Edward Morgan Forster, (1879-1970), was an English novelist and essayist, whose novels were written in a style notable for its conciseness and fluidity, which explored the attitudes that created barriers between people.
At the beginning of the Edwardian Era, Forster wrote three novels: “Where Angels Fear to Tread” (1905), “The Longest Journey” (1907) and “A Room with a View” (1908).
The construction of these three novels was a reaction to lengthy, formally plotted Victorian fiction. Somewhat autobiographical, they also sounded a common theme prevalent in Forsters essays: the need to temper middle-class materialism with due consideration of things of the mind and imagination, in order to achieve harmony and understanding.
In this brilliant piece of social comedy, Forster is concerned with one of his favourite themes: the ‘undeveloped heart’ of the English middle classes, who are here represented by a group of tourists and expatriates in Florence. The English abroad are observed with a sharply ironic eye, but one of them, the young and unaffected Lucy Honeychurch, is also drawn with great sympathy.
In order for me to fully understand the book, “A Room with a View”, a greater understanding of the Edwardian society is needed.
There was an image of splendour left by the high society of the Edwardian period. Years of florid prosperity punctuated by festivals and receptions, balls and parties (the period has been arbitrarily characterised as ‘the long garden party’). The era set its mark on a generation, at least on those members of it who were able to enjoy what it had to offer in money, pleasure and travel. For those who lived in this London season, life was not only prosperous but also materialistic. Even in the middle classes this ‘golden age’ led them to lead a sheltered life. The harshness of social inequality had its roots in history. The great void that separated the rich from the poor was enormously enhanced by the social attitudes of the time, there was a large contrast between the extravagant lives of the rich, and the narrow hard existence of the working class.
Many fairly typical Victorians, some of them very influential, were still to be found in Edwardian England. A large proportion of the upper and lower middle classes was Victorian in its outlook, values and judgements.
At the turn of the Century, Britain was still governed in the main by men, who derived their importance from ownership of land, and the traditions of a landed aristocracy dominated society.
In the spring there was a reverse flow into London, of wealthy families who owed it to themselves to see, and be seen during the London season, those with marriageable daughters were especially faithful in their observance of this social pilgrimage.
The problems of the working classes and of the poor had persisted despite half a century of social reform. The economy had run in cycles of boom and bust for decades, and each upturn left working-class families slightly more behind. The value of pay for workers declined throughout the period, and it was not until 1913 that wages rose as much as they had in 1901. A host of social programs to alleviate poor living conditions had a limited impact. The poor constituted nearly one-third of the population, and many of them were destitute.
Through “A Room with a View”, Forster voiced his frustrations about the materialism and snobbery from the higher classes. He thought the distribution of wealth was wrong and unfair, and tried to portray the enormous barriers in society. In writing this book, Forster wanted people to appreciate the ‘undeveloped heart’ of the English middle classes, and how the differences in society has changed and will continue to change.