It’s a bold thing for a gay man to write a book criticizing British class hierarchy and sexual norms, and bolder still to write a female protagonist into such a novel. A Room with a View is a classic look at the utter sexual repression of British society. Like many stories of the genre, the entire book could be done away with with a single minute of honest conversation. But honesty is a radical and subversive idea in a culture clinging desperately to the last threads of its class structure.
The novel tracks Lucy Honeychurch, a beautiful yet naïve young woman traveling through Italy. She and her travel group complain about their hotel having an insufficient view. A father and son, both of a lower social class, offer to exchange rooms. This gesture is of course unthinkably crass by the standards of the time, and a great deal of energy is spent to protect young Lucy from this transgression. Of course, the younger of the men, George Beebe, is attracted to Lucy and she to him. This, of course, will not do. Young women aren’t supposed to be able to love just anyone, naturally.
The story’s romance is actually unoriginal and boring. It’s a heterosexual love triangle, genuinely what could be more boring? But the story unfolds through Lucy gradually discovering her own agency. This is something different. Wealthy, Edwardian women were supposed to lounge about and marry, not have agency and opinions. Lucy eventually disengages her class-appropriate fiance and chooses a life in Italy with George. It ends happily ever after.
It’s not that A Room with a View is a bad book. It’s just that it’s a boring one. The repressed (hetero)sexuality of English society has been done so many times. Forbidden love outside your class has been done so many times. The characters are trapped by a prison of their own making. They’re all insufferable, incapable of communicating, and one-dimensional. The best part of the book is that it’s very short and beautifully written. I do wonder what Forester would think about today’s society and how we’ve overcome (much) of that repressive etiquette, but I don’t wonder enough to want to go deeper in this book report
To read more about my Modern Library project, read this post.
A Room with a View
E. M. Forester