A Room with a View | Study Guide

E.M. Forster

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A Room with a View | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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E.M. Forster's 1908 novel A Room with a View is both a romance and a critique of straitlaced Edwardian society. It was his third published novel, though he began working on it before the first two were written. It focuses on Lucy Honeychurch, a cautious, middle-class Englishwoman who visits Florence, Italy, with her cousin—and the ways in which the trip and its aftermath change her.

The novel has been admired and loved by readers for more than a century. Its combination of social criticism and comedy, its themes of the contradictions of being human and the possibility of finding love and faith, still resonate today.

1. It took Forster more than five years to complete A Room with a View.

After a 10-month tourist trip to Italy in 1901 with his mother, Forster was inspired to begin writing A Room with a View. He started work on it in 1902 but put it aside in 1904 to write two other novels: Where Angels Fear to Tread and The Longest Journey. Finally in 1907 he turned his focus back, and in another year, he finished A Room with a View.

2. The repressed desire of the main character, Lucy, echoes Forster's own repressed homosexuality.

In college Forster was strongly attracted to a classmate, Hugh Owen Meredith. Homosexuality was illegal at the time, and author Oscar Wilde had been imprisoned for it in 1895. Fearful, Forster repressed his feelings, perhaps channeling them into his work. Critics claim the character of George Emerson in A Room with a View is based on Meredith, and the forbidden love that Lucy feels for George reflects Forster's own feelings for Meredith, to whom he dedicated the novel.

3. Forster was heavily influenced by Jane Austen.

Forster was the first to admit the influence of Jane Austen on his work and himself. In a review of a new edition of her novels, he wrote, "I am a Jane Austenite, and, therefore, slightly imbecile about Jane Austen." He went on to say, "One's favorite author! One reads and rereads, the mouth open and the mind closed."

Critics note that like Austen, Forster uses a third-person omniscient narrator and writes of domestic comedy, particularly in A Room with a View. And though Austen's characters were generally rural gentry and Forster's were often urban, cultured people, both authors tended to focus on social mores and those slightly outside the center of society.

4. Forster modeled several characters in A Room with a View on his relatives.

In an interview, Forster was asked if he modeled his characters on people in his life. He responded, "We all like to pretend we don't use real people, but one does actually. I used some of my family." The character of Miss Charlotte Bartlett was his aunt Emily, and Mrs. Honeychurch was based on his grandmother. The character of Cecil Vyse has some of the author himself in him. He modestly explained:

In no book have I got down more than the people I like, the person I think I am, and the people who irritate me. This puts me among the large body of authors who are not really novelists and have to get on as best they can with these three categories.

5. Forster later revealed what happened to the characters in A Room with a View.

In 1958, 50 years after A Room with a View was published, Forster wrote an afterword for the book. In the gloomy epilogue, he continues the story of Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson. He takes them through World War I, which ruins their relationship. George becomes a conscientious objector, and Lucy never reunites with her family. Her brother sells the family home. World War II breaks out, and George and Lucy's home is bombed. At the end of the epilogue, they are homeless and haven't been heard from for a dozen years.

6. There is a perfume inspired by Chapter 6 of A Room with a View.

A company called I Hate Perfume created a scent called A Room with a View, which was inspired by a passage from Chapter 6 of the novel. In the passage, George Emerson sees Lucy Honeychurch standing at the top of a hillside covered with violets: "Violets ran down in rivulets and streams and cataracts, irrigating the hillside with blue, eddying round the tree stems, collecting into pools in the hollows, covering the grass with spots of azure foam."

The company describes the perfume as capturing "scent of the hills above Florence—the vineyards, the wild grass, the finocchio, the hot dusty Florentine earth. And of course a torrent of Violets."

7. Forster stopped writing novels at age 45 because he felt the "world changed."

Forster wrote five novels before age 45, but after that, he wrote only essays, biography, and articles. He explained his reason for turning away from fiction:

The social aspect of the world changed so very much. I'd been accustomed to write about the old vanished world with its homes and its family life and its comparative peace. All of that went. And though I can think about it I cannot put it into fiction form.

8. Forster was the first writer to differentiate between "flat" and "round" characters.

In 1927 Forster compiled a group of essays on the elements of novel writing into a volume titled Aspects of the Novel. In discussing character in novels, he developed the theory of "flat" and "round" characters, which is still in use today. For Forster, flat characters are uncomplicated and have "a single idea or quality," while round characters are more complex and are "capable of surprising in a convincing way."

9. A hit song from the 1920s got its title from A Room with a View.

In 1927 the renowned songwriter Noël Coward suffered a nervous breakdown after a play of his flopped in New York. While recovering in Hawaii, he was inspired to write the song "A Room with a View," a love song that became a standard and includes the lines, "We'll watch the whole world pass before us while we are sitting still,/Leaning on our own window sill." Paul McCartney covered the song for a Noël Coward tribute album in 1998.

10. The film adaptation of A Room with a View won three Academy Awards.

A Room with a View (1985) was nominated for eight Oscars and won three: Best Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium), Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design. In her first film role, actress Helena Bonham Carter played Lucy Honeychurch. Carter went on to act in several other adaptations of Forster novels.

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