Study Guide

A Room with a View Art and Culture

By E.M. Forster

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Art and Culture

Part 1, Chapter 2

For one ravishing moment Italy appeared. She stood in the Square of the Annunziata and saw in the living terra-cotta those divine babies whom no cheap reproduction can ever stale. There they stood, with their shining limbs bursting from the garments of charity, and their strong white arms extended against circlets of heaven. Lucy thought she had never seen anything more beautiful; but Miss Lavish, with a shriek of dismay, dragged her forward, declaring that they were out of their path now by at least a mile (2.16).

Lucy, unlike Miss Lavish, is able to appreciate the true beauty of art when it sneaks up on her. However, most of the other characters, including Lucy herself at times, approach art in a very different way, as pretentious critics, rather than open-minded lovers of beauty.

She watched the singular creature pace up and down the chapel. For a young man his face was rugged, and—until the shadows fell upon it—hard. Enshadowed, it sprang into tenderness. She saw him once again at Rome, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, carrying a burden of acorns. Healthy and muscular, he yet gave her the feeling of greyness, of tragedy that might only find solution in the night. The feeling soon passed; it was unlike her to have entertained anything so subtle (2.39).

Lucy, watching George, sees him as a heroic figure out of Michelangelo (he’s also referred to as “Michelangelesque” later – see 12.24). This is a precursor to later comparisons in which Lucy herself is seen as a work by Leonardo da Vinci, and it directly contrasts to Cecil Vyse, who is an austere medieval statue.

Of course, it must be a wonderful building. But how like a barn! And how very 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 (2.22).

Lucy knows that she should feel that Santa Croce is a “wonderful” and exciting place, and she’s positive that the great works of art she came looking for are in there somewhere, but since she has neither guide nor guidebook, she doesn’t know which ones they are. Of course, she wouldn’t – nay, couldn’t – dare make her own decisions on what is beautiful and what is not.

Part 1, Chapter 3

She was no dazzling executante; her runs were not at all like strings of pearls, and she struck no more right notes than was suitable for one of her age and situation. Nor was she the passionate young lady, who performs so tragically on a summer's evening with the window open. Passion was there, but it could not be easily labelled; it slipped between love and hatred and jealousy, and all the furniture of the pictorial style. And she was tragical only in the sense that she was great, for she loved to play on the side of Victory. Victory of what and over what—that is more than the words of daily life can tell us. But that some sonatas of Beethoven are written tragic no one can gainsay; yet they can triumph or despair as the player decides, and Lucy had decided that they should triumph (3.2).

Here we catch our first real glimpse of what Lucy is really like in her heart of hearts. Music is her only outlet for the feelings she usually hides beneath a shell of politeness; we can see from this dramatic passage of description that she’s got a lot beneath the surface.

Part 1, Chapter 4

For her taste was catholic, and she extended uncritical approval to every well-known name (4.5).

This little one-liner, easily overlooked, is a sarcastic poke by Forster at the stereotypically bourgeois habit of admiring only things that are widely acknowledged as admirable. Nota bene: “catholic” in this sense doesn’t mean Catholic, as in the Church (though that does kind of apply, since the art Lucy’s looking at is religious). Instead, “catholic” means broad and open.

Part 1, Chapter 7

“No, I want to be really truthful. I am a little to blame. I had silly thoughts. The sky, you know, was gold, and the ground all blue, and for a moment he looked like some one in a book.”

“In a book?”

“Heroes—gods—the nonsense of schoolgirls” (7.27-9).

George, the subject of this discussion, is compared to a hero or god of antiquity, which casts him in a dashingly romantic light. Oh, be still our beating hearts!

Part 2, Chapter 8

Appearing thus late in the story, Cecil must be at once described. He was medieval. Like a Gothic statue. Tall and refined, with shoulders that seemed braced square by an effort of the will, and a head that was tilted a little higher than the usual level of vision, he resembled those fastidious saints who guard the portals of a French cathedral. Well educated, well endowed, and not deficient physically, he remained in the grip of a certain devil whom the modern world knows as self-consciousness, and whom the medieval, with dimmer vision, worshipped as asceticism. A Gothic statue implies celibacy, just as a Greek statue implies fruition […] (8.15).

Cecil is the captain of the “medieval” team in the novel, representing the stuffy old order of super-British high society, and his appearance makes his allegiance obvious. This comparison directly lines up with the images we have of George as a Greek god or a neo-classical Michelangelo figure.

Part 2, Chapter 17
Cecil Vyse

But to Cecil, now that he was about to lose her, she seemed each moment more desirable. He looked at her, instead of through her, for the first time since they were engaged. From a Leonardo she had become a living woman, with mysteries and forces of her own, with qualities that even eluded art. His brain recovered from the shock, and, in a burst of genuine devotion, he cried: "But I love you, and I did think you loved me!" (17.6).

Too late, Cecil realizes that Lucy is, in fact, not a work of art. Shocking!

Lucy Honeychurch

“You despise my mother—I know you do—because she's conventional and bothers over puddings; but, oh goodness!"—she rose to her feet—"conventional, Cecil, you're that, for you may understand beautiful things, but you don't know how to use them; and you wrap yourself up in art and books and music, and would try to wrap up me. I won't be stifled, not by the most glorious music, for people are more glorious, and you hide them from me. That's why I break off my engagement. You were all right as long as you kept to things, but when you came to people—" She stopped (17.8).

Here, Lucy finally calls Cecil out on his obnoxious and profoundly antisocial habit of thinking of everything – people, relationships, basically the entire human world – in terms of stuffy art history. By treating everyone and everything around him as objects (whether as works of art or worthless junk), he fails to understand the deeper, incredibly human feelings that Lucy possesses.

Part 2, Chapter 18

Lucy would enjoy this letter, and the smile with which Mr. Beebe greeted Windy Corner was partly for her. She would see the fun of it, and some of its beauty, for she must see some beauty. Though she was hopeless about pictures, and though she dressed so unevenly—oh, that cerise frock yesterday at church!—she must see some beauty in life, or she could not play the piano as she did. He had a theory that musicians are incredibly complex, and know far less than other artists what they want and what they are; that they puzzle themselves as well as their friends; that their psychology is a modern development, and has not yet been understood (18.4).

Mr. Beebe also thinks of Lucy in terms of art (in the broader sense of the term), but instead of envisioning her as a distant and idealized woman in a painting, as Cecil does, he associates her with her music. He sees something mysterious about the way the musician approaches music that is less clear and less explainable than the approach of other artists, which perhaps explains Lucy’s difficulty understanding herself…

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