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A Room with a View | Themes


Social Class

E.M. Forster's depiction of the social classes and how they interact in A Room with a View reflects the changing norms of society at the time. Outdated Victorian notions of social propriety were giving way to the more liberal philosophy of the Edwardian Era, which embraced personal freedom and thinking for oneself rather than following the crowd. The characters of the novel represent different sides of this transition. Cecil, Charlotte, the Miss Alans, Mr. Eager, and Mrs. Honeychurch cling to the old ways, wishing to keep the classes separate. Mr. Emerson and George represent a more modern line of thinking; they value people for their character rather than their social status or connections.

Lucy Honeychurch is caught in the middle of this shifting social landscape. She has been raised to follow Victorian ideals, yet her soul longs for personal freedom, self-expression, and genuine love. If she marries Cecil Vyse, her social status will increase due to his wealth and personal connections. If she marries George Emerson, she can live a life filled with passion and love. The people she trusts most push her toward Cecil and away from George, yet her gut instincts steer her toward her heart's desire.

Forster uses satire and detailed descriptions to paint a picture of the different classes. In the character of Miss Lavish, the author satirizes the snobbish Anglo tourist abroad. "How the driver stares at us, dear, simple soul," Miss Lavish says in Part 1, Chapter 2. She also proclaims, "I would like to set an examination paper at Dover, and turn back every tourist who couldn't pass it." It is clear that Miss Lavish looks down on the lower classes, even though she thinks she is being generous and open-minded toward them. Lucy, on the other hand, has a different experience with the common people of Italy. In Part 1, Chapter 6, as the carriage driver leads Lucy through the fields, she notices that "in the company of this common man, the world was beautiful and direct." She allows herself to see the world through different eyes, and realizes life can be simple and beautiful when she throws off the expectations of class and rank. In comparing Miss Lavish to Lucy, readers can better understand the attitudes of the social classes.

Women's Roles

Along with shifting social classes, the roles of women in society were changing rapidly at the time Forster wrote A Room with a View. The old views saw women as weak and less intelligent than men; delicate creatures that needed to be protected from life's harshness. Cecil Vyse is a clear model of this type of thought. He views Lucy Honeychurch as some perfect work of art, not as an individual with human flaws and desires. When Lucy says she "hates" Mr. Beebe in Part 2, Chapter 9, Cecil finds her outburst distasteful. Forster writes, "He longed to hint to her that not here lay her vocation; that a woman's power and charm reside in mystery, not in muscular rant." Later on during the incident at the pond in Part 2, Chapter 12, a horrified Cecil immediately herds Lucy and Mrs. Honeychurch away from the naked bathers. Cecil "always felt that he must lead women, though he knew not whither, and protect them, though he knew not against what."

Mrs. Honeychurch, too, embraces antiquated women's roles. She disdains Miss Lavish for her independence and bohemian lifestyle in Part 2, Chapter 13. It is her opinion that women should be "minding their houses and their children" rather than writing literature, a pursuit best left to men.

It is up to Lucy to break the social mold and define her own role as a woman. The Emersons give her a model to follow and encourage her to do just that. Mr. Emerson gently scolds Lucy when she turn downs his offer to guide her through Santa Croce in Part 1, Chapter 2. "I think you are repeating what you have heard older people say," he says. "You are pretending to be touchy, but you are not really. Stop being so tiresome, and tell me instead what part of the church you want to see." George, in turn, skewers Cecil in Part 2, Chapter 16. He says, "Every moment of his life he's forming you, telling you what's charming or amusing or ladylike, telling you what a man thinks womanly, and you, you of all women, listen to his voice instead of your own." George shows that he is a different, better type of man: "I want you to have your own thoughts even when I hold you in my arms." George can offer Lucy both love and intellectual freedom, neither of which will be hers if she sticks with traditional women's roles and marries Cecil.

Truth versus Pretense

Finding and telling the truth is an important theme in A Room with a View in a society where conforming to social norms is traditional and expected. Mr. Beebe plainly states the case in Part 1, Chapter 1, when he says, "it is so difficult—at least, I find it difficult—to understand people who speak the truth." Here, he refers to Mr. Emerson's tactless offer to change rooms with Lucy Honeychurch and Charlotte Bartlett. Although Mr. Emerson speaks truthfully from the heart and means well, his actions are perceived as inappropriate. The truth does not matter compared to socially acceptable behavior, which is in great part, pretense.

Lucy waffles between wanting to know and tell the truth and wanting to hide from it. In Part 1, Chapter 7, when she speaks to Charlotte of George kissing her, she says, "I want to be truthful. I am a little to blame." In the first flush of emotion, Lucy admits to her role in the incident because she wants to understand her feelings. Charlotte, though, doesn't consider her feelings; she is more concerned with what everyone else will think. Charlotte pulls Lucy out of her romantic daze and back to the world of proper manners and pretense. Lucy realizes that her true feelings have no place in her social circle, and she decides that "she no longer wished to be absolutely truthful." She will continue the pretense of denying her feelings for George.

The lies pile up as the story continues. Lucy pretends that the Emersons are nothing to her family and Cecil. Cecil deceives Sir Harry Otway by pretending that the Emersons are friends of his. Lucy derides Mr. Cuthbert Eager for his insincerity in Part 2, Chapter 9, but she cannot see her own hypocrisy; she, too, is frequently insincere. Characters who do tell the truth in the story, such as the Emersons and Freddy Honeychurch, are censured for doing so. When Freddy admits that he doesn't like Cecil in Part 2, Chapter 8, his mother calls him a "ridiculous child" and says, "You think you're so holy and truthful, but really it's only abominable conceit." Those who tell the truth are punished, while those who hide the truth are admired.

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