reading can seriously damage your ignorance
A Room with a View is a light-weight novel with lots of hidden meaning. Reading, it felt like a Jane Austen-light (but whether this would an insult to Austen or Forster I don’t know). The plot is pretty straightforward. A girl, Lucy, is in the process of becoming an adult and has to choose between two men to settle her future: Cecil and George. Yet underneath the surface lots of symbolism lurks around.
Although written in 1908, the language of A Room with a View is not that difficult. You don’t have to wade through archaic sentences, look up words every paragraph or re-read some sophisticated passages. This doesn’t mean no poetic diction is to be found, yet the plot can be easily followed.
Despite the ‘easy’ language and the pretty much straightforward plot, the novel is full of symbolism, and deeper meaning. For example, Lucy loses her Baedeker, or guide book, at the beginning of the novel. She is at first lost, but eventually finds her way through the streets of Florence. This is important for the rest of the novel. In growing-up Lucy faces a lot of guide lines in the form of her mother, Miss Bartlett, Cecil and others. Lucy has to decide whether she should follow the social conventions or rather wander through life freely in finding happiness.
Another thing that struck me was the use of water. We have many instances of water. The first instance of water is the river Arno, viewed from Lucy’s room in Florence. There is a murder near a fountain, a secret lake where the men bathe, a broken boiler and there is rain. So many instances of water must have a purpose. There is an interesting article on this symbol to be found here. The article is very readable and shows how one can analyse a consistent symbol throughout a novel. The article by Krzysztof Fordonski states, for example, that the characters are introduced with a reference to water:
“Very often it is specifically the water imagery that serves as a means of [the characters’] introduction. Consequently, for the characters of the view water introduces changes for the better, while for others water is only a nuisance from which they have to protect themselves for example with mackintosh squares as Miss Lavish does to avoid damp grass during the outing to Fiesole.”
Fordonski, The Symbolic Usage of Water in A Room with a View (p. 2)
But there is more. Water introduces the motif of blood and water. Water can wash away blood, which means cleansing the soul. “Water retains its purifying quality only in nature, in the open. When bound, it loses it.” (Fordonski, p. 6) Therefore we have a murder at a fountain. Water is also a symbol for nature from which the characters try to protect themselves. Rain marks moments of crisis. Also, verbs connected to water are used a lot. They describe the way people speak and act.
A Room with a View is a novel that is like a rowing boat bobbing up and down on murmuring water, yet has many secrets in the deep. It is an accessible novel that can easily be enjoyed, with many treasures to be found for those who want to plunge into it.
E.M. Forster– A Room with a View, (1908)
Interesting reading: Fordonski, Krzysztof, The Symbolic Usage of Water in A Room with a View by Edward Morgan Forster, 1999.