A Room with a View has been in my Librivox queue for quite some time. If I’d remembered that Elizabeth Klett was its narrator, I wouldn’t have waited so long since she is one of their best readers, expertly imbuing her characters with distinctive personalities via voice changes. In this particular reading she was spot on with each one, but especially with the ingénue, Miss Lucy Honeychurch.
Forster’s book has a lot of messages. Among them is his clear disdain for class distinctions and prim, correct manners. The book begins with a group of English tourists in Italy where they are shaken out of their ideas of proper behavior. The country of Italy and the Emersons (father and son) are metaphors for freedom from repression. When one of the women expresses horror at loose behavior, Miss Lavish states, “One doesn’t come to Italy for niceness, but for life.”
Another theme – expressed through Mr. Emerson Sr. – is of the futility of religion (also a theme in Forster's Passage to India). His alternative to faith in God is faith in romantic love: He gave [Lucy] a sense of deities reconciled, a feeling that, in gaining the man she loved, she would gain something for the whole world. . . ; he had shown her the holiness of direct desire. (Chapter 19)
When I saw the movie a few years ago I surmised that the skinny dipping scene was added to spice up a rather bland story. So I was surprised to see that not only was it in the book, it was an important element. Men without clothes represent men without the distinct differences based on their occupations. It was also a scene that emphasized unrestrained joy. At chapter's end the incident is described in religious tones: On the morrow the pool had shrunk to its old size and lost its glory. It had been a call to the blood and to the relaxed will, a passing benediction whose influence did not pass, a holiness, a spell, a momentary chalice for youth. (Chapter 12)
In spite of Forster's skewed view of Christianity, this is an enjoyable romantic comedy. Lucy's would-be suitor, Cecil Vyse, is laugh-out-loud funny as the proverbial wet blanket in whose presence "one did not play Bumble Puppy." Interestingly, he is described at one point in the story as "a room without a view" because of his lack of emotion and imagination.
Lots to think about and laugh over in this novel.