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A Room With A View Review: When summer turns swoon-worthy

Besides the compelling romance at its centre, the book’s picturesque settings — Florence and the English countryside — have ensured that it has been adapted many times over for the screen.
Last Updated : 11 May 2024, 22:24 IST
Last Updated : 11 May 2024, 22:24 IST

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In a summer as hot as this one, the mind wants something set in cooler climes — whaling ships and adventures in the Arctic, tales of determined mountaineers or quasi-Scandinavian fantasies. Instead, I find that I am once again thumbing through the yellowed pages of my copy of E M Forster’s A Room With A View and chuckling along to the bumbling romantic adventures of middle-class English tourists in Florence at the start of the 20th century.

A Room With A View has been called Forster’s sunniest novel and it’s as lovely a description as any for this story that captures a moment in English history when women’s burgeoning independence, the growing appetite for leisure travel, and the increase in social mobility meant anything was possible and drama was a certainty.

The novel, which was published in 1908, opens in Florence where the heroine, Lucy Honeychurch, is staying at the Pension Bertolini and the very first words are those of complaint. Specifically, a complaint voiced by Charlotte Bartlett, Lucy’s cousin, who is annoyed and peevish that the Signora who runs the Bertolini had promised them rooms with a view of the Arno river but instead “…here are north rooms, looking into a courtyard, and a long way apart.”

Lucy, who is also disappointed by the fact that the Signora has a cockney accent, concurs with her cousin. They are overheard by the Emersons, father and son, at the communal dining table and the older man offers them their rooms which, he assures them, have views.

And thus with this completely inappropriate (etiquette-wise) exchange of rooms, the plot kicks into high gear. George Emerson falls in love with Lucy while they tour Florence. She isn’t as sure of her feelings as he seems to be. They return to England where by a strange set of circumstances George and his father come to stay near Lucy’s family home in the Surrey countryside. George clearly hasn’t overcome his feelings for her and Lucy’s attempts to suppress her feelings for him leave her all the more muddled. She is also engaged to the superior dandy Cecil Vyse who is more her equal in terms of class than George and his eccentric father.

With his gimlet-eyed observations of stifled English tourists abroad, their absurd repressions, and the romantic and sexual feelings roiling beneath all those summer suits and corsets, A Room With A View is one of Forster’s great social comedies. Yet there’s a clear and present tenderness and affection for Lucy and George and their love story that Forster’s satirical sensibility cannot hide.

Besides the compelling romance at its centre, the book’s picturesque settings — Florence and the English countryside — have ensured that it has been adapted many times over for the screen. But none quite comes close to the Merchant Ivory film with its cast of the who’s who of British acting talent. Ultimately, of course, it’s the fact that A Room With A View is Forster’s most optimistic work about the human condition that has, with time, ensured its enduring appeal and provided the perfect escape from the heat and the mundanities of life.

(The author is a writer and communications professional. When she’s not reading, writing or watching cat videos, she can be found on Instagram @saudha_k where she posts about reading, writing, and cats)

That One Book is a fortnightly column that does exactly what it says — it takes up one great classic and tells you why it is (still) great.

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Published 11 May 2024, 22:24 IST

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