I’ve been packing and recently came across my copy of A Room with a View, a wonderful novel by E.M. Forster. The book was published in 1908 and set in Edwardian England and Italy, which was modern-day at the time. The story concerns the life of a young girl named Lucy Honeychurch.
But don’t worry, no spoilers here!
E.M. Forster didn’t write a large number of books – but what he did write —! Besides A Room with a View, Howards End and Where Angels Fear to Tread are two of the best books from the first half of the 2oth century.
Forster is good at painting a picture of someone in just a few words. The book gives you an idea of what Lucy looks like: ”For Miss Honeychurch, disjoined from her music stool, was only a young lady with a quantity of dark hair and a very pretty, pale, undeveloped face. She loved going to concerts, she loved stopping with her cousin, she loved iced coffee and meringues.”
He also captures the elderly Alan sisters perfectly. They’re fussy and proper and ashamed of being too tolerant. In this passage, one of the Miss Alans is gossiping about another traveler named Miss Lavish: “Miss Alan began as follows: ‘It was a novel–and I am afraid, from what I can gather, not a very nice novel. It is so sad when people who have abilities misuse them, and I must say they nearly always do.’”
One of the most interesting things about Forster is how he endears the ordinary and often pairs it with the profound. For instance, in A Room with a View, the reader is presented with Cecil Vyse, an overbearing, self-important young man. We can really see him for what he is through the eyes of Lucy’s brother Freddy, during their few interactions. Cecil despises Lucy’s family for how common they are, and Freddy is uncomfortable around Cecil without understanding why. Without the question ever getting resolved in the book, the reader can easily identify Cecil’s snobbery as the reason for Freddy’s discomfort. And in comparison to the suffocating Cecil, the very ordinary Freddy is a breath of fresh air.
I bought my copy of A Room with a View when I was in Florence, where the first part of the book is set. I remember reading it for the first time in Piazza Signoria, where the characters in the novel would roam around. I still have the same battered copy, with the little Italian price sticker (10000 lire) in place.