A Room with a View

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Themes and Colors
Society, Manners, and Changing Social Norms Theme Icon
Sexism and Women’s Roles Theme Icon
Honesty Theme Icon
Education and Independence Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Beauty Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Room with a View, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Sexism and Women’s Roles Theme Icon

Throughout the novel, many of Lucy’s experiences are dictated and limited by the fact that she is a woman. The novel takes place at a time when women had few rights and opportunities outside of the home, and rarely stepped outside of traditional, prescribed roles like that of a dutiful wife or mother, but also at a time when people were starting to speak up for greater gender equality and women’s rights. We see how strict gender roles oppress and constrict Lucy, and over the course of the novel, we see her gradually gain some independence and assert her ability to make her own decisions.

But, Forster’s novel shows that this move toward greater gender equality is not as simple as Lucy simply standing up to oppressive male figures. For one thing, it is not only men who perpetuate sexism or gendered stereotypes. Mrs. Honeychurch and Charlotte both have traditional, old-fashioned ideas about the proper behavior and conduct of a woman, and seek to uphold these ideas both in their own lives and in Lucy’s. Additionally, Lucy comes to assert her independence largely through the help and persuasion of three men: Mr. Emerson, George, and Mr. Beebe. To what degree might their attempts to help Lucy be the same as Cecil’s controlling desire to “rescue” her? Lucy herself raises this point when George tells her to leave Cecil because Cecil only wants to tell her what to do. She retorts that George himself is doing the same thing by telling her to leave Cecil.

Probably the most detailed statement about women and gender issues comes from George, when he speaks out to Lucy against Cecil, deploring Cecil’s treatment of women. When Lucy later leaves Cecil, she repeats George’s accusations, such that Cecil feels someone else is speaking through Lucy. The fact that Lucy’s articulation of her own independence as a woman comes from a male character may be a way for Forster to hint that he understands the paradox of a male author writing a female character’s journey toward empowerment. Even if Lucy stands up for her power as a woman, it is a man (Forster) who is ultimately speaking through her. This does not negate Lucy’s journey toward greater independence or the novel’s critique of sexist and patronizing attitudes in figures like Cecil. Rather, it shows that issues involving gender, sexism, and equality are not as simple as one group (men) oppressing another (women). There are complex entanglements between both groups, and moving toward greater equality may involve combating entrenched attitudes on both sides, while finding allies on both sides, as well.

Sexism and Women’s Roles ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Sexism and Women’s Roles appears in each chapter of A Room with a View. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Sexism and Women’s Roles Quotes in A Room with a View

Below you will find the important quotes in A Room with a View related to the theme of Sexism and Women’s Roles.
Chapter 3 Quotes

All his life he had loved to study maiden ladies; they were his specialty, and his profession had provided him with ample opportunities for the work. Girls like Lucy were charming to look at, but Mr. Beebe was, from rather profound reasons, somewhat chilly in his attitude towards the other sex, and preferred to be interested rather than enthralled.

Related Characters: Lucy Honeychurch, Mr. Beebe
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Beebe is a shy, religious man, who takes a great liking to Lucy and her friends. Beebe seems to be very proper in his manners, and yet here, it's suggested that he has no real desire for the opposite sex: he can take an interest in their souls, and he can form friendships with them, but he can't love them. One could argue that Beebe's relative disinterest in women is a manifestation of his condescending priestly attitude, or of a virtuous adherence to his priestly vows. But it's also been suggested that Mr. Beebe, at least in this passage, is something of a self-portrait by Forster himself (who was homosexual).


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Chapter 4 Quotes

This she might not attempt. It was unladylike. Why? Why were most big things unladylike? Charlotte had once explained to her why. It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves. Indirectly, by means of tact and a spotless name, a lady could accomplish much. But if she rushed into the fray herself she would be first censured, then despised, and finally ignored. Poems had been written to illustrate this point.

Related Characters: Lucy Honeychurch, Charlotte Bartlett
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Lucy tries with some difficulty to rebel against the strictness of her environment. She's just sat through a boring conversation, and now she wants to do something fun--she considers riding a tram. But then she checks herself--such an activity would be inappropriate for someone of her social station.

Lucy's thought process in this scene reflects how thoroughly she's been educated in "ladylike" ways (even as Forster presents the restrictions of being "ladylike" in darkly sarcastic terms). She's been trained to think that women should be calm and docile at all times, rather than pursuing their own selfish desires. Lucy's conception of women and femininity reflects the sexism of English society, but it also reflects the strength of English tradition and world-famous English manners.

There is much that is immortal in this medieval lady. The dragons have gone, and so have the knights, but still she lingers in our midst. She reigned in many an early Victorian castle, and was Queen of much early Victorian song. It is sweet to protect her in the intervals of business, sweet to pay her honour when she has cooked our dinner well. But alas! the creature grows degenerate. In her heart also there are springing up strange desires. She too is enamoured of heavy winds, and vast panoramas, and green expanses of the sea. She has marked the kingdom of this world, how full it is of wealth, and beauty, and war—a radiant crust, built around the central fires, spinning towards the receding heavens. Men, declaring that she inspires them to it, move joyfully over the surface, having the most delightful meetings with other men, happy, not because they are masculine, but because they are alive. Before the show breaks up she would like to drop the august title of the Eternal Woman, and go there as her transitory self.

Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

Forster continues to expound on the notion of a medieval lady--i.e., the kind of woman that Lucy has been trained to be. For centuries, English women were taught that they should be docile and obey men at all times, allowing men to attain happiness for themselves while women watched and "inspired" them from the sidelines.

And yet Forster makes it clear that the notion of a calm, docile, obedient woman is breaking down in Lucy's lifetime, if indeed it was ever stable. Women like Lucy don't just want to be obedient--they want to explore the world, love men, see nature--to essentially allow themselves to be human beings rather than ideals. Women have strange, romantic desires just like men, and they should be able to explore such desires.

Chapter 9 Quotes

Beware of women altogether. Only let to a man. . . . Men don't gossip over tea-cups. If they get drunk, there's an end of them—they lie down comfortably and sleep it off. If they're vulgar, they somehow keep it to themselves. It doesn't spread so. Give me a man—of course, provided he's clean.

Related Characters: Mrs. Honeychurch (speaker)
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Miss Honeychurch tells Lucy that she prefers men to women in almost every way. Women, she claims, are persistently troublesome. Men, on the other hand, are troublesome, but only in the short term--they have a way of getting over their problems quickly and efficiently.

Miss Honeychurch's monologue illustrates her internalized misogyny. Honeychurch is the most primly Victorian character in the novel (no small feat), and thus she sees the world in the most repressive terms. Women, she believes, should be proper and polite at all times, and try not to make trouble (which, she assumes, is in their nature). Of course, Miss Honeychurch isn't just a sexist. As she suggests when she insists that men be "clean," Honeychurch is almost something of a classist, reluctant to admit any of the "coal-dusted masses" into her life.