With E.M.Forster’s novella on my reading list for my Victorian module for next year, I admittedly started out with the smallest of the novels I had been set. However, I am incredibly glad that my laziness forced my hand this time, as this is one of the best Victorian novels I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
The notion of life being nothing without the perfect view is an essential yet often unnoticed principle many of us live by: those who seek travel, entertainment, wild nights out or cosy nights in – we all crave comfort and the view that will create this sense of serenity. Lucy Honeychurch is an entirely relatable character in this sense. Prior to finding her view, she is young and naive, leaving her life to be dictated by those who have experienced a view for themselves, as seen in Miss Bartlett, her mother, Cecil Vyse… Mr Emerson and George provide a divide within the story very early on. Lucy moves from naivety to confusion to understanding, and it is in the purgatory of confusion that the majority of the novel lies in order to develop and detail this journey into adulthood. Cecil and George provide alternative views for Lucy: the straightforward albeit limited view of sense, and the romantically passionate view formed by sensibility. Both men have virtues, yet only one fits Lucy’s world view. Miss Bartlett shows how Cecil can be an appealing view, as her desire to constantly and interferingly gain approval for her actions indicate how she needed a strong guide in her life, as Lucy originally has with Cecil, in order to justify herself. Charlotte’s limitations show just how far Lucy’s horizons expand, and her final interference with Mr Emerson which leads to Lucy’s second engagement shows how critical a thin piece of history can be in deciding the rest of your fate.
As a novella, we can only connect with a limited number of characters, and as such I feel George is under-represented as a character, as he seems to signify a life choice instead of a person, which is why his speech in the final chapter seemed a surprise to me. It almost felt like it didn’t fit: he was supposed to be strong and silent, and I suppose I expected him to be like this because he was always a view; an inanimate object as opposed to a human being. However, where Forster leaves George as unknown, his father shows his origins, particularly his passion. The tale of his wife and George not being baptised shows how far life can survive with true love, and that formality cannot outlive this passion, just as Mrs Emerson’s faithlessness in this belief cost her her life. Mr Emerson, therefore, is pivotal in the novella: he represents a life lived on personal instead of public beliefs, and as such is almost the anti-Cecil in his recognition of Lucy’s own flares and blossoming character. Mr Beebe is the stage before Mr Emerson’s own beliefs: he sees Lucy and George as interesting whilst their personalities are in flux, but as soon as they choose their paths they become uninteresting to his observations. Mr Beebe is on the edge of passion: his position means he cannot live it, but he can recognise and analyse it in others.
Everyone is seeking a room with a view according to Forster, the only question that remains is whether we are brave enough to persist in finding it.