A Room with a View | Study Guide

E.M. Forster

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A Room with a View | Part 1, Chapter 1 : The Bertolini | Summary

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Summary

Part 1, Chapter 1 introduces Lucy Honeychurch, a young, well-to-do Englishwoman traveling in Florence, Italy, with her older cousin and chaperone, Charlotte Bartlett. Much to their dismay, their hotel, the Pension Bertolini, is not what they were hoping for. The owner, Signora Bertolini, is English—a discovery which particularly disappoints Lucy—and the food is dreadful. Worst of all, Lucy and Charlotte have been given rooms with no view when they were promised beautiful panoramas of the Arno River. The ladies argue rather peevishly at dinner over who should get the first available room with a view, when they are interrupted by a stranger at the table. "I have a view," says Mr. Emerson, a working-class Englishman traveling with his quiet, moody son George. Mr. Emerson offers to change rooms with Lucy and Charlotte. Charlotte, horrified, refuses the offer politely but coldly.

The ladies are speaking of finding new accommodations when Mr. Beebe enters the dining room. Lucy is delighted—she remembers Mr. Beebe from England, where she heard him preach a sermon, and has heard from her mother that he is to be the new clergyman for their parish. The ladies also begin to talk with a clever lady at the table, Miss Eleanor Lavish. The ladies decide to stay. The conversation takes off grandly, but Lucy notices that Mr. Emerson and his son are ignored by the group. Later that night, Mr. Beebe arranges for the ladies to change rooms with the Emersons after all. Charlotte is flustered but accepts, because Lucy wants the rooms.

Analysis

Social class is established immediately as an important theme in the novel. The opening paragraphs paint a picture of the social insulation that ruled the day. All of the guests at the Pension Bertolini are English and have enough money to travel, a luxury not usually enjoyed by the lower classes. They stick to their own kind, separating themselves from outsiders, even when abroad. The general prejudice against lower-class people is spelled out when Mr. Emerson, whose background is working class, is described as "one of the ill-bred people whom was does meet abroad." Charlotte Bartlett "knew that the intruder was ill-bred, even before she glanced at him." She has her mind made up about him from the start. She doesn't want to socialize with him or even stay in the same pension with him.

Mr. Emerson's offer to change rooms goes against society's unspoken rules of behavior. "The better class of tourist was shocked" at his offer. Mr. Emerson does not understand that Charlotte does not want to be obligated to an unknown man, especially one of the lower class. Only after Mr. Beebe intervenes do the ladies accept the offer to change rooms. Even then, Charlotte is dreadfully uncomfortable with the idea.

Women's roles come into play, too. Unmarried women like Charlotte were often pitied, and were expected to be models of decorum so as not to embarrass their families. She forces her own propriety onto Lucy Honeychurch by tightly controlling her environment. After all, as Miss Alan says, "one could not be too careful with a young girl." The character of Miss Eleanor Lavish presents a different model of woman: clever, outspoken, and highly independent, she does what she wishes. Charlotte is taken in by her witty banter, even though Miss Lavish represents just the kind of independent woman that Charlotte does not want Lucy to become.

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