Delicacy and Beauty
One of the most important messages of A Room with a View is that people must decide for themselves what is truly beautiful and good, even if society calls it improper. During the Edwardian Era, conservative Victorian social mores had begun to give way to a more liberal, modern way of thinking, a move which Forster supported. “Have you ever noticed that there are people who do things which are most indelicate, and yet at the same time—beautiful?” asks Miss Alan. She is referring to the Emersons, who have offered their rooms with a view to Lucy and Charlotte. Charlotte does not consider the offer appropriate, but it is made with the purest of intentions, from a desire only to make someone happy. Later, when George kisses Lucy in Italy, Charlotte Bartlett tries to make his bold expression of love into something dirty and wrong, and to paint him as a “cad.” The truth, as Lucy instinctively knows, is that George’s kiss may lack propriety—it may be indelicate—but it is also beautiful. Her acceptance of his love despite the objections of others around her shows that in the end she has learned to choose beauty over delicacy, and passion over propriety.
Oneness with Nature
“Non fate Guerra al Maggio,” says Mr. Emerson, quoting a poem by Lorenzo de Medici. The meaning of the quote is “Do not war with May”—or, in other words, it is not wise to fight against the springtime. What Mr. Emerson means is that humans are a part of nature, and natural instincts should not be labeled as improper. He envisions a Garden of Eden yet to come in which all humans lose their shame about their bodies, and men and women become equals. The scene in the novel that best expresses Forster’s theme of oneness with nature is that which takes place at the Sacred Lake. There, George, Freddy, and Mr. Beebe leave their clothes behind on the banks and leap into the water, which is described as “a holiness, a spell, a momentary chalice for youth.” Freddy wears Mr. Beebe’s clerical waistcoat; George puts on his hat. All social roles are meaningless. Even when Lucy appears, George is unashamed of his nakedness and calls out to her boldly and jubilantly, lifted from his melancholy state by the benediction of the Sacred Lake. This, Forster tells us, is the truly natural state of humankind, to which we must aspire.
Acceptance of the Body
Closely related to the theme of oneness with nature is the idea of accepting the body. For the Victorians, the body was a taboo subject. At the Pension Bertolini, everyone is shocked when Mr. Emerson even mentions the word stomach. Forster gently makes fun of these old-fashioned inhibitions, pointing out that they are artificial and get in the way of true communication. As Mr. Emerson tells Lucy, “Love is of the body; not the body, but of the body.” The sooner people get over their shame of their bodies, the sooner they can connect in a true and meaningful way.
One of the themes of A Room with a View is that of growing up or coming of age. “I want not to be muddled. I want to grow older quickly,” Lucy exclaims to Charlotte in Florence. However, growing older is a process that takes time. As Mr. Emerson explains to Lucy, quoting Samuel Butler, “Life is a public performance on the violin, in which you must learn the instrument as you go along.” She must learn to live in her own way, with her own expression, in the same way that she plays the piano or another musical instrument.
The process of growing up begins for Lucy when she goes to Italy, leaving the home of her childhood. Italy awakens her to new ways of thinking and viewing the world, and it leads to her first encounter with romance. After she faints and is carried in George’s arms, she keeps a secret from others for the first time, and experiences a solitude she has not known before. “This solitude oppressed her; she was accustomed to have her thoughts confirmed by others or, at all events, contradicted; it was too dreadful not to know whether she was thinking right or wrong.” Deciding for ourselves what is right or wrong is part of growing up. Back in England, when Lucy goes against her own instincts to become engaged to Cecil, a well-bred, well-connected young man of whom her mother’s society approves, she thinks she is “developing” because she has learned to repress her feelings to do what is proper. However, developing in this way, Forster indicates, is really “warping the brain.” Lucy does not truly grow up until she breaks away from others to embrace her own truth.