Study Guide

A Room with a View Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By E.M. Forster

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Medieval vs. Renaissance Art

All of the stodgy British tourists in the Pension Bertolini are in Florence to soak up the city’s famous aura of art and culture. The art references start here and continue through the rest of the novel. Forster uses the contrast between the Medieval and Renaissance periods to divide his characters into two teams. Cecil is the obvious captain of Team Medieval – he is described as a Gothic statue, lean and austere. George and Lucy, on the other hand, are decidedly Renaissance. George is most often compared to a figure from Michelangelo and to the classical images of gods and heroes that inspired Renaissance artists. Lucy is aligned with the women of Leonardo da Vinci. These Renaissance and Classical images imply “fruition” and vibrant new life (after all, “renaissance” means "rebirth" in French), while the austere nature of the Medieval/Gothic aesthetic as seen by Forster suggests a joyless, celibate existence.

Forster also takes this opposition of Medieval versus Renaissance out of the context of art and into the broader world of social systems. He classifies the stratified society that Lucy lives in as Medieval; Cecil in particular sums up a system of gender relations that’s “feudal” in nature. The author also plays upon the image of the medieval period as the Dark Ages; he frequently notes that a mysterious “darkness” threatens to overtake Windy Corner, Lucy, and George as Lucy’s happy ending seems less and less likely. However, light and rebirth win out in the end: Chapter Twenty’s title, “The End of the Middle Ages,” suggests that Lucy and George have finally broken through to the Renaissance by leaving the restrictive social world of England behind them.

Inside vs. Outside, or Rooms +/- Views

Forster’s particularly fond of playing off the title of this work throughout the novel. The metaphor of the room with a view applies to life in general (see “What’s Up With the Title?” for more on that), and also to individual characters. The “view” that he’s talking about is emblematic of a certain kind of ambition or lust for life. Characters associated with a view, or with the outdoors in general, are more vibrant, exciting, and connected with their own thoughts and desires. These include those who are actually young – Lucy, George, and Freddy – as well as those who are “young at heart,” like Mr. Beebe.

In direct contrast to these “view” characters, we have characters associated with rooms or indoor activities. Cecil is the prime example here – in fact, he’s the one who openly states the association of Lucy as a view and himself as a room (specifically, a drawing room without a view… how dull! It’s hard to be Cecil sometimes). Charlotte is also an indoor force; we learn that she’s actually the one who stopped Lucy from bathing in the Sacred Lake.

Real life views, such as the one that the tourists go to see with Reverend Eager on that dramatic drive in the hills, inspire View characters to action – for example, this particular view inspires George to take the plunge and kiss Lucy for the first time. Notably, their second kiss is also outside (in the garden of Windy Corner), while George’s thwarted declaration of love, which Lucy rejects, is indoors – perhaps things would have gone differently if he’d approached her outside somewhere! When we finally see them reunited, it’s in the original Room With A View in the Pension Bertolini.

Music

Music, when we first meet Lucy, is the only outlet the girl has for all the feelings that are building up inside her. She pours her spirit into Beethoven sonatas, an act that enables her to maintain a polite and predictable exterior when she’s not playing the piano. When she plays, she is, as the narrator notes, “no longer either deferential or patronizing; no longer either rebel or a slave” (3.1). Instead, she is her own person, the genuine Lucy that isn’t allowed to come out in social situations. It’s the only milieu in which she can express her own desires. However, as her desires grow more and more forceful, music gradually becomes “the employment of a child” – as Lucy grows up, she develops the needs for a means of expression more direct than music – actual human interaction.