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A Room with a View | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In A Room with a View, how does Cecil Vyse's observation about fences in Part 2, Chapter 9 apply to various characters in the novel?

In Part 2, Chapter 9, Cecil Vyse speaks of the social barriers between people with his metaphor of fences. He questions, "It makes a difference doesn't it, whether we fully fence ourselves in, or whether we are fenced out by the barriers of others?" The novel is full of characters who fence themselves in and fence others out. E.M. Forster introduces this concept immediately through the insular community of guests at the Pension Bertolini. This narrow-minded set of genteel travelers exclude the Emersons socially because they are from a working-class background—the Emersons are thus "fenced out." Charlotte Bartlett, Cecil, Mrs. Vyse, and Sir Harry Otway also erect social barriers around themselves, preferring to mix with only the upper class. Even Lucy Honeychurch fences out George Emerson for as long as she can, though in the end she overcomes her own internal barrier against him. Not mentioned in Cecil's musings are another class of people: those who break down social barriers. The Emersons belong to this group, as does Mr. Beebe. The Emersons cultivate an open-mindedness toward social class; they are not impressed with a person's status but rather the person's character. Mr. Beebe sees the good in almost everyone, and tries to build connections between people, no matter who they are.

How is Lucy Honeychurch similar to and different from Charlotte Bartlett in A Room with a View?

Charlotte Bartlett and Lucy Honeychurch are both single ladies from the upper class. They follow the traditional social rules of society, and are concerned with appearances and reputation. Both women avoid saying what they really think; Charlotte can be passive-aggressive, while Lucy is secretive. Throughout the novel, Lucy picks up some of Charlotte's mannerisms, causing Mrs. Honeychurch to exclaim in Part 2, Chapter 19, "How you do remind me of Charlotte Bartlett!" She further explains that the women exhibit "the same eternal worrying, the same taking back of words." Lucy is appalled at the thought, and rightly so, for their differences are more important than their similarities. Lucy is young and impressionable; she is open to new ideas and wants to explore life. Charlotte is a prim relic from a bygone era; her character is fixed and she has no desire to change. Lucy may have some conservative tendencies like Charlotte, but she does try to overcome them. She ventures out alone in Florence, though she knows she really should not. She also proposes to deal with George Emerson herself, while Charlotte would prefer a man to intercede in the situation. There are hints that Charlotte has been thwarted in love, too, whereas Lucy triumphs.

How does Mr. Beebe both uphold and defy the expected behavior of a rector in A Room with a View, and how is this significant?

Mr. Beebe is genuinely nice, kind, and helpful, traits one would expect from a rector. He does not care about social class; Lucy Honeychurch remarks in Part 1, Chapter 1 that "he seems to see the good in everyone." However, Mr. Beebe is also a gossip. He calls at Windy Corner for "tea and gossip" in Part 2, Chapter 8, and again in Part 2, Chapter 18, with "a piece of gossip" about the Miss Alans. He even blurts out the speculation that Mr. Emerson had "murdered his wife" in Part 2, Chapter 10. This tendency is not an admirable one in a rector. Moreover, most rectors of the day probably would not go skinny-dipping, as fun-loving Mr. Beebe does in Part 2, Chapter 12. Lucy observes that Mr. Beebe "laughs just like an ordinary man," and says that "no one would take him for a clergyman." This is likely the point that E.M. Forster is making through the character of Mr. Beebe. He is more than the stereotyped label of "rector." He is a living, breathing individual with flaws and foibles of his own. One of the messages of the novel is examining the truth of who a person actually is, rather than taking their character at face value.

How does the incident with the driver in Part 1, Chapter 6 of A Room with a View help to illuminate the characters?

When Mr. Cuthbert Eager demands that the driver leave behind his girlfriend, it is a polarizing event. Some of the party are strongly for the action, and others strongly against it. How each one reacts gives some clue as to their beliefs in love, proper behavior, and social class. Mr. Eager haughtily calls the driver a liar, and revels in triumph when the girl is left behind. He cannot abide by the impropriety, and shows no compassion for the young lovers. Mr. Emerson opposes the action vehemently, interjecting, "Do we find happiness so often that we should turn it off the box when it happens to sit there?" Mr. Emerson is for love above all else. Miss Eleanor Lavish enjoys the drama of the situation, and supports the lovers. However, when Mr. Eager suggests that the driver is treating them like typical tourists, she changes her mind. Mr. Beebe opts for leniency, saying that "after this warning the couple would be sure to behave themselves properly." Miss Charlotte Bartlett, always concerned with propriety, offers no opinion but points out that a crowd is gathering. Lucy Honeychurch cannot rise to the defense of the young lady, and stays silent throughout the incident.

How does E.M. Forster use eras of European history to shed light on characters in A Room with a View?

Two historical periods help to illuminate characters in the novel: the Middle Ages (Medieval period) and the Renaissance. Cecil Vyse most prominently represents the Middle Ages, as seen in the title of Part 2, Chapter 8: "Medieval." His appearance is "like a Gothic statue" or "those fastidious saints who guard the portals of a French cathedral." His personality is Medieval, too. He is uptight and prudish, and holds outdated views of women. He sees Lucy Honeychurch almost as property: a work of art to be owned and displayed. George Emerson and Lucy are both associated with the Renaissance by E.M. Forster. George is likened to the work of Michelangelo (Part 1, Chapter 2), while Lucy is compared to a Leonardo painting (Part 2, Chapter 8). The Renaissance promoted individuality and humanism, a philosophy that embraces the value and potential in every person. George and Lucy embody these values, too. Moreover, the Renaissance began in Florence, the city where George and Lucy meet. Part 2, Chapter 20, "The End of the Middle Ages," happens after Lucy leaves Cecil for George. Much as the Renaissance emerged from the Middle Ages in history, Lucy emerges from Cecil's constrictive influence to bloom as an individual by George's side.

How does Lucy Honeychurch change over the course of A Room with a View?

Initially, Lucy Honeychurch is an obedient, rather meek young lady who does as she is told and follows the conventions of society. The only hint of her passionate nature is her piano playing, which expresses her mood throughout the book. Italy opens Lucy's eyes to the wider world, including an awakening to true love through George Emerson. She denies her feelings, though, and retreats into her safe, upper-class world in England. Her engagement to Cecil Vyse solidifies her position in this social hierarchy. Deep down, though, Lucy longs for personal freedom and self-expression as an individual. She begins to see how, with Cecil, she will never have these things. He wants a traditional wife who is charming and amenable, an accessory rather than an equal. When George reappears in her life, she begins to see his wonderful qualities, which stand out all the more in comparison with Cecil's rude snobbishness. She realizes she will never be happy with Cecil, and finally finds the courage to end their relationship. It requires a bit more soul-searching, though, before she can admit her folly to her family. This, she does, proving that she has become a person who can think and speak for herself.

What characteristics or ideals does Italy represent in A Room with a View, and how does Lucy Honeychurch experience these personally?

Italy is a place full of strong passions, where people express their emotions openly and act on those emotions. Lucy Honeychurch witnesses this in Part 1, Chapter 4 when two Italians argue and one murders the other. She also experiences it when George Emerson kisses her on the hillside in Part 1, Chapter 6. She later admits to Charlotte Bartlett that the passion was not George's alone. "I am a little to blame," she says in Part 1, Chapter 7, describing the beauty of the scene and how George appeared like a hero or god to her. Italy also represents greater freedom for Lucy. She finds herself unencumbered by chaperones rather frequently, and she is able to move about under her own guidance. She enters Santa Croce on her own in Part 1, Chapter 2, goes for a walk on her own in Part 1, Chapter 4, and roams the hillside on her own in Part 1, Chapter 6. Many of the people she meets in Italy model freedom of self-expression for Lucy, too, such as Mr. Emerson and Miss Eleanor Lavish. Even Mr. Beebe encourages Lucy to release her passions when he remarks in Part 1, Chapter 3, "If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting—both for us and for her."

In A Room with a View, what is the significance of the Sacred Lake?

The Sacred Lake first appears in Part 2, Chapter 9, when Lucy Honeychurch and Cecil Vyse take a path through the woods to Windy Corner. She admits dreamily how she once bathed there as a child until she was found out. Here, the reader sees how Lucy is bound by the conventions of society. She can no longer bathe in the lake because she is a woman, although her brother continues to bathe there. Mr. Beebe points out the absurdity of a grown woman bathing there in Part 2, Chapter 12: "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." In Part 2, Chapter 12, Freddy Honeychurch, George Emerson, and Mr. Beebe go to bathe at the Sacred Lake. They shed their inhibitions as they shed their clothes, playing like children and enjoying the simple pleasure of freedom in nature. Lucy, Cecil, and Mrs. Honeychurch discover the bathers, and an appalled Cecil leads the ladies away. The lake here represents something Lucy wants very much: personal freedom without restriction.

What is the significance of the passage about the "armour of falsehood" at the beginning of Part 2, Chapter 16 of A Room with a View?

Lucy Honeychurch has just been kissed by George Emerson in the previous chapter and is arming herself against him to defend her status quo. The narrator states, "The contest lay not between love and duty. Perhaps there never is such a contest. It lay between the real and the pretended, and Lucy's first aim was to defeat herself." She thinks through her encounters with George and recasts them in her mind as unwanted and unpleasant: "he was nothing to her; he never had been anything; he had behaved abominably; she had never encouraged him." She arms herself with these self-deceptions, the "armour of falsehood," as she prepares to confront George over the kiss. Her plan is to dismiss him and marry Cecil Vyse, despite the fact that, deep down, she knows she loves George. While the chapter is titled "Lying to George," it could just as easily have been titled "Lying to Herself."

In A Room with a View, what is the "darkness" or "Hell" that has plagued George Emerson, and how does this affect him over time?

In Part 1, Chapter 2, Mr. Emerson tells Lucy Honeychurch that his son "lives in Hell" and is unhappy. George Emerson finds little pleasure in living, and questions whether life has any meaning at all. It is only when he begins to fall for Lucy that he emerges from this depressed state. In Part 1, Chapter 4 after they witness the murder, George and Lucy share an intimate conversation that brings them closer. He is starting to see a ray of hope—light instead of dark. "I shall probably want to live," he says. In Part 2, George has come to Summer Street and is more hopeful than ever. He believes that fate has brought him and Lucy together again. His disposition is much sunnier, and he continues to hold out hope that Lucy cares for him. After their second kiss, he risks his heart for a chance at joy by telling Lucy he loves her. In Part 2, Chapter 16, he pleads with her: "I have been into the dark, and I am going back into it, unless you will try to understand." By this, he means that without the light of Lucy's love, he will inevitably retreat into a life of depression, or "Hell."

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