E M Forster exhibits his usual mix of depth and lightheartedness in A Room With A View, the story of a young Englishwoman caught in the preconceived notions of society and almost deceived into marrying a man she doesn’t love; and again, being made to realise the folly of her ways through an accidental meeting in the most unexpected of places.
Lucy Bartlett goes to Italy with her cousin Charlotte, a woman probably disposed to be kindly, but more often than not getting in the way and disrupting the ideas of romanticism that so naturally obsess young Lucy. Their disappointment in not being given ‘rooms with a view’ is alleviated when the Emersons offer to give up their own rooms to the ladies in exchange for theirs; an offer that Miss Charlotte Bartlett accepts with reluctance, for how can polished society ever make such a crude proposition? A walk with the exasperating Miss Lavish, an aspiring novelist who gets carried away by her literary ambitions and leaves her companion to her own devices, sees Lucy end up in a church with the Emersons. Further chance encounters with George Emerson and an unexpected burst of sentimentality in the midst of violets and enchanting scenery make the Bartletts leave for Florence abruptly.
On her return to England, Lucy is talked into engagement by Cecil Vyse, an artistic man who endeavours to influence her in every possible way and doesn’t make himself too popular with her family. He lacks patience with her friends and their small social engagements, meddles with Lucy’s plans to have acquaintances of hers inhabit a villa in the neighbourhood, refuses to participate in the acts of frolic of the family. Frustration mounts as George Emerson comes back into her life and gives her his own ideas; a sudden encounter with Mr. Emerson in the rectory leaves Lucy wondering about her decisions all through.
While Lucy probably makes the right choice towards the end, it does seem to me as if she never does think independently, being easily swayed by whatever she hears. It doesn’t do much good to the idea of emancipation of women for sure, and she seems like a figure being moulded in and out of shape all the while by people who think they know what is best for her.
The writing is delightful in true Forster style and after The Longest Journey and Howards End, comes across as less tragic than usual. The society consists of the inevitable characters who take the liberty of making decisions for others, criticising, poking their nose into what is definitely not their business. We haven’t really come too far since those years, have we? Maybe it isn’t society, but human nature.