Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 15, 2013

A Room with a View (1908), by E.M. Forster, read by Joanna David

A Room with a ViewI like E.M. Forster.  I read this book before, a long time ago, but it was nice to revisit it with an audio book.

A Room with a View covers similar territory to Edith Wharton’s The Reef. (See my review).  This story of prim propriety sabotaging relationships features a young Edwardian Englishwoman called Lucy Honeychurch who suppresses her attraction to George Emerson because her aspirational mother expects her to marry rich-and-snooty Cecil Vyse instead.

As you know if you’ve seen the delightful Merchant-Ivory film starring Helena Bonham-Carter, the story begins in Florence where Lucy and her exasperating cousin Charlotte find that the pensione has failed to provide the requisite view of the Arno.  Thanks to the generosity of Mr Emerson and his handsome son George, a swap is arranged, but Charlotte as chaperone is at pains to ensure that this kindness isn’t interpreted as an obligation, and this is used as an excuse to be distant to the Emersons who are ‘not of the right class’.


But abandoned one day on a walk with the flighty novelist Miss Eleanor Lavish, Lucy meets up with George on her own, and as it happens he rescues her when they witness a rather frightening event.  This makes Lucy more kindly disposed towards him, but George subsequently blots his copybook when his passion gets the better of him in a barley field.  Lucy returns home to England having promised Charlotte to say nothing about it.  By the standards of Edwardian society, of course, a kiss should have automatically led to an engagement but Charlotte disapproves of George and insists on secrecy instead.  And that ought to be the end of that.

But Cecil Vyse, Lucy’s intended, owns property in their area, and lo! rather than let it to the elderly Miss Alans (because he despises them), Cecil lets the house to the Emersons.  His motives being so nasty, it serves him right when eventually Lucy is persuaded by the surprising cleric Mr Beebe and by generous Mr Emerson, to follow her heart instead of the rules.

What makes this story so entertaining is not the romantic intrigue, which is predictable even if you aren’t already familiar with the story.  Forster’s wry humour gently mocks both Edwardian mannerisms and the British tourist abroad with her Baedeker, and the scenes when the proprieties are finally abandoned are very droll, especially when Mrs Honeychurch takes out her angst on the dahlias and finally has a petulant conversation with her daughter, who at last decides to start thinking for herself.  Mess with typewriters, and take work away from men, Mrs Honeychurch retorts, when Lucy says she wants to be independent – rousing Lucy’s indignation even further when she accuses her of being just like Charlotte and her endless carry-on.  Forster also tackles changing attitudes about religion, and there’s also a nice ambiguity about Charlotte’s motivations at the end, making this more than a rom-com, more than a comedy of manners.

The narration by Joanna David is competent, but there are times when her voice fades away which means that one has to listen with the volume louder than is really comfortable. Editing would have fixed that but it hasn’t been done. Worse than that, however, is that there are no identifying breaks at the beginning and end of the CDs so that you don’t realise that you’ve come to the end of one CD until the long silence, and if as I do you’ve loaded the CDs into a 6 CD stacker unit in the car, you can’t be sure that you’ve loaded the CDs in the right order when it switches onto the next one.  Apart from the fact that this is a shabby way to treat vision-impaired people who depend on audio books much more than I do, it’s also very annoying. So while I still love the story, I don’t recommend this edition.

Author: E.M. Forster
Title: A Room with a View (first published 1908)
Read by Joanna David
Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America, undated
ISBN: 9781572703469
Source: Casey-Cardinia Library


Fishpond: A Room with a View
If you want an audio book you could try this one, it’s not the version I listened to – A Room with a View


  1. This is absolutely one of my favourite books. I remember seeing the film long ago, 1987 according my journal. Wonderful happy memories


    • Yes, me too. Helena Bonham-Carter was so gorgeous, she is entrenched in my mind as the image of this character forever.


      • Absolutely. Her versatility as an actress shines through when comparing her to the role she played in the Harry Potter films.


        • Ugh, Harry Potter – I have the complete series of books at the school library but have only been able to make myself read Nos 1,2, & 7. (I had to read 7 before I put it on the shelves because there were suggestions in some quarters that it was a bit ‘dark’ for primary school children). I needn’t have bothered, the HP books tend to stay on the shelf, our students are not very keen.
          I bought the first film to show my Year 5/6 classes, but have not bothered with the rest. I don’t think even Bonham-Carter could do much with dross like the HP characters.


  2. I love this book and the movie too! Mr. Beebe is a hoot and Charlotte and her manipulating self-deprecating ways makes me grind my teeth. And Cecil, what a snob!


    • Oh yes, Charlotte is a masterpiece.
      I think I might see if I can hire the movie again!


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