Girl meets boy. Girl denies feelings for said boy. Girl meets other boy. Girl forces feelings for other boy for the sake of propriety. First boy is up in arms about it all, because romance is not dead. This is the narrative of E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel, A Room with a View*. “Girl” is Lucy Honeychurch (no joke)—a young woman struggling to control her own destiny in early 20th century England. Talk about finding love in a hopeless place.
Lucy’s ambiguous, slow-forming desire for “more” is a marvel given her insufferable peers/family members. Her cousin once informed her, “It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves. Indirectly, by means of tact and a spotless name, a lady could accomplish much” (Forster, 31). I can imagine a woman telling her significant other, “It’s not you—it’s me and my failure to inspire you to get off your ass.”
We’ve heard these kinds of stories before. Edna Pontellier in The Awakening also shows us a woman whose societal expectations restrain her ability to seek passion and joy. She too finds repose in music and nature—because these are the few realms where she can run relatively wild without compromising her honor (this predates Girls Gone Wild). Lucy finds a much happier ending than Edna, which morbidly may be why I prefer Edna’s tale. We see Lucy start to think critically about her situation—the feminist wheels are turning—but she ultimately settles for a life that is the lesser of two inequality evils. Edna blows the whole scam wide open. If you’re looking for a milder take on the subject, definitely opt for A Room with a View. I think it’s worth noting that E.M. Forster was male; he might trend towards optimism in comparison with Kate Chopin’s literal experiences with the harsh reality of oppressed womanhood. Of course, I do appreciate the male perspective on the issue, which is why Tom Robbins is one of my favorites.
Forster’s story might have left me wanting, but his words definitely weren’t of the weak variety. Sometimes, I’m in the mood to read some old school English. The pace is soothing, the witty phrases belong to a kind of intellectual rareness that no longer exists in contemporary literature, and the characters react to drama in ways that are refreshingly relatable. I also enjoy unintentionally funny phrases like “we will incommode you no longer” (Forster, 19). His dialogue was especially striking—there were times when he reminded me of Salinger, with his unremitting yet interesting back and forth banter.
I’m a sucker for a plot where the protagonist breaks out of his/her bubble and undergoes a kind of mind-expanding event. Throw in hot literary devices (some subtle symbolism, a dash of conflict), and I’m sold. But as a coming-of-age novel, it is slightly insufficient. Lucy was on the precipice of some serious self-actualization, and I wish we could have seen more of her dive. Thus, A Room with a View receives 4 out of 5 camel humps.
*Forster, E.M. A Room with a View. New York: Dover Publications, 1908. Print.