A Room with a View (1908)

–       Written by E.M. Forster 

Love is divine. If there is one message E.M. Forster tries to communicate in this charming romance, it is this: don’t be afraid of passion and love. For passion is not an obstacle on the path to heaven, but rather the key to following this path. For, in the end, it is love that brings us closer to heaven and God.   

Our heroine is the young, inexperienced Lucy Honeychurch who is in the midst of an Italian vacation. Lucy with her overbearing chaperone, Charlotte, has just arrived at the Pension Bertolini only to find that their rooms only have a view of the inner courtyard rather than a view of the city that they had specified. Just as disappointment and resignation set in, a kindly though socially awkward man, Mr. Emerson, and his son, George, offer up their own rooms and thus create a ruckus. So, the stage is set for Lucy and George, but social mores hold them back.

How appropriate that their romance takes place in Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance! A place where the mortal and immortal seem to touch; for Florence while honoring divinity also exalts humanity at the same time. We realize during the course of the story that despite the forces that try to distinguish these two concepts, they are inseparably bound; that earthly beauty and love are heavenly and divine.   

 This is what art tries to convey to us, and E.M. Forster is a master. His writing is evocative, resonant, and beautifully constructed.

“For one ravishing moment Italy appeared. She stood in the Square of the Annunziata and saw in the living terra-cotta those divine babies whom no cheap reproduction can ever stale. There they stood, with their shining limbs bursting from the garments of charity, and their strong white arms extended against circlets of heaven.”

Even if one has never seen Florence, the impression Forster creates is palpable. The emotion spills out of every word, and you cannot help but be drawn into this sweet, funny, tragic world he is showing us, and every interaction between Lucy and George grips at your heart as you pray for a resolution to their “muddle” 

To the reader, the connection between the two is immediately clear, but Lucy hampered by prudency and propriety doesn’t acknowledge or even realize this connection. She, being so sheltered and controlled, doesn’t even understand herself. Indeed, by denying her attraction to George she deceives not only her family and friends but also herself. Mr. Emerson seeing her conundrum, offers this advice to her, “Let yourself go.” Through him, the reader understands that the key to happiness for both his son and Lucy are for each to understand the other. We recognize that the rational and irrational are sometimes one and the same; that following one’s heart may be the wisest course to take.

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A Room with a View (1985)

–       Directed by James Ivory

–       Starring Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands, Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliott, Daniel Day-Lewis

The film version is a masterpiece as well. The romance, humor, and philosophy of the book translate beautifully. I read the book first and then watched the film. However, those who watch A Room with a View without reading the story first will find themselves just as enthralled and enchanted. Helena Bonham Carter and Julian Sands perfectly embody the characters, Lucy and George. As for Dame Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliott, these two legendary thespians steal the show lending humor and sensitivity to their characters, Charlotte Bartlett and Mr. Emerson.  

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