A Room with a View, E.M. Forster


Recently rewatched and then promptly reread A Room with a View, which is one of my Very Favorite Books in the universe. It is not as sophisticated or subtle as Forster's later Howard's End or A Passage to India, which are objectively better, but how can one not love it?

There's so much to like: the spunky yet painfully muddled and vulnerable Lucy, George with his Note of Interrogation and the Eternal Yes, the kind Mr. Beebe and irrepressibly middle-class-and-loving-it Honeychurchs, and my favorite character, expansive, forward-thinking, gentle Mr. Emerson senior.

The older I get, the more I appreciate Forster's handling of the two priggish "villains" of the piece: Cecil and Charlotte, and the fact that I feel I need to put the word "villains" in scare quotes is a huge part of it. He handles what could have been stock characters with enormous humanity, so that one sees and feels their limitations, and even their redeeming qualities. One ends up feeling sorry for them, but realizing that while they need our compassion, they (and their beliefs) should not be allowed to squelch the life and passion out of others.

I love both the book and the 1985 movie (NOT the 2007 remake, which was a travesty). One of the things rereading the book did was impress me with how brilliant Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's screenplay is (the third member of the Merchant-Ivory team). It is faithful in all the right ways--most of the screenplay is line-for-line dialogue from the book, at times intelligently compressed--and she dramatically improved the end. Forster has a very long, torturous scene for Mr. Emerson and Lucy, which I think Jhabvala cleverly distilled, and for Forster, Charlotte's role in bringing about the resolution is a sort of surprise-twist-ending, whereas in the screenplay it's a more organic piece of the narrative that wraps up the character and respectfully shades away to leave the final focus on the two lovers.

Above all, I admire Forster for his emphasis on kindness. He has a horror of artificiality and snobbery, although again, he is able to have compassion for even the characters whose lives are dominated by them.