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
Sexism and Women’s Roles Quotes in A Room with a View
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.
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.
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.
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.