A long, long time ago in a galaxy far away (that is, in movie theatres in the early nineties), E.M. Forster seemed like a pretty serious guy. A double whammy of Where Angels Fear to Tread and Howards End, two of his, shall we say, less hilarious works, emerged in cinemas, both with very serious British actors and very serious British plots. This made it easy to forget that an even longer time ago, in the mid-eighties, a frothy, lighthearted, and really quite charming film was made of A Room with a View (interestingly, Helena Bonham Carter, a fine actress who occasionally suffers from the same misattributed dire seriousness, appeared in all three films). While most of Forster’s other novels, particularly Howards End and A Passage to India, are most often praised for their social consciousness and clear-sighted critiques of Britishism at the beginning of the twentieth century, none of the other books manage to accomplish the latter with the same comic flair, light touch, and panache that Room possesses. In this novel, Forster gleefully skewers the institutions of upper-middle class English society, while simultaneously remaining sympathetic to the characters he creates.
A Room with a View was the first novel Forster started, but it was actually published in 1908, after he’d written and published two other books. One of them, Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), is often paired with Room, since it also takes place in Italy and deals with some similar issues, such as the British tourist abroad, albeit in a more serious fashion. In comparison with the latter text and others, A Room with a View stands out as the author’s most lighthearted and optimistic work, and his dry wit and keen, observant eye make for the ultimate intelligent romantic comedy.
Parents. Siblings. Friends. Teachers. Expectations. Stereotypes. Ideals. Pressure. So. Much. Pressure.
If you’ve ever been young, of course it does. We’re constantly inspected from all angles from middle school, through high school, through college, then post-college… sometimes it seems like it never ends. More often than not, some of the people exerting this pressure have certain goals for us, sometimes ones that we may not have for ourselves. We probably love these people, and we certainly don’t want to disappoint them. But what can you do when your loved ones are sure they know what’s right for you? And worse, what do you do when society as a whole agrees with them?
Case in point: Imagine you have a friend that wants more than anything to take off after college and travel the world and pursue her real passion, say… painting. Or writing. Or directing Bollywood musicals. Whatever, it’s inconsequential – just know that she has a true talent and passion for this thing. Now, imagine that this very same friend gets into an amazing graduate program, like say, Harvard Law. Or Johns Hopkins Med. Or whatever. Again, inconsequential – just know that it’s the stereotypical offer you “can’t refuse.” Her parents are going totally ballistic with joy; in fact, everyone she knows is ballistic with joy. She commits herself to going to professional school and even sends off a deposit…but a part of her knows that if she goes, she’ll always have a nagging suspicion that she did the wrong thing, and that it’ll haunt her for the rest of her life. On the other hand, she knows that if she turns down her phenomenal grad school opportunity, everyone she knows will think she’s throwing her life away. What should your friend do?
Now imagine your friend with big Helena Bonham Carter hair and a froufy Edwardian dress. Ooh, and a parasol. Don’t forget the parasol. Also, imagine that it’s 1908 and that she’s deciding between the man she loves and the support of her family, friends, and basically the whole world. Then ask the question, “Why should I care?” again. Are you still wondering? We thought not.
A Room with a View (1985)
This is the classic version, done up right by the famous production team of Merchant and Ivory. It has an all-star cast, including Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Daniel Day Lewis, and a very young Helena Bonham Carter.
A Room with a View (2007 TV)
This new version, produced by Britain’s ITV, is due for US release in April 2008. You can see clips from it on YouTube – see the link in “Videos” below.
Lying to George, 1985
In this clip from the original film, Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands, and Maggie Smith star in the movie’s interpretation of Chapter 16.
The moment of passion, as captured in the 1985 film
George and Lucy
The original movie poster
Text of A Room with a View on the Gutenberg Project
It’s free to download or read online!
A detailed and informative E.M. Forster fansite, you’ll find plenty of info on the author’s life, works, and legacy here.
Another very dedicated fansite.
Another website with great commentary and bibliography resources.