E.M. Forster: A Room with a View



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For Miss Bartlett, life is lived in accordance with what are arguably very precious and ridiculous concerns. She’s bothered and worried by silly things, she follows fixed schemes (ex. at the pensione she tries to make good impression on the highest class of people, she closes the window when she enters the room, she doesn’t want Lucy to look out because she could be seen, etc.)
Modern readers are often surprised by Miss Bartlett's deep anxieties about accepting a room trade with the generous but socially outcast Emersons. They are tactless, which means that they don’t have the ability to fit in society, so people of certain level shouldn’t consider them or deal with them. Miss Bartlett acts under social pressures and never doubts whether social conventions are really right.
For example Lucy wonders if delicacy and beauty might be different things, while Charlotte assumes that they are synonymous. As her social world defines beauty and delicacy, the two qualities are one and the same; beauty is found in politeness, in circuitous and subtle conversation, in avoidance of direct confrontation or over-earnest expressions of emotion. There is not beauty, therefore, in Mr. Emerson's generous offer of a room trade.
Lucy and George seem a part of the landscape during their kiss: spring around them, spring in their young feelings for each other. It is spontaneous and beautiful, but it is quickly cut short by someone who clearly does not belong in this setting. Forster uses colour as a metaphor for Charlotte's separation from this world: she "stood brown against the view." The image is striking: Charlotte's dowdy brown dress stands in sharp contrast to the brilliance of the violets. The word choice is important. "Against" suggests conflict between Charlotte and this world of spring and young love, and Charlotte will prove a very difficult obstacle for George and Lucy's relationship.
After what happens with George, Lucy longs for an intimate talk with Charlotte, clinging to the belief that she and her cousin can really be soul mates. But Charlotte’s only worry is that if Lucy’s mother gets to know the matters, she will be in troubles. This disappoints Lucy terribly, and the hurt is going to have long-term effects. Forster writes, "Never again did she expose herself without due consideration and precaution against rebuff. And such a wrong may react disastrously upon the soul" . (pag 102)
Another example of Charlotte’s selfishness is her inordinate fear of Cecil finding out about George; the worry is not that Lucy might have told someone untrustworthy, but that Charlotte has. Charlotte wants Lucy to confess because she has already endangered the integrity of the secret and does not want to be held accountable for it.
THE END OF THE NOVEL AND MISS BARTLETT’S CHANGE Towards the end of the novel Charlotte’s behaviour changes, even if not openly. In fact in the last chapter Lucy thinks about how many unlikely events have led to happiness. If Charlotte had seen Mr. Emerson in the rectory that day, she would not have allowed Lucy to go in. Mr. Emerson and Lucy would never have talked, and Lucy would have gone off to Greece. But George insists that Charlotte did know. His father told him that when he was dozing by the fire, he woke and saw Miss Bartlett walking away. Lucy does not know what to make of it. George suggests that Charlotte wanted Lucy to meet with Mr. Emerson; somehow, deep down, she wanted George and Lucy to end up together. George has read the book by Miss Lavish, and details of it are taken straight from George and Lucy's time in Florence. Something about the affair touched her, and though she fought against it, in the end, at the last moment, she helped them. Lucy initially says it is impossible, but then, after reflection, believes that it might be true. So we have an open ending upon Charlotte because maybe even if she had been an almost unpleasant and tiresome character throughout the novel, she can have her moment of grace.
Charlotte’s a woman who never realized her potential. The result is passive aggressiveness, loneliness and undirected resentments. She has always repressed passion, so she represents what Lucy could have become if she repressed emotions too. We see it clearly at the end of chapter 17 when Lucy decides never to marry: "The night received her, as it had received Miss Bartlett thirty years before" (“lying to Cecil”)
Forster associates Cecil with the medieval; he uses the medieval as a symbol of the sexless, the severe, and the humourless. He’s self complacent and he has a very high opinion of himself ( ex: the way he asks Freddy to marry Lucy ).
Lucy’s family, though financially comfortable, is far from the refinement and high aristocracy to which Cecil is accustomed. Cecil no sooner wins Lucy's acceptance than he starts thinking about how he can "improve" Windy Corner. He has contempt for the world in which Lucy grew up. She, too, recognizes that garden parties and Sir Harry are silly, but she sees no reason to condemn them. But Cecil wants no equals. He cannot imagine equality; Forster describes his thinking as "feudal," continuing with the theme of the medieval. All relationships are hierarchical, especially the one with his fiancée.
He likes feeling part of an elite ( ex. When he says that Italy and London are the only places where he “bears to live” ), he considers himself an outcast, in a solitary splendour of himself (ex. The “Inglese Italianato”...). He lingers on the differences between him and the others; obviously in the comparison he is the winner.
The title of the 9th chapter is "Lucy as a Work of Art": Cecil's dissatisfaction with Lucy's town is a rejection of something that is an important part of her. He wants to remake her into something as urban and critical as himself; he seeks to shape her as he would shape a painting or a sculpture. The reader cannot help but feel menaced, in fact, by Mrs. Vyses' well-intentioned but ominous advice to Cecil: "Make Lucy one of us." Already, the Vyses are planning to remake her to be acceptable to their social world.
In “Cecil as a humorist” Cecil stays inside rather than join the other outdoors. Forster slips in that they would not be playing bumble-puppy if Cecil were around. His snobbery makes it difficult for the Honeychurches to act naturally; he rejects many of the things that bring pleasure to Lucy's family.
Anyway, when Lucy breaks her engagement Cecil’s almost grateful to her because through her voice he finds a new self-awareness.
In Forster’s description of the characters there is something similar between Miss Bartlett and Cecil: Charlotte is a spinster and Vyse is represented as a celibate medieval statue. In both cases we find no potential for new life and for growth. The world of conventions and repressed emotion is sterile.