Virtual Book Club | A Room With a View

Hellllooooo and welcome to our first Virtual Book Club over here at the Ardent Biblio! We'll be reading A Room With a View by E. M. Forster in two parts (it's a short book!), discussing some context, the novel itself, and then some extra fun things at the end. The read-a-long discussion will also be active over on instagram so check it out under the hashtag #ardentbibliobookclub!

Background/Context

We feel like context for a novel is so important to framing it and giving a richer understanding of the book, so here are a few relevant notes.

  • Edward Morgan Forster was born in 1879 and largely raised by women, giving a foundation for his strong female characters in his novels.
  • The period of time between the turn of the century and the first World War was a definitively optimistic one in England. Liberal Edwardian ideals were overtaking straight laced Victorian ones, and Forster was a champion of goodwill and the belief that humanity could improve itself.
  • A Room With a View was partially written on a trip Forster took to Italy, and was indicative of his lighter, more liberal style of writing in contrast to the stricter, more sober Victorian writers who preceded him.
  • A Room With a View was published in 1908 and was well received at the time and considered a wonderful work of social commentary; insightful and intentionally without the acidic bite of other works.

Discussion questions for the first half of the book will be up a week from today, and we can all dive in!

Part One Discussion

"'Fifty miles of spring, and we've come up to admire them. Do you suppose there's any difference between spring in nature and spring in man? But there we go, praising the one and condemning the other as improper, ashamed that some laws work eternally through both.'"

So how are you guys enjoying the book so far? Part One introduced us to an entire cast of interesting characters from Charlotte to the Emerson's, who do you like best?

Mr. Beebe is presented as wise and insightful, Mrs. Lavish who sees herself as radical and daring, both Emersons are more open and frank, Charlotte as prudish and proper, while Lucy is refined yet we suspect passionate; do you think they represent facets of society?

Charlotte is Lucy's cousin and primary companion on this journey, though they seem to have a sometimes strained relationship. Do you think Charlotte is amusing, clever, or do you view her as Lucy does, with irritation?

Certainly Charlotte is more restrained and prim than Lucy is, at what points do we see Lucy starting to break free and defy convention?

What role does music have in this? I kind of love her taking a classically somber piece and making it hopeful, and how much attention people pay to the emotion a musician puts into their playing.

The Emerson's are certainly outside of the social circles that Lucy is generally involved with, and George is demonstrably more passionate than other people Lucy is acquainted with, as she notes how shocked she was that he would speak of blood and death so openly with her. The scene where he kisses her in the violets is also deservedly famous one in literature, and that was quite a bold move for him to make.

Do you think Lucy and George are good for each other, or are you rooting for them at this point? Also, what has been your favorite scene so far, because the violets was certainly mine!

This book is vividly, perfectly springy and is carrying such strong themes of light and dark, of social class, and of the tensions between convention and human nature, what other themes are you guys seeing?

I am really enjoying this book so far, I love the themes and subtext in it, the quirky cast of characters, and the springy atmosphere. I'm really excited for Part 2 and to watch how things shift when Lucy is back in her element in England! Tell us all about how you're feeling about the book so far!

Part Two Discussion

Okay, I just have to say, I seriously loved this book! Part 2 finds Lucy back in England after basically fleeing Italy after her kiss with George in the violets. She gets engaged to Cecil, who is well bred, but kind of a pompous asshat. Why do you think Lucy agrees to marry him? 

Cecil and Lucy are progressing in their engagement when lo and behold, he accidentally thwarts some of her plans and the Emersons move in to a cottage in the neighborhood. Of course this throws Lucy into “a muddle”. Forster uses this word quite a bit, did you like this phrasing to describe the tangles of heart and mind the characters got into?

Being in England means Lucy has more pressure to conform, and she desperately tries to repress her feelings for George, until she finally sees how insufferable Cecil really is, and ends their engagement. Did you think Cecil was sincere in his desire to change his ways, after Lucy opened his eyes to his character flaws? 

On the flip side, Lucy herself is awakening to who she wants to be and what she wants in life. Do you identify at all with her at this point?

Of course, leaving Cecil frees her to be with George, which she makes one last attempt to run away from by pressing her family to let her go to Greece with the Miss Alans, and thus deny herself true love. It is Mr. Emerson that changes her mind, why do you think his speech was so effective?

I especially loved it when Mr. Emerson said “It isn’t possible to love and to part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.” Do you agree with him?

And we have an almost happily ever after, as she and George eventually marry and honeymoon in Italy, though we see that their relations are largely uncomfortable with the way it all unwound. Lucy does say that those who really care for them will forgive them eventually. Do you think they will? Or are the other characters too bound by societal rules to ever accept them back?

I think that Forster portrays a warmer, more gentle, forgiving, cast of characters and though things weren’t tied completely in a neat bow, there is the promise that it all will come together in a true happily ever after sometime in the future. 

Although I really enjoyed Forster’s style, and this didn’t bother me, a frequent criticism is that he relies too much on convenient “coincidences” to move the plot neatly forward. Did you notice this while you were reading, and did it bug you?

Seriously, what an amazing little story, I will for sure be picking up more Forster in the future, it’s so exciting to find new classic authors that I love, and I am a sucker for warmth and nostalgia in novels.

What did you all think of the book? 

Extra Fun Stuff!

Okay guys, so now that we've finished, we figured we'd extend an invite for you guys to host your own literary dinner parties and movie screenings for A Room With A View. It can be as simple as you like, maybe some spaghetti and a glass of wine, or Italian dressing on your salad and some extra candles for festivity. You could also go elaborate with a big group of friends, it's totally up to you! We highly suggest watching the 1985 version of the movie with a young Helena Bonham Carter (find it on Netflix!), it's pretty dead on and beautifully done!

We're working up a Pinterest board for our own party, and you'll be able to see what we did with it soon! EDIT: Our party is right here!

Tag #ardentbibliobookclub so we can see how you celebrated this novel!

The second thing, since we are all wrapped up in this world and these themes, is we'd like to suggest a book flight for further reading. Each of these novels features women going through the process of self discovery in Italy, though each in a different time period, and in a slightly different way. Read together they give a really complete view of how timeless these things are, and show different facets of these familiar themes; of the transformative power of Italy, and of the various ways we work ourselves out.

  1. A Room With A View | E.M. Forster
  2. Enchanted April | Elizabeth von Arnim
  3. Under the Tuscan Sun | Frances Mayes

Let us know if you continue reading! We are so glad to have read this novel with all of you, and hope you enjoyed it! Any suggestions for a next read-a-long?