“I have a view, I have a view…This is my son…his name’s George. He has a view too.” (Chapter 1)
Lucy and Charlotte are disappointed to find that their rooms in the hotel lack a view of the River Arno. Mr. Emerson and his son have rooms with views, which they would like Lucy and Charlotte to enjoy. Charlotte, however, thinks the offer uncouth and refuses them. The word “view” literally refers to the picturesque Italian scene, but it has another meaning as the philosophical worldview held by the Emersons—a freer, more unconventional view that Charlotte rejects, but that Lucy will come to accept as her own.
“ ‘About old Mr. Emerson—I hardly know. No, he is not tactful; yet, have you ever noticed that there are people who do things which are most indelicate, and yet at the same time--beautiful?’
‘Beautiful?’ said Miss Bartlett, puzzled at the word. ‘Are not beauty and delicacy the same?’
‘So one would have thought,’ said the other helplessly. ‘But things are so difficult, I sometimes think.’ ” (Chapter 1)
In discussing the offer made by Mr. Emerson, Miss Alan hits upon one of the main themes of this book—that is, things that are indelicate, or improper, can sometimes be beautiful. Lucy must decide for herself what is good and beautiful, and not rely on what society teaches her is proper.
“You will never repent of a little civility to your inferiors. That is the true democracy.” (Chapter 2)
This is an example of Forster’s satire of the snooty, class-conscious English abroad. Miss Lavish fancies herself a Radical, with unconventionally liberal views. However, she is unable to see that if she were truly democratic, she would believe that all people are equal, with no superiors or inferiors. Her attitude toward the Italians is patronizing; she sees them as quaint, colorful, simple souls, far beneath her, and her cries of “Buon giorno!” are said with the grandness of noblesse oblige.
“Of course, it must be a wonderful building. But how like a barn! And how cold! Of course, it contained frescoes by Giotto, in the presence of whose tactile values she was capable of feeling what was proper. But who was to tell her which they were? She walked about disdainfully, unwilling to be enthusiastic over monuments of uncertain authorship or date. There was no one even to tell her which, of all the sepulchral slabs that paved the nave and transepts, was the one that was really beautiful, the one that had been most praised by Mr. Ruskin.” (Chapter 2)
Lucy does not trust her own opinions; she relies on what others tell her is good and beautiful and tries hard to feel “what is proper.” Her instincts tell her that the Santa Croce is cold and barnlike, but she still thinks that it must be a “wonderful building.” She is unable to judge for herself any of the art inside the church, and wishes she had her guidebook to tell her which pieces are really beautiful. Soon after, she learns a lesson from Mr. Emerson when he shocks everyone by criticizing a fresco by Giotto: “Look at that fat man in blue! He must weigh as much as I do, and he is shooting into the sky like an air-balloon!” Mr. Emerson says exactly what he thinks, without regard for politeness or tact. He does not attempt to feel “what is proper,” but rather speaks his true feelings.
“If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting both for us and for her.” (Chapter 3)
Mr. Beebe, watching Lucy play the piano, is struck by her style. Her playing is triumphant, the expression all her own. It seems that only through music can Lucy really express her heroic spirit. In the rest of her life, she is an ordinary, conventional girl, immature and unformed. Mr. Beebe is waiting for the day when she breaks free from the restricting influence of Charlotte and others around her and begins to live an extraordinary life.
“Non fate Guerra al Maggio.” (Chapter 6)
On their ride into the hills above Florence, the Italian carriage driver brings along a girlfriend. Mr. Beebe imagines the driver as Phaethon, the driver of the sun-chariot in Greek myth, and his girlfriend as Persephone, returning to earth with the Spring. The two lovers flirt and cuddle during the trip, until finally they kiss, and Mr. Eager orders the girlfriend to get off the carriage. Mr. Emerson strongly objects, quoting this line from 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. To Mr. Emerson, springtime in the violet-blanketed hills of Italy is one and the same as springtime among young lovers, and both should be equally sacred. The parting of Phaethon and Persephone prefigures the parting of George and Lucy by the prim brown figure of Charlotte at the end of the chapter, which Forster indicates is a terrible sin against the holiness of direct desire.
“ ‘It makes a difference, doesn’t it, whether we fence ourselves in, or whether we are fenced out by the barriers of others?’
‘Fences are fences, especially when they are in the same place.’ ” (Chapter 9)
Here, “fences” and “barriers” refer to the social barriers between different classes of people. Cecil, a snob, feels himself separated from the provincial folk of Summer Street by an immovable barrier. He thinks that the people of Summer Street have fenced him out by their barriers; they cannot reach him and his thoughts because they are too limited by their small-town pettiness. He never stops to think that these are limitations he has placed upon himself—as Mrs. Honeychurch points out, that “Fences are fences.”
“My father says that there is only one perfect view—the view of the sky straight over our heads, and that all these views on earth are but bungled copies of it.” (Chapter 15)
This is spoken by George when Cecil asks him if he enjoys the view at Windy Corner. It shows Mr. Emerson’s influence on his son, and illuminates their shared philosophy. If a “view” can be seen to have a second meaning as “worldview,” then George’s comment means that there are all kinds of ideas on earth, and people may argue over whose is best, but there is only one perfect view, and that is the view of the Creator, or God, or the Eternal. The quote shows that George is not bound by the superficial prejudices and snobberies that govern Cecil. Like Lucy, he is above all that; he has a sense of something higher.
“Taste not when the wine cup glistens / Speak not when the people listens / Stop thine ear against the singer / From the red gold keep thy finger / Vacant heart and hand and eye / Easy live and quiet die.” (Chapter 18)
These are the words to a song that Lucy sings after she has decided to remain forever unmarried. The song is “Lucy Ashton’s Song” by Sir Walter Scott. Lucy still does not admit to herself that she loves George, and thinks that the solution to her woes is to live alone. Mr. Beebe approves of the message of the song. A celibate himself, he hopes that Lucy’s trip abroad will help cement her decision to remain a virgin. Freddy, however, says the words are “rotten.” From the way she sings the song, it seems that Lucy inwardly agrees with her brother: the ascetic’s life of quiet self-denial is “rotten.”
“ ‘Yes, for we fight for more than Love or Pleasure, there is Truth. Truth counts, Truth does count.’
‘You kiss me,’ said the girl. ‘You kiss me. I will try.’
He gave her a sense of deities reconciled, a feeling that, in gaining the man she loved, she would gain something for the whole world. […] He had robbed the body of its taint, the world’s taunts of their sting; he had shown her the holiness of direct desire.” (Chapter 19)
Lucy’s savior is Mr. Emerson. After all the lying she has done to everyone in her life, Mr. Emerson leads her to Truth. Lucy loves George and she has all along; she just denied it to herself because she had been told that his kiss was an insult, and she had been ashamed. Now Lucy is out of her “muddle.” She knows that those around her will not approve, but the world’s taunts have lost their sting. It is not wrong for her to love George, body and soul. In fact, it is the rightest thing she could ever do.
A Room With a View: Top Ten Quotes