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VINE VOICEon 23 November 2008
This charming little novel which has recently celebrated its centennary can be easily put down as a period piece. E M Forster foresaw it already in his note which he added to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first edition. Yet a prospective reader would be most wrong to do so. There is a lesson here which still needs to be learned by many.
The title gives away some of the content - the main heroine, Lucy Honeychurch, needs to get away from the stuffy atmosphere of late Victorian England in which she was brought up - the symbol of which is for EMF the room. Her escape takes place in stages - the first of them is her trip to Italy where she finds landscapes and people most different from those she was accustomed to. It is also there that she meets the man she falls in love with, George Emerson. Yet these changes come too quickly for her. Lucy yields to the demands of her chaperone and escapes back to England, finding on the way a more appropriate suitor, Cecil Vyse.
When the three young people meet again in England, a fight for Lucy's soul begins anew. Lucy has to decide whether she prefers Cecil who will keep her under his protection in his house as a work of art for others to admire, or George with whom she will have to face the challenges of the world but be free.
What is the lesson for us today in a world where there are no chaperones or stage-coaches? We also must make similar decisions - choose freedom which always comes at a cost or safety for which we must pay with our freedom. We choose between being true to ourselves or satisfying the demands of others. Lucy's adventures may serve as a perfect food for thought for those facing seemingly dissimilar but actually very similar decisions. It is the more valuable as Forster does not show easy decisions or easy solutions. The happy ending is never free and yet still worth striving for.
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It's hard to know which to praise more, E. M. Forester's witty comedy of manners, or Joanna David's nuanced and entertaining reading of the book. Clearly, the combination of the two is that rare marriage of great writing brought to life by a talented actress. If you only listen to one audio book this year, you would do well to make it this one.
Forester writes about an England that is long gone . . . but not forgotten. The middle class has its wits and its respectability to defend itself from the vagaries of a challenging world. Naturally, the middle class prefers its own company and so-called manners are merely an excuse to keep everyone else at bay. The absurdity of this way of living is highlighted when Forester takes a young Englishwoman, Lucy Honeychurch (don't you love that name?), off for a trip to Florence in the company of her maiden cousin, Charlotte, who also serves as chaperone.
A variety of English tourists are gathered in a small Italian pensione in Florence when Lucy and Charlotte arrive. Both women had asked for and been promised rooms with a view. Upon arrival, they got just the opposite. Complaining over dinner about this, two men, a father and his son, immediately offer to exchange rooms. This offer breaks most rules of good manners at the time, and the women turn down the kind, well-intentioned offer. Thus far can manners cause one to go against one's best interests. During their time in Florence, the women find themselves confounded and redirected by the honest helpfulness of the Emerson men. But the familiarity raises dangerous challenges for Lucy, and she flees their company.
The rest of the story looks at the consequences of the flight and focuses on Lucy's attempts to find a way of life that makes sense for her . . . rather than being a slave to social convention.
Describing the story's plot doesn't do justice to the witty satires and ironic comments about the pompously respectable. It's a delicious romp, and Ms. David makes it all the more so.
If you are like me, you'll find yourself racing to the end to find out what Lucy does with herself.
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on 23 November 2005
This is a fantastic book about a girl who is torn between love and duty - between truth and hypocrisy. Set in florence and england at the turn of the century it is less a love story than a psychological study and a comedy-of-manners. Endlessly engaging and with Forsters characteristicaly beautiful prose, this is a must-read for fans of classic literature. To my thinking, this is a better book by far than all of its nineteenth and eighteenth century contemporaries (including Austen, whom i think overated)
One is given to think, as the novel closes, that the book marks the border between the old world of English manners and social rules and the new free-thinking twentieth century.
Read it! Read it now!
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on 4 May 2009
I bought the novel because I lost or lent out my existing copy. I read it years ago and wouldn't be without it; it's a classic and there is a wonderful film of it. If you are a starting reader you might find it a tad weird; chic lit it ain't; the characters live but there's no overt sex. So if you're interested in middle-class life of the early 20th century and a young woman on holiday in Florence, who witnesses a street-stabbing and a pair of young Italians madly in love, comes back home to England and falls in love out of her middle class, then you should enjoy it. Yes,do see the film, but read the book first.
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VINE VOICEon 15 December 2011
""Pull out from the depths those thoughts you do not understand, and spread them out in the sunlight and know the meaning of them."" It's not bad advice that Mr Emerson offers our heroine, the scrumptiously named Lucy Honeychurch, as they contemplate his son, George, in Florence's Santa Croce. George is melancholy because "the universe won't fit" and Lucy finds this notion absurd: "surely one ought to laugh." This is George and Lucy's second meeting, their first being in the Italian guesthouse, when she and her straight-laced older cousin Charlotte Bartlett had come down to dinner. Charlotte had been complaining about their rooms not being as promised, and the Emersons ("ill-bred tourists") offered up their rooms with views.

Lucy and George will share a number of intimate moments in Italy, including a final dazzling kiss amidst violets "irrigating the hillside with blue" which is seen by Charlotte and necessitates an immediate change of scene for Rome--so ends part one.

The second part of the novel is set in the English countryside in Surrey, at Windy Corner, Lucy's childhood home. Here she accepts the third proposal from the snooty Cecil Vyse much to the dismay of her younger brother Freddy, who opines that she can't have said ""No" properly before". And so all seems settled until a mean-spirited ruse of Cecil's brings the Emersons back into the picture and Lucy is finally forced to confront the meaning of that earlier prophetic advice.

Forster's third novel doesn't last long and sees him in gentle and humorous mood; it is an Austenesque humour of manners that allows him to poke fun at his preoccupations with class and social behaviour. It is romantic too, one might even say passionate. I do love Forster's ability to conjure up memorable moments: the scene-stealing kisses, or the abandon with which Freddy, George and the minister Mr Beebe cavort in a pool in the woods are delightful. No less palpable is the tension created when Lucy faces Mr Emerson and her own desperate lies, for all is not sweetness here, and Lucy's coming-of-age is not realised with ease. With his typical recourse into symbolism, Forster has our heroine march "with the armies of darkness" before she can reach the light.

And the light is not just a gain for Lucy but "something for the whole world", though we don't know quite where that will leave us. We know that Lucy has discovered that "social barriers [are] immoveable, ... but not particularly high.... You jump over them". We know that in making this leap she has chosen passion and feeling over duty and convention ... and yet, there can be no place for her in an England that is still shackled to Victorian values. Alive to the concerns of his day, notably the changing role of women, Forster gives Lucy "her own soul" but by doing so makes her "too great for all society". It is indicative of his limitations, of his being a man of his times, that he "cannot think" where she will live.

Not quite as daring or encompassing as Howards End or A Passage to India, A Room with a View is a stepping stone to their greatness. Realist in vein, the novel paints a portrait of Edwardian England's social concerns that might seem quaint to a 21st century reader, but are nonetheless absorbing. Forster's trademark skill for creating character and his acute social observation, served up in prose that is as charming as it is precise, give this work the power to move, delight and teach us something still.
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on 28 July 2010
I love Forster's world of acid etched characters being made to dance through situations they find increasingly uncomfortable. But he's more than just a sharp eyed and softly spoken comic, since he has things to say about the way a life should be led that are worth hearing and especially in such an easily digested form as this.

Forster is a subtle and economic writer who paints out his stories in very delicate hues. Essentially his technique is to draft a series of characters with various distinct flaws, wind up a situation and then let them get on with it. Out of this comes tremendous humour as well as a knowing look at human frailty but also tributes to individual courage where it is shown.

The thought experiment being conducted here is that middle class Lucy Honeychurch is set up to marry the pompous and vacuous Cecil Vyse when, on a holiday in Italy, the brash and unacceptable George Emerson stumbles into her life looking for love. The novel returns to England and charts Lucy's progress as she learns to make up her own mind about her life and to reject the conventions of society.

The story allows Forster to rip open Edwardian England's value system and to contrast the show and surface of middle class life with genuine passion and honestly expressed desire. In doing so he sets up some wonderfully funny set pieces. I read aloud to my wife the famous scene by the swimming pond and we both had tears rolling down our cheeks. This is a large part of Forster's genius, that he wraps up his uncomfortable social messages in a very light confection, and I'm sure it's possible to read this book without giving any consideration to deeper thoughts if you were minded.

My only complaint about this work is that, at 196 pages it's over too soon. I would happily have stayed inside Forster's world for five times that length.
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"This desire to govern a woman -- it lies very deep, and men and women must fight it together.... But I do love you surely in a better way then he does." He thought. "Yes -- really in a better way. I want you to have your own thoughts even when I hold you in my arms."

"We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won't do harm - yes, choose a place where you won't do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine."

Synopsis: the book is a combination of comedy (mild satire variety), adventure and romance. Lucy Honeychurch is an upper middle class young Lady confined by the repressed culture of Edwardian era England. While holidaying in Italy with her overbearing older cousin and chaperone, Charlotte Bartlett (a sexist description would be "repressed spinster"), Lucy encounters George Emerson and his father. When she first sees him, there is a social barrier (he's intelligent and educated but of lower middle class). However, throughout the holiday she encounters him and his father and feelings soon develop. Lucy isn't pleased with her feelings and thus ensues a tale that manifests social parodies, some political philosophizing and romance.

Set in Italy and England, the story is both a romance and a critique of English society at the beginning of the 20th century.
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A Room with a View is one of Forster's lighter books - but it is still infused with humour and wit and offers a satirical dissection of the middle class both at home and abroad.

Lucy Honeychurch visits Italy with her uptight Aunt Charlotte as her chaperone. Charlotte is constantly alert to the rules that should be followed - not mixing with "unsuitable" people, being wary of foreigners (very difficult when you are in Italy), not allowing Lucy to go anywhere unaccompanied, etc. But despite her best efforts things go awry.

It is the old story. Girl meets boy but rejects his advances. She meets much more suitable and conventional boy and agrees to marry him. Continues to reject first suitor....but does she protest too much?

Mrs Honeychurch is the archetypal middle class snob. "If books must be written, let them be written by men," she says. All the characters are well drawn but young George Emerson is beautifully described. Was the author in love with him?

I was intrigued by the quotation painted on Emerson's wardrobe in the Florence hotel: "Mistrust all enterprises that require new clothes." How wise....
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on 14 February 2015
Young Lucy Honeychurch is at a defining moment in her life. She is torn between what she perceives to be expected of her and what she really wants, which is true love. Cecil is a supercilious, pompous snob, who clearly believes himself to be superior to all those around him. He wants Lucy as an ornament, a possession, his own 'Leonardo'. George is open, affectionate and idealistic, he wants Lucy because he loves her. E M Forster's classic novel is a beautifully written observation on class, social manners, social boundaries and a young girl's awakening from a sheltered life. His writing style is witty, poetic and intimate, often engaging the reader with personal asides. The characters are all well drawn, with individual foibles which either endear themselves to the reader, or irritate: either way they involve the reader emotionally. As a novel written at the beginning of the 20th century, where society was emerging from strict Victorian values into a new Edwardian world, it paints a picture of society at a time of change. It is definitely worth a read.
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on 3 March 2013
This is an amazing romantic book that presents life in a lighthearted manner with some of its pitfalls and disappointments. The story itself involves several generations and portrays the contrast between two main cultures and lifestyles; one in the West, that is Britain, the other one in the south laid-back Mediterranean Europe, namely, Italy. The protagonist, a young lady, searches new experiences and heads for an adventure, whereas her older companions strive to make her think before she leaps, speak wisely and counsel her. So far, it looks as if their life is as it should be. However, things are not always as they seem at firts. The narrative takes some twists and turns and eventually the so-called generation gap starts to diminish, while the moral values are more or less reevaluated. Whether there is a happy end, you should look forward to finding out for yourselves! By all means, it is an excellent read, bearing in mind the book's enjoyable and immaculate language and style as well.
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