Study Guide

A Room with a View

by E. M. Forster

A Room with a View Themes

Themes

The Body
Forster investigates ideas about gender by showing how the body exists as a site of societal contest. A body that has been claimed by society as, for example, female due to its reproductive abilities will have definite strictures placed upon it. Likewise, a male body has certain freedoms which he can sacrifice in order to show himself more civilized. Beebe, as usual, unconscious of having put his finger on it, nicely cuts to the point himself with a rich summary. "Can you picture a lady who has been introduced to another lady by a third lady opening civilities with 'How do you do? Come and have a bathe'? And yet you will tell me that the sexes are equal." Men have certain privileges denied to women and the continuation of this paradox depends on Lucy becoming a woman like Charlotte.

Women like Charlotte exhibit absurd prudishness about male flesh while using the body to censure young women. They hold up the "medieval lady," who loathed all physical elements, especially her own flesh, as the ideal. Charlotte displays this stance early through her shock over George's admittance that his father bathes. She also betrays her ideas when she refers to naked Venus as "a pity." Charlotte desires a world of chivalry where men donned armor to amuse welldressed ladies. The distance between men and women is, thus, well maintained. Charlotte uses her body against Lucy constantly. For example, she wins their fight at Fiesole by sitting on the wet ground and tries to physically reclaim her from George beneath the carriage rug. Lucy learns that Charlotte's view, like that of Mrs. Honeychurch, depends on viewing the male body as something extraordinary. However, she realizes that men, like women, are just human. After realizing this, she accepts Mr. Emerson's idea of "direct desire" with which she robs "the body of its taint." This frees her from the "medieval lady" for she accepts that "love is of the body."

George comes alive when nude. The pond where he bathes with Freddy and Beebe acts like "a spell" from a "chalice" that resuscitates his spirit. He abhors civilization's distaste for the body and longs to live a balanced life. However, in keeping with his father's teaching, George knows that women must also enjoy the body. Only then can men and women be "comrades" and enter Eden together. Cecil, however, embodies the perfect male Vyse. He gives up the ability to play lawn tennis and reads from a book in order to show he is more civilized.

Travel
Travel enables the English person of an open mind to taste life and, thereby, begin to live. As Miss Lavish says, to Italy "one comes for life." All too often, the largest obstacle in this process is also the first one confronted by the traveler. The English hotel simply recreates England and allows the English tourist to stay English. His vacation, then, consists of collecting evidence of having been there: "The narrowness and superficiality of the Anglo-Saxon tourist is nothing less than a menace." Lucy comments to Charlotte that there is no difference between a Bloomsbury boarding house in London and the Pension. The same social rules, people, clothes, and paintings surround them. Only in...

(The entire section is 1305 words.)