“Let yourself go. Pull out from the depths those thoughts that you do not understand, and spread them out in the sunlight and know the meaning of them.”
I wasn't planning on reading A Room with a View this month, but a misunderstanding ended up putting me in its path. I was attempting to complete the Popsugar Challenge category of reading "a book set in a hotel." I initially planned on using Muriel Barbary's The Elegance of the Hedgehog for it. I thought that book was set in a hotel because the description on the back of it started with, "We are in an elegant hôtel particulier in the center of Paris..." It only took me a few pages of reading to realize that in French, the language this novel was originally written in, the term "hôtel particulier" means fancy apartments. It's not set in a hotel at all. D'oh.
So obviously, that book didn't fit the challenge category I was going for. After some research, I discovered that E.M. Forster's A Room with a View is set in a hotel in Italy. Since I already owned the novel, and it happened to be on my Classics Club list, I read that one instead. As it turns out, this was a very happy accident. A Room with a View is fantastic, and has become a new favorite for me.
The novel is set in the early 1900s and follows Lucy Honeychurch, a young English woman who is traveling in Italy with her cousin and chaperone, Miss Bartlett. Lucy arrives eager to see the sights and have some adventures, but is quickly frustrated by the overbearing behavior of her chaperone and the strict set of societal rules she is expected to follow. She feels a longing to be truthful and authentic in her relationships and finds observing the usual niceties to be tiresome. Nevertheless, she remains cheerful and endeavors to have a nice trip, despite Miss Bartlett's strict management and the judgemental eyes of her fellow hotel guests.
On their first night in Florence, they run into Mr. Emerson and his son George, two fellow travelers. The behavior of this father and son pair is quite unorthodox. They seem incapable of fitting in with the upper crust of society and continually behave in an awkward and embarrassing manner. They are always saying the wrong things and inserting themselves where they don't belong. Despite their social ineptitude, however, both Mr. Emerson and George are obviously kind, intelligent, and well-meaning people. They display the authenticity in their thoughts and actions that Lucy wishes for herself. She finds herself becoming rather fond of them, even though they scandalize most of the other guests.
Eventually, Lucy finds herself developing romantic feelings for George. After a brief and unexpected moment of passion with him, she flees Florence with Miss Bartlett and they head to the next stop on their European tour. Lucy is confused and frightened by her feelings, and George is wholly unsuitable as a potential husband, so she tries to ignore her heart and move on with her life. When she returns to her family home in England, she gets engaged to a conventional man she has known for years named Cecil Vyse and begins to plan for her wedding.
Fate brings her and George together again when he and his father decide to purchase a cottage very near to her home. George soon resumes his attentions towards Lucy and she finds her old feelings for him bubbling to the surface again. Caught between her head and her heart, she has to decide whether to stick with Cecil, the safe and appropriate choice, or throw caution to the wind and take a chance with George.
I really liked this novel, and what struck me the most about it was the characterization of Lucy. She is quite a forward-thinking woman for her time. She is frustrated by the restrictions of society and by the stereotypical role women are expected to inhabit within it. She doesn't exactly know what she wants or who she is, but she is brave enough to try and figure it out. I love reading classic novels, but I often find the female characters to be a bit flat within them. A Room with a View did not have this problem. Lucy was a great mix of plucky, kind, and creative, and I enjoyed following her journey.
I also enjoyed the minor characters in the novel. Miss Bartlett was delightfully unbearable, Mr. Emerson was completely charming, and Cecil was a very convincing prig. In fact, the only character I thought was a bit flat was George himself, who was a moody and boring at times. I enjoyed everyone else in the novel enough to make up for this though, so that's a very minor criticism.
A Room with a View is considered to be Forster's most optimistic and accessible novel. While it was undoubtedly a lighthearted story, it wasn't all smiles and sunshine. Lucy's choices have consequences. People are hurt throughout the novel and not everything is completely resolved at the end. It maintains a good balance between being cheerful and being realistic. Forster's writing is consistently clever, alternating between humor and poignant observations with ease. His style is very readable and addictive. I finished the book in just a few days, and I'm interested in seeking out his other works in the future.
So even though I didn't plan on picking this book up anytime soon, I'm certainly glad that circumstances led me to it. I suppose this is just one more point in favor of participating in reading challenges - you end up finding lots of little treasures, sometimes hiding in plain sight on your bookshelf. A Room with a View is one such novel. I won't be forgetting this charming coming-of-age story for a long time to come.
Classics Club (#95 on my list) 14/100
Popsugar Challenge: (a book set in a hotel) 39/40
TBR Challenge (previously owned): 36/60
Total Books Read in 2017: 46