E. M. Forster's "A Room with a View": The Attitude of English People Abroad

Seminar Paper 2001 18 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Attitude of English Tourists Abroad

3. The Attitude of English Residents in Italy

4. The Impact of Italy on the Development of Lucy Honeychurch
4.1. Lucy’s First Impression of Italy
4.2. Lucy’s Visit to Santa Croce
4.3. The Murder
4.4. The Drive to the Countryside

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

The novel A Room with a View by Edward Morgan Forster was published in 1908. It is considered as one of Forster’s major novels, and “[i]t is probably his most well-liked novel, perhaps because (with the dubious exception of Maurice) it is the only one to have a happy ending” (Cavaliero 93). His novels Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Room with a View are often referred to as Forster’s ‘Italian novels’. Immediately after his return from Italy and Greece Edward Morgan Forster took up the work with a novel that can be considered as the prototype of A Room with a View. This work is known as the ‘Lucy novel’ or the ‘Lucy fragments’. But he stopped working on it for some time, and a few years passed before he dealt again with it. Only “[i]n A Room with a View Forster takes up the fragments contrasting Italy and England which are found in the early ‘Lucy novels’ and brings them to a successful conclusion” (Cavaliero 93).

The critic on the constrictive and rigid rules of social life in English society has often been an issue discussed by Edward Morgan Forster, and it is a central issue in A Room with a View. Furthermore Forster calls attention to the behaviour of the English people abroad. He introduces very different characters in order to show different points of view and behaviours. It is interesting that most of the English tourists described in A Room with a View are more or less presented as unpleasant people. This is due to the fact that they do not fit into the Italian environment because of their affected behaviour.

By describing the behaviour of the English tourists and residents at Florence Edward Morgan Forster reveals a lot about English mentality, and he sometimes overtly criticizes it. As Forster himself travelled Italy and Greece, it can be assumed that he made experiences and acquaintances that served as a model for some of the situations and characters described in A Room with a View. Forster clearly distanced himself from this kind of people, or more precisely, tourists. Edward Morgan Forster offers an interesting point of view to the reader, because he was English himself, but nevertheless critically observed the attitude of his fellow countrymen.

Furthermore, the behaviour of the English tourists in Italy might be considered as representative for the attitude of the English people towards the Continent, and therefore the topic of this research paper fits into the context of “The British and the Continent”.

Because of the fact that only the first half of the novel plays in Italy and that Italy is mentioned only sometimes and at the very end again, I will concentrate on the first part of the plot that takes place at Florence. Furthermore, it will be possible to examine the influence of only a few characters and events on the development of Lucy Honeychurch, who is in the centre of the action. Her experiences in Italy play an important role for this process. I will examine the passages that help to reveal the behaviour of English people abroad. And I will focus my attention on the development of Lucy, for she is a girl that was brought up in surrounding that followed the English values and norms, but finally manages to free herself from the restrictive rules, at least to a certain degree. The love story around which the whole plot evolves I will touch only in so far as it concerns the influence of Italy on it.

2. The Attitude of English Tourists Abroad

At the end of the 19th century it was no problem anymore to make voyages to the Continent, many shipping and train connections facilitated it to travel. Although travelling was still strenuous and sometimes uncomfortable, it was even possible for women to do so. For members of the upper classes, it was considered as suitable and desired in order to complete their education; they should increase their knowledge by visiting foreign countries. Travelling was of course expensive and could therefore be afforded only by wealthier families.

In general, travelling Europe was not an adventure anymore, the cities of Europe where explored, its sights catalogued, and the inhabitants of the cities that were preferred by tourists had recognized tourism as a source of making money and were therefore well equipped; they conducted many hotels, pensions, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Very often, English tourists did rely only on the information of the famous guidebook Baedeker, which is mentioned often in A Room with a View. But the information collected in theses guidebooks did not allow the tourists to experience a country in their own way. A country consists of more than its monuments, churches and castles, and it cannot be explored by learning the dates of life of some important philosopher, clergyman or sovereign. It was and still is necessary to develop a feeling for the nuances of a country and its people in order to feel the way the inhabitants identify with their country, or to understand why certain and social, political, and cultural structures have developed.

The fact that the tourists did often not fit into the Italian life, and that the Italians led a life that was not as restricted by social rules as for example the English social life was, is vividly described by a little scene from everyday life in Florence: “An electric tram came rushing underneath the window. No one was inside it, except one tourist; but its platforms were overflowing with Italians, who preferred to stand. Children tried to hang on behind, and the conductor, with no malice, spat in their faces to make them let go” (Forster 14). The English, often characterized by and also criticized for their inability to express emotions or give in to them were clearly not in the right state of mind to experience a Mediterranean state like Italy in its entirety, as the Italians are known for their impulsiveness and strong emotionality. But the English tourists did not recognize this inability as a deficit. On the contrary they put special emphasis on the keeping up of their habits and the

use of the rigid conventions of the English middle classes, no doubt all the more rigid when their representatives were abroad and thus anxious to serve as impressive advertisements for their national virtues and to demonstrate both their solidarity and their superiority to the natives. (Page 36)

The English did not even try to adapt to the habits and customs of the inhabitants, because they considered their own English ideals as superior to that of the foreign culture. It was still observable that the English people considered themselves as the world-leading nation that set the standards of behaviour, although the Empire already fell apart.

English tourists even went so far with their inflexibility as to insist on hotels and pensions that resembled English ones. It is a striking fact that already at the beginning of the novel, the reader might get the impression that the story takes place somewhere in England. Only the name of the pensione Bertolini, and the mentioning of the Signora indicate that the place is in Italy. The pensione Bertolini is only inhabited by English tourists, and its furnishings are in a typical English style, the room is overburdened with symbols of England and Englishness; nothing does remind the tourist of being in Florence. The Kindlers Neues Literaturlexikon describes it as follows:

Einen Mikrokosmos des von hierarchischem Standesdenken und strikten Verhaltensnormen geprägten England bildet die Pension Bertolini in Florenz, wo die attraktive Lucy mit ihrer altjüngferlichen Kusine Charlotte ihre Ferien verbringt. Das Domizil, von einer Britin geleitet und mit Bildern Kiplings und der Queen, den Galeonsfiguren des Viktorianismus, ausstaffiert, steht in ironischem Kontrast zu der florentinischen Lebensweise. (Kindlers)



ISBN (eBook)
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387 KB
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Institution / College
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz – Seminar für Englische Philologie: Forschungs- und Lehrbereich Anglistik
Forster Room View Attitude English People Abroad British Continent Tourism



Title: E. M. Forster's "A Room with a View": The Attitude of English People Abroad