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A Room with a View | Context


Victorian Era

E.M. Forster was born during the Victorian Era, which spanned the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 until 1901. This era was characterized by strict morality and expectations of impeccable behavior, especially for women who were expected to be pure, virtuous, and obedient, and were viewed as weak, irrational, and less intelligent than men. A man's role was to protect and provide for his female relatives, keeping them safe from worldly harm and guarding their reputations. Class divisions were sharply drawn during this period, marked by clear differences in dress, manner, education, and occupation. Except for servant–employer relationships, members of different classes did not often mix.

Edwardian Era

As Forster came of age and began writing, the Victorian Era gave way to the Edwardian Era, which lasted during the reign of King Edward VII from 1901 to 1910. Forster worked on the novel A Room with a View from 1902 until its publication in 1908. Due to increased industrialization, England was enjoying a time of prosperity. The population was growing quickly, and the middle class was expanding. With greater prosperity came increased social mobility as people gained the means to buy their way into higher social circles and neighborhoods. Forster illustrates this phenomenon twice in A Room with a View: the Honeychurches benefit socially when upper-class families from London begin moving in around them, and Mr. Emerson is prosperous enough to travel and rent a house in the country despite his working-class background.

As the middle class of workers grew and boundaries between the classes blurred, ideas such as equal rights gained prominence, too. Equality between the sexes was a major issue of the day. More women than ever were literate, and more were entering the workforce, though at lower wages than men. Women were calling for greater independence, including the right to vote. Further abroad, British territories from Australia and New Zealand to South Africa were declaring independence. New liberal voices were entering the political arena as well. Socialism was on the rise, and workers were banding together to form labor unions. Changes like these felt threatening to those who held on to outdated Victorian attitudes.

Along with changing roles for women, new ideas about sex and emotions were gaining ground. Under the prudish Victorian Era, sexual feelings were expected to be repressed, particularly by girls. "Good girls" waited until they were married to have sex, and expressing strong emotions (especially publicly) was considered in poor taste for anyone. In the Edwardian Era, women became more forward about sex. Abstinence until marriage was still the norm, but attitudes toward sex were relaxing, at least somewhat.

The sexual attitudes of the day affected E.M. Forster personally, and were reflected in his work. At the time, homosexuality was illegal in England, so Forster was forced to keep his romantic relationships with men a secret. Repression of sexual desire is clearly shown in A Room with a View through Lucy Honeychurch's struggle against her passion for George Emerson. Forster's novel Maurice was initially written in the 1910s but remained unpublished until after his death because it portrayed a romantic relationship between two men. Forster did not feel it was worth the social risks to publish the book during a time when he could be imprisoned or socially ostracized for such a work.

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