A Room with a View
Sometimes I find when I read a book for the first time, I battle to come to grips with it. It’s like I’m receiving too much information at once, I get overwhelmed and then I simply can’t take it in. Perhaps, the problem might also be that I often find I’m reading to a deadline so that I simply push ahead without taking the story in properly. E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View presented this challenge for me when I read it, for the first time, a few years ago. I read the book from cover to cover and still didn’t get it. So with a little more time on my hands, I recently picked up the book again and began to read it. And do you want to know something amazing? I actually got it! Here’s a teaser of what the story’s about:
Lucy Honeychurch is a young English tourist who travels to Italy in order to see more of the world. Lucy finds herself growing up while visiting Italy, especially after meeting a man who represents everything she should not be in civilised Victorian society. But, as Lucy returns home to England after her Italian adventure, she finds herself battling to become the perfect Victorian lady while her heart longs to be unconventional. And when a former acquaintance turns up in her life again, can Lucy choose to follow her head into civilised society or will she lose herself to her heart?
I am generally the type of purist who complains at all the differences between the original book and the film (as those of you who read my blog well know). I can’t really help it. I always believe that changing the original story-line from a book when making it into a movie takes away from everything good about the story – the characters, the lessons learnt, the comedy involved. I can still understand if subtle differences are made because of the medium – I mean, in a book the narrator can register people’s thoughts but if the movie version has no narrator those thoughts need to be articulated somehow. But, I can’t stand it when producers change the story-line simply for the sake of it, for sport as it were.
I am delighted to tell you, though, that the movie version of A Room with a View starring three of my most favourite British actresses, Helena Bonham Carter, Judy Dench and Maggie Smith, is a really great movie adaptation of the film. The story-line is kept quite unspoiled. Yes, there were some subtle differences but as I said these were because some important thoughts had to be included and there was no narrator to explain them so the characters had to articulate them. The film is really fantastic for its purity even including some of the more important (and sometimes lengthy) chapter titles before the action begins.
The film appears to be quite old because it stars a young Helena Bonham Carter (Lucy Honeychurch) and Judy Dench (Miss Lavish) and Maggie Smith (Miss Bartlett) look quite young as well. But the most startling of all is the young Daniel Day Lewis (Mr Vyse) whom I didn’t recognise at all. I must admit that I wasn’t so convinced by Judy Dench playing Miss Lavish. No doubt Judy Dench is an exceptional actress but the roles I’ve seen her in have always presented her as the slightly more conventional, less wild character which Elinor Lavish is not. I wondered if the role might better have been suited to someone like Celia Imrie who is known to play the wild woman in a number of films. (What did you think of Judy Dench’s portrayal of Miss Lavish? Did you think she was well cast? Let me know in the comments section.)
I would just warn those of you planning to see the film, that there is extreme nudity in it. Usually when we hear “may contain scenes of nudity”, the film tends to contain the barest visibility of a bum-crack and this constitutes nudity. But, I assure you, this film really does contain nudity where the male physique is completely visible (poor Simon Callow got his kit off for the world to see). So, if you’re planning on getting your little one’s to enjoy a bit of culture by watching the film, I would suggest that you turn off the television and just listen during the “bathing” scene for fear of scarring them for life.
In my Humble Opinion:
So, I’m quite convinced that by now you’re wonder what possible reason I could have had not to understand the book. Well, to be honest, there is a bit of a hidden meaning in the title which could explain why I couldn’t catch on when I first read the book.
The whole book centres around the concept of the title “a room with a view”. Lucy, when she arrives in Italy, wants a view of the Arno from her room at the pensione but doesn’t get given a room with a view. She’s disappointed until two other visitors offer to swap rooms with her and her cousin. The one visitor, Mr Emerson, tells them that “women like to have a view while men don’t”.
At first glance, this is where the connection to the title starts and ends. But, as I discovered after a rereading, there’s more to it than Lucy wanting and getting a room with a view in Italy. The room and the view signify the conventions of Victorian society. (The novel was, after all, written in the Late Victorian era.) The room with its four walls and its confinements signifies the confinement of Victorian society with its rigid social structures like the rigid walls of the room. The view signifies the escape from the confines of rigid Victorian society. Taken together the room with a view comes to mean that the person in the room is able to partially escape the limitations imposed on them (read women) by Victorian society by looking at the “view” while still remaining safe within Victorian culture.
And this theme is carried through into Lucy’s personal – romantic – life. Lucy has two men in her life (I shan’t tell you who they are so you have some incentive to read the book). The one describes himself – and Lucy confirms it – as being thought of in a room. While it may appear literal to the characters, it isn’t really literal. What it means is that whenever Lucy thinks of this man, she considers him to be a manifestation of rigid Victorian convention. He is the epitome of what Victorians believed a person (read man) should be and do. And he tries to impose these conventions on Lucy. The other man is the view – the opposite of Victorian convention. At first, this man also tries to impose his unconventionalities on Lucy. But, Lucy doesn’t want all convention- a room – or all unconvention – the world beyond the room. She wants a happy medium of the two – a room with a view. Eventually, one of these two men come to realise that Lucy neither craves convention nor unconvention but a happy medium and tries to give her what she wants. With him she might safely remain in Victorian society but without all the rigidity that goes along with it. The question is will Lucy recognise this man as her desire to have “a room with a view”? And does she even really want “a room with a view” anymore?
My advice to you if you want answers to these questions is to read the book. Take your time with it so that you really get all the metaphors in the book about rooms and views and whether a character represents a room, a view or a little bit of both. Above all, enjoy the gorgeous love story. And when you’ve read the book, don’t forget to head over to the Challenge page and update your score. (Let me know in the comments how many books you’ve read so far.)