Friday, 23 January 2015

'A Room with a View' by E.M. Forster (1908)

Synopsis: A Room with a View is divided into two halves. The first half of the novel is set in Italy and the second half is set in England. Lucy Honeychurch is a young upper-middle class Englishwoman who is travelling around Italy with her uptight older cousin and chaperon Charlotte Bartlett. When they arrive in Florence they discover that their hotel hasn't given them the "room with a view" that they were promised. When they complain about this a man called Mr Emerson overhears them and offers to swap rooms. Lucy meets several eccentric characters during their stay in Florence: including the hotel's owner Signora Bertolini (who is really a lower-class cockney woman), a romance novelist called Miss Lavish, a witty Reverend called Mr Beebe who will soon be the rector of Lucy's home parish, and also Mr Emerson and his son George. Mr Emerson isn't much liked by the other guests at the hotel because of his tactless, opinionated manners and socialist views. However Lucy finds Mr Emerson very interesting - and his son George even more so. When Lucy then witnesses a murder in a piazza she faints and wakes up to find herself in George's arms. Lucy is then changed forever. Confused and overwhelmed by her thoughts and feelings about George, Lucy flees with Charlotte to Rome. The second half of the novel is set in the Surrey countryside. Lucy has returned home and is now engaged to a wealthy, intelligent and respectable man called Cecil Vyse. Cecil is pretentious and snobbish and views Lucy not as his equal but as a work of art for him to admire and protect. Then, much to Lucy's dismay, the Emersons move into a house which is just down the road from her family's. All of Lucy's feelings for George are then re-awakened. Lucy is then torn between the man that society thinks she should marry and the man that she loves and desires.

Well, what a surprise this book turned out to be! A few years ago a friend of mine mentioned that she'd read the book and hadn't liked it and since our tastes are very similar I automatically assumed that I wouldn't think very much of it either. Recently though I've happened to come across some really positive reviews for this book and I became interested in it all over again. But even then I certainly wasn't expecting to enjoy the book as much as I did. I had no idea that I was going to find A Room with a View so funny! This book made me smile and laugh on so many occasions. The humour and tone of this book is very reminiscent of Jane Austen. Jane Austen was in fact E.M. Forster's favourite author. There's a great deal of Austen-esque social satire in the book and the book has a surprising amount of depth. The characters are all memorable, funny and well-developed. Well, there is one exception but I'll get to them later. A lot of the characters in this book could have been incredibly unlikeable in the hands of another author but Forster is like Austen in that he's able to make even his more annoying characters fun to read about. Even Cecil is allowed some humanity and depth! Technically Forster's writing is very beautiful too and there are some wonderful quotes in this story.

“It isn't possible to love and to part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.” 

"The kingdom of music is not the kingdom of this world; it will accept those whom breeding and intellect and culture have alike rejected. The commonplace person begins to play, and shoots into the empyrean without effort, whilst we look up, marvelling how he has escaped us, and thinking how we could worship him and love him, would he but translate his visions into human words, and his experiences into human actions. Perhaps he cannot; certainly he does not, or does so very seldom.”

I also really loved that the first half of the book was set in Florence. It's one of my favourite cities and Italy is one of my favourite countries. I've been to Italy twice. The first time I went on a trip to Rome and on my second visit I went to Florence and Rome. That last visit was about 3.5 years ago. Florence is an amazing city. The art and architecture is incredibly beautiful and the history is extraordinary. I'd love to go back there and this book brought back a lot of fond memories :)

I have to say I didn't completely love this book though. I loved the humour, the writing, most of the characters, the setting and the social commentary but there was this one area in which I found the book lacking - the romance between the main characters. I wouldn't class Lucy as being one of my favourite heroines but I liked her. On the other hand George didn't do anything for me at all. It's not that he's unlikeable. It's just that he's so underdeveloped! I couldn't understand Lucy's love for him. Well, towards the end I think I understood it but I wish that they'd been more scenes between them in the book. I still loved A Room with a View but I can't quite give it a full five stars. When I compare this book to other romantic comedy-of-manners type stories like Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion or Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing it does fall short. I think this book would have been even better had it been longer. If this book had been longer and had contained more interactions between Lucy and George then I don't think I'd have anything to criticise. In spite of that aggravating flaw I had so much fun reading A Room with a View though and I'm sure I'll read it again. I'll probably read some of Forster's other works as well although they all sound a lot more gloomy than this one!

Rating: 4.5/5

P.S. I've also seen the two screen adaptations of the book: the 1985 Merchant-Ivory film and the 2007 ITV film which was written by Andrew Davies. I can't see myself writing any in-depth reviews about these two adaptations any time soon so I thought I might as well give my quick-ish views on them here. The 1985 film is the most famous and beloved of the two adaptations and it deserves to be because it's the much, much better of the two. It's very faithful to the book and it's a beautiful movie in its own right. The music is beautiful and it includes two Puccini arias sung by Kiri Te Kanawa. The cinematography is gorgeous and colourful and there are breathtaking location shots of Florence and the Italian and English countryside. Despite the fact that the film came out 30 years ago I don't think it looks at all dated. It's aged incredibly well! The cast for the film is stellar too. It features Maggie Smith as Charlotte, Judi Dench as Miss Lavish, Simon Callow as Mr Beebe, Denholm Elliott as Mr Emerson, Daniel Day Lewis as Cecil, Julian Sands as George, and a very young Helena Bonham Carter and Rupert Graves making their film debuts as Lucy and Freddy Honeychurch. The acting in the film is wonderful. Helena Bonham Carter is beautiful and gives an excellent debut as Lucy. I'm not a Julian Sands fan and I'm not a huge fan of George but Sands is good-looking enough for the role and he has chemistry with Helena Bonham Carter. Denholm Elliot gives a very touching performance as Mr Emerson. I actually liked Mr Emerson a bit more in this film than I did in the book. Rupert Graves is absolutely adorable as Lucy's brother Freddy and since I'm a massive Sherlock fan I got a huge kick out of seeing Lestrade looking so young! It was sweet to see Maggie Smith and Judi Dench in their scenes together. The two of them met while making this film and are still great friends to this day. My favourite performance in this film though came from Daniel Day Lewis. He gives a hilarious performance and almost stole the film for me! He should have got an Oscar nomination for his role like Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliott did for theirs. I loved this film almost as much as the book. Just a word of warning though for any readers who are unaware: there's a scene where three of the male characters go swimming and there's some full-frontal nudity in it. I didn't find the nudity offensive. It takes place in the book and it is a pretty funny and innocent scene. But since the film has a PG rating I can see it being quite a shock to a lot of people. If it was a modern film this scene would surely land it with a 15 or an 18 rating.

The reviews that I'd read for the 2007 adaptation were terrible so I had very low expectations for it. I was expecting to hate it just as much as ITV's adaptation of Persuasion. In the end I didn't dislike the film quite as much as that but still, this film is pretty bad. It's only 90 minutes long so it feels very rushed and the production is too dark - both literally and figuratively. It's more serious and sombre than the book and the 1985 film. And whereas the cinematography in the 1985 film is vibrant and full of colour the 2007 version is mostly beige. There's barely any colour in this production at all. They even managed to make Florence look nondescript! This version's cast is good on paper. It features Elaine Cassidy as Lucy, Sophie Thompson as Charlotte, Sinead Cusack as Miss Lavish, Mark Williams as Mr Beebe, Laurence Fox as Cecil, Elizabeth McGovern as Mrs Honeychurch, Timothy West as Mr Eager, and the real-life father and son Timothy and Rafe Spall as Mr Emerson and George. Overall the acting is much weaker than in the 1985 version though. I did really like Sinead Cusack and Elaine Cassidy in this production but the cast from the 1985 film is so much better. I wouldn't say that this version is any more family-friendly than the 1985 film either. The swimming scene in this version is quicker and shows less nudity but it still throws in a couple of unnecessary sex scenes between Lucy and George at the end. And the ending for this version is atrocious! E.M. Forster wrote an appendix to his book for its 50th anniversary and Andrew Davies decided to base his ending on it. The appendix isn't popular with fans of the book because it reveals that George cheated on Lucy during WWII. But Davies didn't even get the appendix right! In this version George dies in WWI - in the appendix George was a conscientious objector - and it's heavily implied that Lucy is going to end up with the Italian cab driver who was fondling his "sister" earlier in the story! It's an astonishingly depressing ending and it left fans of the book furious. What was Andrew Davies thinking?! I guess he tried far too hard to make his adaptation different from the 1985 version. 


bookwormans said...

"A Room With a View" was one of those books that I liked much better the 2nd time around. Like you, the romance wasn't my favorite aspect of the novel. And Florence was my favorite city when I went to Italy, and being there reminded me of so many good moments in the book.

And I'm with you on the adaptations. See Merchant/Ivory and skip ITV.

Miss Dashwood said...

Basically ditto to everything. You captured exactly what I liked and disliked about the book-- that is, just about everything, and then George, respectively. :D SUCH an underrated classic. I didn't expect to like it half as much as I did! (But George is a total dud. Definitely.)

I've only seen the 1985 film version (and am working on a long-winded review as we speak!) but I'm not really that interested in seeing the 2007 version except for comparative purposes... the 1985 one was pretty good as it was. There were plot points and character motivations that weren't as well-developed as I would have liked but I actually think much more highly of it now than I did when I first saw it (before I read the book).

Anyway, in essence, ditto all of what you said. ;)

Hannah said...

Bookwormans - Happy 2015! It's great that you gave the book another go. Our tastes can change and sometimes when we read books we're just not in the right mood for them.

Mmm, I loved both Florence and Rome but I preferred Florence. I'm so jealous that you got to see Venice and Sorrento on your trip as well! Someday I'll get to those places, someday...

Yes, I loved your review on the 2007 version! :D Merchant/Ivory all the way!

Hannah said...

Miss Dashwood - Happy 2015! I'm really glad that you loved this book as well and I love your new profile picture! :) I should change mine really. I've had it for a while.

Hahaha! Yes, George is a dud alright. It *is* a pity.

I'm really looking forward to your review of the 1985 film! I'm sure it will be highly entertaining. I love your long-winded and eloquent ramblings :) And I'm pleased that you think more highly of the film now!

Hamlette said...

I read this for the first time just a couple years ago, and I loved it so so so so much! I had to re-read it because it was so delightful. But unlike you, I quite like George. He's quiet and uncertain and impulsive, and I guess maybe he reminds me of me.

I saw the 1985 movie version more than a decade ago and only remember being Very Shocked by the bathing scene. I'd love to see it again. A lot of people seem to dislike/hate the 2007, and I'm intrigued that Andrew Davies seems to have made such a big misstep considering that I really like his other adaptations I've seen.

Hannah said...

I'm hoping that I'll come to like George on a re-read. And "delightful" sums up this book rather beautifully :)

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Andrew Davies. On the whole I've enjoyed the TV adaptations of his that I've seen but he always seems to feel the need to shove unnecessary sexual content in them and that annoys me. If he ever adapted Persuasion you just *know* that he'd throw in a wet-shirt shot of Captain Wentworth, and he'd show Mr Eliot seducing Mrs Clay as well I'd bet. I've had terrible things about his adaptation of Brideshead Revisited as well.

Hamlette said...

Hmm. I can see that.

Lynn(e) said...

Just read the book last week and enjoyed it. We are discussing it for our upcoming book group. Are you aware EM Forster wrote a "sequel" of sorts to this book in 1958? I just found it tonight online. Quite short...bringing the reader up to date on what happened to the characters 50 years later.

Hannah said...

Yes, I have read that ending and I wasn't keen. I much prefer the original ending. Still, even the 50th anniversary ending is better than the atrocious ITV ending... Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed the book! :)