A Room with a View was published in 1908. It was one of Forster's earliest novels, and it has become one of his most famous and popular. E.M. Forster was twenty-nine at the time of publication; two earlier novels, Where Angels Fear to Tread and The Longest Journey, had been poorly received. A Room with a View was blessed with good reviews, but it would not be until 1910 and the publication of Howard's End that Forster would have his first major success.
The novel deals with a group of British characters in two major settings: Part One and the final chapter are set in Florence, Italy, and Part Two is set mostly in a quiet part of Surrey, England. Forster's characters, like Forster himself at the time of the novel's writing, live in the time of the British Empire's zenith. With possessions in every part of the globe, the British Empire was as yet untouched by the difficulties of the two world wars. The monarch of England was also the king of Canada and the emperor of India; English citizens enjoyed the fruits of a system of exploitation and oppression that touched the far corners of the world.
The remnants of Victorian sensibilities were still very much alive. Prim and proper Brits worried about refinement, the virtue of young girls, and the control of the passions. But it was also a time of change. Women began to clamor more loudly than ever for equal rights. Socialists were challenging old ideas about class and religion, and artists and thinkers began to challenge Victorian attitudes about emotion and sexuality. A Room with a View was one of those challenges. The story of young Lucy Honeychurch's choice between propriety and love, the novel casts Socialists as heroes and prim spinsters as antagonists. Lucy's dramatic choice at the end of the novel is not only a victory for passion, but for woman's independence.
It was common for British citizens, particularly young men and women, to take the "grand tour" of Italy. The idea was for educated Brits to expose themselves to the work of Renaissance and Roman artists and architects, but like tourists throughout the ages, many travelers only had a superficial experience of Italy. They stayed with other British travelers, looked down on the Italians, and went to museums and ancient churches with their books of art criticism in hand. Forster criticizes this kind of tourist, but with some gentleness and a good deal of humor. A Room with a View is wonderful social commentary, but it is no acrid satire. The novel prefers to laugh lovingly at its subjects, and in the end the good in people matters much more to Forster than their shortcomings.
The novel deals with Lucy's growth toward self-awareness; by the end, she has learned the importance of expressing passion honestly. At the time, Forster was at the beginning of his first important relationship. A Room with a View is dedicated to H.O.M., Hugh Meredith, Forster's first love and the model for George Emerson. Throughout the novel, Forster speaks with great insight on the subject of repressed passion and the war between desire and society's conventions. His experiences as a gay man at the beginnings of his first relationship undoubtedly had a great influence on the writing of the novel. His lack of sexual experience also explains some of the novel's shortcomings; although he writes beautifully about the beginning stages of the courtship between Lucy and George, in the final chapter he seems less certain, less insightful. Still, the book is an accomplished and beautiful love story, full of cutting but ultimately generous insights. And there are unforgettable moments: the first kiss between George is Lucy, passionate and unexpected on a hillside covered with violets, is one of the finest kisses in modern literature.