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Room with a View (Forster) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions 
1. How are Lucy's character and mood captured in the descriptions of her piano playing throughout the novel? Why does she refuse to play Beethoven in Mrs. Vyse's well-appointed flat? What compels her to sing, after breaking her engagement with Cecil, the song that ends with the line "Easy live and quiet die"?

2. Forster's use of light and darkness, vision and blindness, day and night has transparent meaning in many passages: Lucy throws open the window of her room with a view while Charlotte closes the shades. Cecil is best suited to a room, while George is in his element in the naked sunlight of the Sacred Lake. Discuss the variations on the theme of clarity and shadow in the book, for example the twilight on the Piazza Signoria before Lucy witnesses the murder, or her attempts to flee "the king of terrors—Light" in the novel's second half.

3. Lucy and George both stand outside Britain's traditional class structure. George is a clerk, the son of a journalist and grandson of a laborer. Lucy is the daughter of a lawyer and her social status is "more splendid than her antecedents entitled her to." What role does social class play in the novel? Why did Forster choose Cecil to deliver the statement: "The classes ought to mix...There ought to be intermarriage—all sorts of things. I believe in democracy."?

4. Mr. Beebe is portrayed early in the novel as an observant, thoughtful counselor with a good sense of humor and an unusually open mind for a clergyman. Soon after meeting Lucy he predicts that "one day music and life shall mingle" for her. Why does he fail, in the end, to support her decision to leave Cecil for George?

5. In comparison, Charlotte Bartlett is absurdly prudish, forbidding her cousin even to sleep in the bed where George Emerson had slept. If George's surmise at the novel's end is correct, what motivates her to help bring the lovers together by facilitating Lucy's fateful meeting with Mr. Emerson? What does this turnabout suggest about the repressive forces in society? Is she, as George jokes, made of the "same stuff as parsons are made of"?

5. "Muddle" is one of Forster's favorite words and seems to carry more weight in his work than in current colloquial usage. Lucy declares at the end of Part 1, "I want not to be muddled. I want to grow older quickly." What does Mr. Emerson mean when he uses the word to describe Lucy's state of mind near the novel's end, saying, "It is easy to face Death and Fate...It is on my muddles that I look back with horror"?

6. Lucy and George's final happiness is clouded by their severed relations with those she left behind. The Honeychurches "were disgusted at her past hypocrisy," and Mr. Beebe will never forgive them. Do you think Forster believes, as Lucy asserts, that "if we act the truth, the people who really love us are sure to come back to us in the long run"?

7.What is "medieval" about Cecil's attitude toward women in general and toward Lucy in particular? What role is she allotted in his notion of chivalry? Why does Lucy feel, after George throws her blood-stained photographs into the Arno, that it is "hopeless to look for chivalry in such a man"? What kind of companionship and protection does George offer in exchange?

8. Forster, who was greatly influenced by the art of Italy during his first visit there, not only explores the proper relationship of life and art in A Room with a View but also uses art to illuminate his characters. What do we learn about the inner lives of George and Mr. Emerson from their views of Giotto's fresco in Santa Croce (Chapter 2)? Why is Lucy's outburst over Mr. Eager like "Leonardo on the ceiling of the Sistine"?

9.A frequent criticism of Forster's plots is his reliance on coincidence and chance. What improbable circumstances are required to unite Lucy and George? Is George right when he says of their reunion in England, "It is Fate. Everything is Fate"? Does the novel suggest an external force that brings the lovers together?

10.There are many kinds of deceit in the book: betrayal by friends, secrets between lovers, and most importantly Lucy's self-deceit. Four of the last five chapters show Lucy lying to nearly everyone else in the book. Which kinds of lies are most harmful to the "personal relations" that Forster cherished?

11.Though sparing in his descriptions of physical love, Forster often expresses the physical component of spiritual passion indirectly, as in his description of Lucy's piano playing: "Like every true performer she was intoxicated by the mere feel of the notes: they were fingers caressing her own; and by touch, not by sound alone, did she come to her desire." What balance between the physical and emotional expressions of love does Mr. Emerson suggest in his statement, "I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.... I only wish poets would say this too: love is of the body; not the body, but of the body"?
(Questions from Penguin Classics—cover image, top right.)

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