Rooms and Views
The motif of rooms and views recurs throughout the novel. For Forster, a room stands for civilization and all its confinements; a view stands for nature, freedom, and the open air. A room with a view means a life that is free and open to adventure and possibility, one that is not too closely confined by the strictures of society. When the freethinking Emersons offer their rooms with a view to Lucy and Charlotte, it is really their more open worldview that they are offering, one which may lack delicacy and refinement, but is nonetheless beautiful, and which the women must overlook propriety to accept.
Throughout the novel, Forster associates certain characters with rooms and others with views. When Lucy pictures Cecil, it is always in a room—specifically, a drawing room with no view. When she pictures George, it is in the Italian hills with a beautiful view behind him. Mrs. Honeychurch is a “room” character. An endearing but conventional-minded woman, she keeps the drapes closed in her drawing room to spare the furniture. Mrs. Vyse is also associated with rooms—well-appointed ones. Her view of Italy is a museum. But Lucy is a “view” character. After her engagement, Lucy is seen at Windy Corner with a view of the Sussex Weald before her, as if she were on a magic carpet about to fly away over the beautiful scenery. When she marries George, the two of them go back to their room with a view at the Pension Bertolini in Florence.
Italy, for the English tourist of Edwardian times, was a wild and romantic place, dirty and chaotic, uncivilized and exciting. In the words of Miss Lavish, “One doesn’t come to Italy for niceness, one comes for life.” Italy is a place where anything can happen. Lucy wanders the streets alone, witnesses a murder, is kissed on a hillside, and even falls in love—although she doesn’t realize it at first. Italy is also an escape from the rigid class structure of home—a place where, Lucy feels, “social barriers were . . . not particularly high. You jump over them just as you jump into a peasant’s olive-yard in the Apennines, and he is glad to see you.” Her experience in Italy changes Lucy, giving her new eyes for the world, and a view of her own soul.
The Classical, the Medieval, and the Renaissance
Forster associates the Classical, the Medieval, and the Renaissance Eras of European history with various characters and attitudes in his novel. The uptight Cecil is squarely in the Medieval Age with its oppressive religion and feudal social barriers. He is “a Gothic statue . . . resembl[ing] those fastidious saints who guard the portals of a French cathedral.” Lucy and George, however, belong in the Classical or Renaissance era of humanism and art. Lucy is referred to as “Leonardesque” and George as “Michelangelesque.” The Italian driver who brings Lucy and George together on the hillside is likened to Phaethon, a figure from Classical mythology. Lucy goes on a journey from the Classical to the Medieval and into the Renaissance, traveling from pagan innocence to Medieval repression and into enlightenment at the end of the novel.
Music is used to represent Lucy’s internal states at various points in the novel. When she plays Beethoven at the Pension Bertolini, she is triumphant and passionate, causing Mr. Beebe to see a heroic quality in her that at that point had still not been expressed in her everyday life. Beethoven represents Lucy’s quest for adventure, for more exciting experiences which she hopes to discover in Italy. While in London, however, well on her way to an unhappy life with Cecil, she chooses a sad and broken melody by Schumann, music that Cecil later judges to have been perfect for the occasion. After Lucy resigns herself to never marrying, Forster has her play “Lucy Ashton’s Song” by Sir Walter Scott, the lyrics of which describe a life of self-denial, concluding “Vacant heart and hand and eye / Easy live and quiet die.”
“Muddle” is the word used throughout the novel to describe Lucy’s mental state. Lucy is young and still trying to work out what she really thinks and feels about the world around her. The people around her—Charlotte Bartlett, Miss Lavish, Mr. Eager, Cecil, Mr. Beebe, and her mother—all have expectations of Lucy and influence her thinking. But when she does what others think is proper and right, she denies her own truth. It is Mr. Emerson, near the end of the novel, who finally helps Lucy out of her muddle, allowing her to see clearly what she really wants from life.