves her. He insists that Cecil sees her as “an object for the shelf” and will never appreciate her spirit.

The next time Lucy sees Cecil, she finds him “absolutely intolerable” and breaks off their engagement, explaining that she finds him controlling and stifling. Cecil suspects she is in love with someone else, but she insists that she is not.

Mr. Beebe visits Lucy and sympathizes with her. Suggesting that she join some friends on a trip to Greece, he persuades Mrs. Honeychurch to let her go.

One day, while Lucy is waiting for Charlotte in Mr. Beebe’s study, Mr. Emerson arrives. He apologizes for his son’s conduct. However, when he learns that Lucy has broken off her engagement to Cecil, Mr. Emerson, realizing that Lucy loves George, tells her that she must act on her feelings.

The novel jumps forward in time again. Lucy and George are married and staying together at the Pension Bertolini—in a room with a view. Lucy’s family has disowned her for marrying George. As they discuss their history, she suspects that Charlotte must have arranged her fateful meeting with Mr. Emerson.

A Room With A View explores themes of social convention, class politics, and the value of natural and artistic beauty. It was the third novel by E.M. Forster, who would go on to write Howard’s End (1910) and A Passage To India (1924), securing his status as one of the twentieth century’s major writers.