The enduring delight of this tale of romantic intrigue is rooted in E. M. Forster's colorful characters, including outrageous spinsters, pompous clergymen and outspoken patriots. Written in 1908, A Room with a View is one of Forster's earliest and most celebrated works.
About the Author
E. M. Forster (1879–1970) was an English novelist, short-story writer, essayist, and librettist, whose best known novels include Howards End, A Room with a View, and A Passage to India.
Steven Crossley has recorded over two hundred audiobooks and has won multiple AudioFile Earphones Awards. A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, his audiobook performances cover an eclectic range of subjects in both fiction and nonfiction.
Date of Birth:January 1, 1879
Date of Death:June 7, 1970
Place of Birth:London
Place of Death:Coventry, England
Education:B. A. in classics, King's College, Cambridge, 1900; B. A. in history, 1901; M.A., 1910
Read an Excerpt
The Signora had no business to do it," said Miss Bartlett, "no business at all. She promised us south rooms with a view close together, instead of which here are north rooms, looking into a courtyard, and a long way apart. Oh, Lucy!"
"And a Cockney, besides!" said Lucy, who had been further saddened by the Signora's unexpected accent. "It might be London." She looked at the two rows of English people who were sitting at the table; at the row of white bottles of water and red bottles of wine that ran between the English people; at the portraits of the late Queen and the late Poet Laureate that hung behind the English people, heavily framed; at the notice of the English church (Rev. Cuthbert Eager, M.A. Oxon.), that was the only other decoration of the wall. "Charlotte, don't you feel, too, that we might be in London? I can hardly believe that all kinds of other things are just outside. I suppose it is one's being so tired."
"This meat has surely been used for soup," said Miss Bartlett, laying down her fork.
"I want so to see the Arno. The rooms the Signora promised us in her letter would have looked over the Arno. The Signora had no business to do it at all. Oh, it is a shame!"
"Any nook does for me," Miss Bartlett continued; "but it does seem hard that you shouldn't have a view."
Lucy felt that she had been selfish. "Charlotte, you mustn't spoil me: of course, you must look over the Arno, too. I meant that. The first vacant room in the front–"
"You must have it," said Miss Bartlett, part of whose travelling expenses were paid by Lucy's mother–a piece of generosity to which she made many a tactful allusion.
"No, no. You must have it."
"I insist on it. Your mother would never forgive me, Lucy."
"She would never forgive me."
The ladies' voices grew animated and–if the sad truth be owned–a little peevish. They were tired, and under the guise of unselfishness they wrangled. Some of their neighbours interchanged glances, and one of them–one of the ill-bred people whom one does meet abroad–leant forward over the table and actually intruded into their argument. He said:
"I have a view, I have a view."
Miss Bartlett was startled. Generally at a pension people looked them over for a day or two before speaking, and often did not find out that they would "do" till they had gone. She knew that the intruder was ill-bred, even before she glanced at him. He was an old man, of heavy build, with a fair, shaven face and large eyes. There was something childish in those eyes, though it was not the childishness of senility. What exactly it was Miss Bartlett did not stop to consider, for her glance passed on to his clothes. These did not attract her. He was probably trying to become acquainted with them before they got into the swim. So she assumed a dazed expression when he spoke to her, and then said: "A view? Oh, a view! How delightful a view is!"
"This is my son," said the old man; "his name's George. He has a view too."
"Ah," said Miss Bartlett, repressing Lucy, who was about to speak.
"What I mean," he continued, "is that you can have our rooms, and we'll have yours. We'll change."
The better class of tourist was shocked at this, and sympathized with the new-comers. Miss Bartlett, in reply, opened her mouth as little as possible, and said:
"Thank you very much indeed; that is out of the question."
"Why?" said the old man, with both fists on the table.
"Because it is quite out of the question, thank you."
"You see, we don't like to take–" began Lucy.
Her cousin again repressed her.
"But why?" he persisted. "Women like looking at a view; men don't." And he thumped with his fists like a naughty child, and turned to his son, saying, "George, persuade them!"
"It's so obvious they should have the rooms," said the son. "There's nothing else to say."
He did not look at the ladies as he spoke, but his voice was perplexed and sorrowful. Lucy, too, was perplexed; but she saw that they were in for what is known as "quite a scene," and she had an odd feeling that whenever these ill-bred tourists spoke the contest widened and deepened till it dealt, not with rooms and views, but with–well, with something quite different, whose existence she had not realized before. Now the old man attacked Miss Bartlett almost violently: Why should she not change? What possible objection had she? They would clear out in half an hour.
Miss Bartlett, though skilled in the delicacies of conversation, was powerless in the presence of brutality. It was impossible to snub any one so gross. Her face reddened with displeasure. She looked around as much as to say, "Are you all like this?" And two little old ladies, who were sitting further up the table, with shawls hanging over the backs of the chairs, looked back, clearly indicating "We are not; we are genteel."
"Eat your dinner, dear," she said to Lucy, and began to toy again with the meat that she had once censured.
Lucy mumbled that those seemed very odd people opposite.
"Eat your dinner, dear. This pension is a failure. Tomorrow we will make a change."
Hardly had she announced this fell decision when she reversed it. The curtains at the end of the room parted, and revealed a clergyman, stout but attractive, who hurried forward to take his place at the table, cheerfully apologizing for his lateness. Lucy, who had not yet acquired decency, at once rose to her feet, exclaiming: "Oh, oh! Why, it's Mr. Beebe! Oh, how perfectly lovely! Oh, Charlotte, we must stop now, however bad the rooms are. Oh!"
Miss Bartlett said, with more restraint:
"How do you do, Mr. Beebe? I expect that you have forgotten us: Miss Bartlett and Miss Honeychurch, who were at Tunbridge Wells when you helped the Vicar of St. Peter's that very cold Easter."
The clergyman, who had the air of one on a holiday, did not remember the ladies quite as clearly as they remembered him. But he came forward pleasantly enough and accepted the chair into which he was beckoned by Lucy.
"I am so glad to see you," said the girl, who was in a state of spiritual starvation, and would have been glad to see the waiter if her cousin had permitted it. "Just fancy how small the world is. Summer Street, too, makes it so specially funny."
"Miss Honeychurch lives in the parish of Summer Street," said Miss Bartlett, filling up the gap, "and she happened to tell me in the course of conversation that you have just accepted the living–"
"Yes, I heard from mother so last week. She didn't know that I knew you at Tunbridge Wells; but I wrote back at once, and I said: 'Mr. Beebe is–' "
"Quite right," said the clergyman. "I move into the Rectory at Summer Street next June. I am lucky to be appointed to such a charming neighbourhood."
"Oh, how glad I am! The name of our house is Windy Corner."
Mr. Beebe bowed.
"There is mother and me generally, and my brother, though it's not often we get him to ch– The church is rather far off, I mean."
"Lucy, dearest, let Mr. Beebe eat his dinner."
"I am eating it, thank you, and enjoying it."
He preferred to talk to Lucy, whose playing he remembered, rather than to Miss Bartlett, who probably remembered his sermons. He asked the girl whether she knew Florence well, and was informed at some length that she had never been there before. It is delightful to advise a new-comer, and he was first in the field.
"Don't neglect the country round," his advice concluded. "The first fine afternoon drive up to Fiesole, and round by Settignano, or something of that sort."
"No!" cried a voice from the top of the table. "Mr. Beebe, you are wrong. The first fine afternoon your ladies must go to Prato."
"That lady looks so clever," whispered Miss Bartlett to her cousin. "We are in luck."
And, indeed, a perfect torrent of information burst on them. People told them what to see, when to see it, how to stop the electric trams, how to get rid of the beggars, how much to give for a vellum blotter, how much the place would grow upon them. The Pension Bertolini had decided, almost enthusiastically, that they would do. Whichever way they looked, kind ladies smiled and shouted at them. And above all rose the voice of the clever lady, crying: "Prato! They must go to Prato. That place is too sweetly squalid for words. I love it; I revel in shaking off the trammels of respectability, as you know."
The young man named George glanced at the clever lady, and then returned moodily to his plate. Obviously he and his father did not do. Lucy, in the midst of her success, found time to wish they did. It gave her no extra pleasure that any one should be left in the cold; and when she rose to go, she turned back and gave the two outsiders a nervous little bow.
The father did not see it; the son acknowledged it, not by another bow, but by raising his eyebrows and smiling; he seemed to be smiling across something.
She hastened after her cousin, who had already disappeared through the curtains–curtains which smote one in the face, and seemed heavy with more than cloth. Beyond them stood the unreliable Signora, bowing good-evening to her guests, and supported by 'Enery, her little boy, and Victorier, her daughter. It made a curious little scene, this attempt of the Cockney to convey the grace and geniality of the South. And even more curious was the drawing-room, which attempted to rival the solid comfort of a Bloomsbury boarding-house. Was this really Italy?
Miss Bartlett was already seated on a tightly stuffed armchair, which had the colour and the contours of a tomato. She was talking to Mr. Beebe, and as she spoke, her long narrow head drove backwards and forwards, slowly, regularly, as though she were demolishing some invisible obstacle. "We are most grateful to you," she was saying. "The first evening means so much. When you arrived we were in for a peculiarly mauvais quart d'heure."
He expressed his regret.
"Do you, by any chance, know the name of an old man who sat opposite us at dinner?"
"Is he a friend of yours?"
"We are friendly–as one is in pensions."
"Then I will say no more."
He pressed her very slightly, and she said more.
"I am, as it were," she concluded, "the chaperon of my young cousin, Lucy, and it would be a serious thing if I put her under an obligation to people of whom we know nothing. His manner was somewhat unfortunate. I hope I acted for the best."
"You acted very naturally," said he. He seemed thoughtful, and after a few moments added: "All the same, I don't think much harm would have come of accepting."
"No harm, of course. But we could not be under an obligation."
"He is rather a peculiar man." Again he hesitated, and then said gently: "I think he would not take advantage of your acceptance, nor expect you to show gratitude. He has the merit–if it is one–of saying exactly what he means. He has rooms he does not value, and he thinks you would value them. He no more thought of putting you under an obligation than he thought of being polite. It is so difficult–at least, I find it difficult–to understand people who speak the truth."
Lucy was pleased, and said: "I was hoping that he was nice; I do so always hope that people will be nice."
"I think he is; nice and tiresome. I differ from him on almost every point of any importance, and so, I expect–I may say I hope–you will differ. But his is a type one disagrees with rather than deplores. When he first came here he not unnaturally put people's backs up. He has no tact and no manners–I don't mean by that that he has bad manners–and he will not keep his opinions to himself. We nearly complained about him to our depressing Signora, but I am glad to say we thought better of it."
"Am I to conclude," said Miss Bartlett, "that he is a Socialist?"
Mr. Beebe accepted the convenient word, not without a slight twitching of the lips.
"And presumably he has brought up his son to be a Socialist, too?"
"I hardly know George, for he hasn't learnt to talk yet. He seems a nice creature, and I think he has brains. Of course, he has all his father's mannerisms, and it is quite possible that he, too, may be a Socialist."
"Oh, you relieve me," said Miss Bartlett. "So you think I ought to have accepted their offer? You feel I have been narrow-minded and suspicious?"
"Not at all," he answered; "I never suggested that."
"But ought I not to apologize, at all events, for my apparent rudeness?"
He replied, with some irritation, that it would be quite unnecessary, and got up from his seat to go to the smoking-room.
"Was I a bore?" said Miss Bartlett, as soon as he had disappeared. "Why didn't you talk, Lucy? He prefers young people, I'm sure. I do hope I haven't monopolized him. I hoped you would have him all the evening, as well as all dinner-time."
"He is nice," exclaimed Lucy. "Just what I remember. He seems to see good in every one. No one would take him for a clergyman."
"My dear Lucia–"
"Well, you know what I mean. And you know how clergymen generally laugh; Mr. Beebe laughs just like an ordinary man."
"Funny girl! How you do remind me of your mother. I wonder if she will approve of Mr. Beebe."
"I'm sure she will; and so will Freddy."
"I think every one at Windy Corner will approve; it is the fashionable world. I am used to Tunbridge Wells, where we are all hopelessly behind the times."
"Yes," said Lucy despondently.
There was a haze of disapproval in the air, but whether the disapproval was of herself, or of Mr. Beebe, or of the fashionable world at Windy Corner, or of the narrow world at Tunbridge Wells, she could not determine. She tried to locate it, but as usual she blundered. Miss Bartlett sedulously denied disapproving of any one, and added: "I am afraid you are finding me a very depressing companion."
And the girl again thought: "I must have been selfish or unkind; I must be more careful. It is so dreadful for Charlotte, being poor."
Table of Contents
Chapter I: The Bertolini,
Chapter II: In Santa Croce with No Baedeker,
Chapter III: Music, Violets, and the Letter "S",
Chapter IV: Fourth Chapter,
Chapter V: Possibilities of a Pleasant Outing,
Chapter VI: The Reverend Arthur Beebe, the Reverend Cuthbert Eager, Mr. Emerson, Mr. George Emerson, Miss Eleanor Lavish, Miss Charlotte Bartlett, and Miss Lucy,
Honeychurch Drive Out in Carriages to See a View; Italians Drive Them,
Chapter VII: They Return,
Chapter VIII: Medieval,
Chapter IX: Lucy As a Work of Art,
Chapter X: Cecil as a Humourist,
Chapter XI: In Mrs. Vyse's Well-Appointed Flat,
Chapter XII: Twelfth Chapter,
Chapter XIII: How Miss Bartlett's Boiler Was So Tiresome,
Chapter XIV: How Lucy Faced the External Situation Bravely,
Chapter XV: The Disaster Within,
Chapter XVI: Lying to George,
Chapter XVII: Lying to Cecil,
Chapter XVIII: Lying to Mr. Beebe, Mrs. Honeychurch, Freddy, and The Servants,
Chapter XIX: Lying to Mr. Emerson,
Chapter XX: The End of the Middle Ages,
Reading Group Guide
INTRODUCTIONIn a journal entry from July, 1910, E. M. Forster wrote, "However gross my desires, I find that I shall never satisfy them for the fear of annoying others. I am glad to come across this much good in me. It serves instead of purity." Although Forster wrote this passage some two years after he published A Room with a View, it could have been written at almost anytime during his long life. However much he understood the "holiness of direct desire," the emotional purity one achieves by following the heart rather than social orthodoxy, he spent his youth and young adulthood, as Lucy Honeychurch nearly did, repressing his sexual desires to adhere to the expectations of society.Forster was only twenty-nine years old when he published A Room with a View in 1908. He had already published two books,Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) and The Longest Journey (1907). He was a respected writer, but not yet a famous one, and the themes touched on in his earlier novels—passion and convention, truth and pretense—were now given complexity and eloquence, with the maturity of a more experienced voice, in his third novel.The first seeds for an Italian novel were planted during an extended trip to Florence that Forster and his mother took in 1901. This journey not only unleashed Forster's creativity, but also provided a source of spiritual release from the rigid moral codes of English society. His depression over his own self-deception and his increasing mistrust of English middle-class society are mirrored in the conflicted relationship between the cautious, thoroughly English Honeychurches and the impulsive, free-spirited, socialist Emersons. Forster was tormented, like Lucy, with the possibility of becoming one of "the vast armies of the benighted, who follow neither the heart nor the brain, and march to their destiny by catch-words."While Lucy embodied Forster's internal strife, Mr. Emerson was created in the image of a man Forster admired, Edward Carpenter, a social pioneer who believed in equality for women and open expression of homosexual love. First through his published works, and later as a friend, Carpenter was to Forster a beacon of spiritual and sexual liberation who guided him toward a deeper understanding of himself. For Lucy, Mr. Emerson is the "kind old man who enabled her to see the lights dancing in the Arno," who encourages her to follow her heart's and her body's desire, explaining that "love is of the body; not the body, but of the body." This advice she must heed, as Forster makes sure, in breaking from the fettered world of Windy Corner and choosing truth over deceit.The happy resolution of A Room with a View did not come easily to Forster. He started work in earnest on the first draft of his novel in 1902, setting the story entirely in Italy. Forster began the final version in 1904, but put it aside to complete Where Angels Fear to Tread and The Longest Journey. Forster would not pick up A Room with a View again until 1907, when he commented to a friend, "It's bright and merry and I like the story. Yet I wouldn't and couldn't finish it in the same style." Completing the work would require another full year.The "bright and merry" surface of the novel owes much to the social comedies of Jane Austen and Henry James. Like the heroines of Mansfield Park and Daisy Miller, Lucy begins the novel as a naif on the threshold of adulthood in a strange new world. Forster captures the pretense and manners of her social world with uncanny acuity. As Virginia Woolf wrote, "The social historian will find his books full of illuminating information. . . . Old maids blow into their gloves when they take them off. Mr. Forster is a novelist . . . who sees his people in close contact with their surroundings." Like his forebears, he described the world around him with remarkable precision and insight.Forster readily acknowledged his debt to the 19th-century domestic comedy, but said that he "tried to hitch it on to other things"—to the deeper themes of his work, such as the struggle for individuality and the barriers of social class. Forster's plots and landscapes carry greater metaphorical weight than those of his predecessors: Lucy's anguish in choosing between George and Cecil becomes a contest of modernity against the middle ages, honesty against hypocrisy, clarity against muddle. This subtext provides a richly textured counterpoint to superficial events. The novel's ending is not unambiguously joyful. It almost seems that Forster allowed George and Lucy happiness against his own instincts. "Oh Mercy to myself I cried if Lucy didn't wed," Forster wrote in a letter as he was writing the final version of the novel.Ultimately Lucy was more successful in fulfilling her desires than Forster ever was. As he composed A Room with a View in 1907, Forster was still more than six years away from writing his great celebration of homosexual love, Maurice, and his first fully realized romance lay even further in the future. How did this repressed desire color the development of the novel? The critical literature has shown great interest in the erotic undertones of the men's bath at Sacred Lake and possible veiled references to Mr. Beebe's homosexuality ("somewhat chilly in his attitude toward the other sex"). Some even believe that the entire work is a homosexual romance with Lucy as "a boy en travesti." In the end the object of desire is probably less important than the passionate sentiment. What is remarkable, as critic Claude Summers notes, is that Forster's wrestling with homosexual desire should give rise to one of the richest depictions of heterosexual love in the English language.Certainly A Room with a View can be appreciated from this perspective as a story of sexual awakening that provides insight into Forster's deeply felt struggle with his own sexuality. But it can be read on other levels as well. As a domestic comedy in the tradition of Jane Austen, it brilliantly skewers the world of Edwardian manners and social codes, providing some of Forster's most riotous and revealing portraits in the characters of Cecil Vyse and Charlotte Bartlett. It also can be enjoyed as a book about the contradictions and conflicts of being human: how we reconcile our inner lives with outside expectations, and how it is possible, by opening one's mind, to find faith and love in unexpected places.
ABOUT E. M. FORSTEREdward Morgan Forster was born on New Year's Day, 1879, in Dorset Square, London, the second child (the first died soon after birth) of middle-class parents, Edward Llewellyn Forster, a Cambridge graduate and architect, and Alice Clara "Lily" Whichelo. When his son was just one, Forster's father died after a long battle with consumption, leaving the family little money and making Lily a widow at twenty-five. Unwilling to live with relatives and unable to afford a London apartment, Lily moved to a house in the English countryside, Rooksnest, where she devoted herself to her son. At Rooksnest, Forster's life was spent in the nurturing, overprotective "haze of elderly ladies" that included paternal aunts and Lily's friends, and he formed a deep emotional attachment to the place, drawing later on the memories for Howards End.When Forster was fourteen, he and Lily faced the disheartening news that their lease at Rooksnest was up, and they moved to the suburb of Tonbridge Wells. Here, Forster attended the boarding school as a day boy, with classics as his major study. At Tonbridge he wrote for the school newspaper and won several awards for his essays, but nonetheless it was here, a place that contrasted so sharply with his happy home life, where his feelings of being an outsider hardened into an abiding distaste for the English school system.Forster's intellectual and social life blossomed when, in 1897, he entered King's College, Cambridge. With the guidance and encouragement of his classics professor, Forster grew to admire the modern European writers Tolstoy, Proust, and Ibsen, and began to test his own powers as a writer. It was during these years, too, that he first began to acknowledge his homosexuality, falling in love with another undergraduate, H. O. Meredith, who would be the center of his posthumously published novel Maurice. Meredith helped Forster become a member of the "Apostles," the university's foremost discussion group, where he formed friendships with many of the intellectuals later associated with the Bloomsbury Group in London.In 1901, with his formal education over and uncertain about a career, Forster, accompanied by Lily, set off on a year-long trip to Italy to study Italian history, language, art, and literature, and to work on a novel-in-progress. In 1903 he published his first short story, "Albergo Empedocle," and soon thereafter started to write for the Independent Review, a social and political journal founded by his Cambridge friends, to which he would contribute regularly for many years. His first three published novels, Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), The Longest Journey (1907), and A Room with a View (1908) received generally favorable reviews and made him a minor literary celebrity, but not until the publication of Howards End (1910) did Forster achieve major acclaim as a writer.During 1912 and 1913 Forster journeyed to India, beginning a lifelong fascination with the subcontinent. A return journey to India in 1921 provided the inspiration for A Passage to India (1924), which was hailed as a masterpiece on publication. After writing five novels in succession, then ending a fourteen-year hiatus with A Passage to India, Forster retired as a novelist at age forty-five.He spent the second half of his life as a voracious reader, reviewer, and supporter of young writers such as J. R. Ackerly and Eudora Welty. A prominent public intellectual, Forster became the first president of England's National Council on Civil Liberties and was a lifelong spokesman for personal and political tolerance, testifying in the trial that successfully overturned the ban on D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover.King's College awarded Forster an honorary fellowship in 1946, and he spent the rest of his years in Cambridge. Leading an active literary and social life to the end, Forster died in 1970 at age 91.