Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Windy Corner. Home of Lucy Honeychurch and her mother and brother. Windy Corner is located near Summer Street, in the Surrey hills. The Honeychurches live in suburbia, as did E. M. Forster for much of his life, close to London but outside it. Surrey is famous as a recreation destination. As he indicates in the title, Forster considered rooms within houses to be symbolically important places: The rooms in the boxy Honeychurch house are protected from the outside by heavy curtains and filled with solid Victorian furniture. They do not have views. Views are to be had outside on the grounds, or, for those ready to look, within.
Pension Bertolini (pan-see-OHN ber-TOH-lee-nee). Tourist lodge on the River Arno, in Florence, which caters to an English clientele. The Bertolini is based on a real pension in which Forster stayed with his mother on his first trip to Italy in 1901-1902. The pension is run by a Cockney woman, and, with its drawing room and pictures of Queen Victoria and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, on the walls, the hostel is calculated to make the English tourist feel at home. As in Forster’s other novels, it is abroad that members of various levels of English society, in particular the middle classes, seem to meet. The room to which Lucy is eventually assigned has a beautiful view of the river and the hills beyond. This view entices her out of the pension and into the dangers and...
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King Edward VII, known as Bertie, ascended the throne at the death of his mother, Queen Victoria, in 1901. Bertie turned the monarchy into a national pageant. He opened the parliament in 1902, worked hard to improve foreign relations (including the entente with France that allowed for the AngloFrench alliance), and gave every encouragement to military reform. Domestically, Bertie championed tolerance by going out of his way to show that Jews and Indian princes were not, by nature, inferior to himself. Bertie's love of pageantry ensured that people noticed this attitude and British society grew more tolerant.
By 1906, Bertie's health showed signs of decline while a constitutional crisis brewed. The question arose as to whether the Lords or the House of Commons should deal with financing the arms race with Germany. As the dispute flared in 1909, Bertie vacationed in France although elections were imminent. He returned to political chaos, succumbed to bronchitis, and died in the spring of 1910.
The British Empire
At the end of the nineteenth century, Britain ruled an empire that encircled the globe. However, the degree to which Britain controlled the areas of the map it marked in pink or red was questionable or in decline. Exacerbating Britain's anxiety, European nations increasingly challenged her hegemony. The most brazen was Germany and the most worrisome was Russia. Britain sought to pacify her...
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A term that literary criticism borrows from music describes the technical repetition of key phrases or ideas in association with persons or places. The device can also assume larger proportions when, for example, an action is repeated with different portents. Forster employs leitmotif throughout his novels.
Swimming and violets are George's simple signifiers. The device becomes more intricate with Lucy. She employs music as her leitmotif. Lucy's playing affords an opportunity for other people to glimpse her real personality. The pieces she chooses to play have far reaching effects. Beethoven means something different from Schuman. Lucy's inability to play Wagner signals the novel's larger comedic struggle. The piece she cannot play comes from Wagner's operatic adaptation of the Holy Grail legend. Forster's novel is full of references to the tale and these references are leitmotifs.
Place becomes a leitmotif governing the novel's structure. Italy, at both the beginning and end, is a place of passion, youth, and possibility. The dark phase of the novel when Lucy is most endangered of joining the "army of darkness" takes place in England; far in the north, England is the seat of cold Victorianism. The leitmotif of physical intimacy reveals the position of opposing character. Lucy's kisses with her mother are mechanical. Hand brushings with Mr. Emerson are genuine but Charlotte's embrace is a betrayal. Kissing, of course,...
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Compare and Contrast
1908: Based on an arrangement with Russia, Austria annexes Bosnia and Herzegovina. This disrupts Serbia's plans for a Greater Serbia including the two provinces. Britain and France thwart Russia's gain of the promised access to the Dardanelles and Bosporus straits. Austria denies any secret arrangements and the Balkan fuse is set to explode as World War I.
Today: With the collapse of Yugoslavia, Balkan provinces again struggle for control. At the close of the twentieth century, Serbia has been isolated for its attempt to annex and ethnically cleanse Kosovo.
1908: Before it annexes Hawaii in 1898 and colonizes the Philippines a year later, the United States possesses a military just capable of dealing with indigenous tribes, the Mexican army, and Spain. America's stance is defensive, although the world powers know that the United States has the capacity as soon as it finds the will.
Today: The United States has the largest militaryindustrial complex in the world. On paper, the United States can fight two full-fledged wars simultaneously. This military might is matched by a consumer and financial base that dominates global markets.
1908: The West views China as a source of riches so long as the country can be controlled.
Today: The view of China by the West has not changed. The United States hopes to edge out its competitors and gain preferred access to China's vast...
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Topics for Further Study
Forster's theory of marital comradeship has been said to be a homosexual viewpoint masked by a heterosexual story. Do you agree or disagree?
Forster identified readily with Renaissance figures. Research the Neoplatonist Gemistus Pletho or the Italian mathematician Girolamo Cardano and read Forster's essay on either one. What comparisons can be made between these Renaissance figures and Forster?
The Greek Spirit or the Comic Muse are composed of profound human musings. Taking George's book shelf as a guide (Byron, Butler, Gibbon, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche) as well as the novel itself, define Mr. Emerson's understanding of the Greek Spirit.
In the novel, the potential liberating effects of art must be guarded against. This is done by aesthetic education, not censorship. How has the battle over the impact of media on youth changed? What can be learned from Forster on this issue?
Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" was celebrated in the novel as a moment of body appreciation— not an example of exploitation. Feminists in Forster's day, and still today, disagree. Research the arguments on both sides using Forster's novel and Lynda Nead's The Female Nude. Which do you find most persuasive?
Read Forster's own travel books or early National Geographics to ascertain the conditions a traveler faced in Forster's time. What does Forster believe to be the value of travel? Compare this to the goal of package tours and...
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In 1950, Stephen Tait and Kenneth Allcott adapted A Room with a View to the stage. The play was produced in Cambridge and published by Edward Arnold in 1951.
Cinecom released a film adaptation of A Room with a View produced by Merchant-Ivory Productions in 1986. Using an adaptation by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, James Ivory directed the film. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, the film won three: for screenplay, costume design, and set design. The cast included the notable Daniel DayLewis (Cecil), Helena Bonham Carter (Lucy), and Julian Sands (George).
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What Do I Read Next?
The first novel of Forster's Italian series, Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), sequentially follows from A Room with a View. The novel anticipates the themes Forster would explore in his later works through a story about two journeys to Italy. On the first, an English widow, Lilia Herriton, goes to Italy, falls in love with an Italian, and dies in childbirth. Fearing the idea that this child should grow up Italian causes another journey to Italy to be made by English people. The goal of this journey is to recover the baby.
Set in Cambridge, Forster's The Longest Journey sits in the middle of the Italian series. In this novel, the comfortable university world is forever disjointed for young Rick Elliot when he falls in love with Agnes Pembroke. The novel captures the essence of university life in turnofthecentury Britain as well as the experience of tea with a dowager.
With some autobiographical touches, Forster memorialized the house of his youth, Rooksnest, in his fourth novel, published in 1910, Howards End. Here, the children of the Wilcoxes try to ignore the note by their mother, Ruth, which bequeathed the house to Margaret Schlegal. Margaret marries Ruth's surviving husband, Henry, and gains the house regardless. After a series of traumas, Margaret and an ailing Henry return to the house.
The 1924 work Passage to India was the last novel Forster published and it has been widely acclaimed as...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Allen, Walter, The Modern Novel, Dutton, 1964, pp. 36-7.
Crewes, Frederick C., "Comic Spirit," in his E. M. Forster: The Perils of Humanism, Princeton University Press, 1962. Emerson, Ralph Waldo, "The Young American," in Complete Works, Vol. 1, Houghton Mifflin, 1903, p. 364.
Epstein, Joseph, Review, in New York Times Book Review, October 10, 1971, pp. 1-2, 28-9.
Frye, Northrop, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays, Princeton University Press, 1957.
Land, Stephen K., Challenge and Conventionality in the Fiction of E. M. Forster, AMS Studies in Modern Literature, No. 19, AMS Press, 1990.
Lucas, John, "Wagner and Forster: Parsifal and A Room with a View," in ELH, Vol. 33, Issue 1, March 1966, pp. 92-117.
Masterman, C. F. G., "The Half-Hidden Life," in The Nation, November 28, 1908, pp. 352, 354.
McDowell, Frederick P. W., E. M. Forster, Twayne Publishers, 1982.
Meredith, George, "On Comedy and the Uses of the Comic Spirit," in Comedy: An Essay on Comedy, edited by Wylie Sypher, Peter Smith Publishers, 1983.
Meyers, Jeffrey, "The Paintings in Forster's Italian Novels," in London Magazine, February/March 1974, pp. 46-62.
Review in the Morning Leader, October 30, 1908.
Summers, Claude J., E. M. Forster, Frederick Ungar...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Dowling, David. Bloomsbury Aesthetics and the Novels of Forster and Woolf. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. Demonstrates the iconographic significance of the paintings mentioned in the novel. Analyzes the change that Lucy Honeychurch undergoes through her meetings with the Emersons. Points out Cecil Vyse’s attempts to place her on a pedestal.
Furbank, P. N. E. M. Forster: A Life. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978. Definitive biography: detailed, well-written, and copiously illustrated. Demonstrates how a trip Forster made to Florence in late 1901 inspired him to attempt a novel about English tourists in Italy. Recounts his subsequent struggles in writing A Room with a View and summarizes the novel’s critical reception.
Kelvin, Norman. E. M. Forster. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967. Praises the social comedy in A Room with a View but sees Mr. Emerson, a humanist like Forster himself, as the novel’s central character. Shows how Mr. Emerson controls the plot and other characters.
Land, Stephen K. Challenge and Conventionality in the Fiction of E. M. Forster. New York: AMS Press, 1990. Explains how A Room with a View fits into a pattern established by Forster’s other novels by positioning Lucy as the heroine, Charlotte and Cecil as...
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