The novel takes place at a transformative and transitional moment in British society, as the strict social manners, class hierarchy, and codes of behavior typical of the Victorian period give way to the greater freedom and liberality of modernity in the 20th century. This results in numerous tensions between new and old ways of thinking and doing things, evident in the contrast between young and old characters. Lucy, for example, has very different ideas about proper behavior for a lady than does Charlotte or Mrs. Honeychurch. And even the progressively minded Mr. Emerson doesn’t quite understand George’s abstract ponderings and concern with grand ideas about the universe fitting or not fitting together (the kind of thinking that might define the very modernist characters of authors like James Joyce or Virginia Woolf). The younger characters in the novel, as well as those who support more progressive social ideas (like Mr. Emerson) want to move away from strict social hierarchies, prejudiced snobbery against the lower classes, and patronizing, sexist attitudes toward women—in contrast to those like Mrs. Honeychurch or Mrs. Vyse, who place great importance on maintaining traditional social norms.
This desire to break out of restrictive Victorian social structures and move toward greater freedom finds two major symbolic manifestations in the novel. The first is the recurrent motif of indoor and outdoor spaces. The openness of the outdoors suggests a kind of utopian freedom, as epitomized by the carefree romp of Freddy, George, and Mr. Beebe at the Sacred Lake (temporarily reminiscent of the primal Garden of Eden). Moreover, it is significant that both of Lucy’s kisses with George take place outside, while she can only think of Cecil in relation to an inside room without a view—a sealed-off space within the structures of society. By contrast, she finds with George a room with a view out onto the freedom of the outdoors. The second important motif is the idea of travel. Lucy starts to think beyond the narrow social sphere of Windy Corner after being exposed to more of the world in Italy, and later thinks that she will travel to Greece to escape her troubles at home. Finally, she and George elope and find their own personal freedom in Italy. These foreign lands offer a possibility of literal, physical escape from England, as well as from the social structures there.
Both of these motifs, though, also suggest that getting beyond the restrictions of traditional society is no simple matter. Ecstatic outdoor scenes are short-lived in the novel, and afterwards the characters have to resume their normal lives and habits. Moreover, while Lucy ends up with George in a room with a view of the outside, this is still an interior room. This may subtly hint that Lucy is not entirely free from society, or perhaps doesn’t even desire the absolute state-of-nature freedom that the Sacred Lake might symbolize. And as for travel, it is doubtful whether Lucy’s trips outside of England really allow her to escape her homeland. The Pension Bertolini is run by a British woman, after all, and is populated by a mostly British clientele of tourists and expatriates. Through the social dynamics of the novel, Forster is thus able to critique and satirize the upper classes and the fading social codes of the Victorian era, while simultaneously showing that one may not be able to escape this kind of society entirely.
Society, Manners, and Changing Social Norms ThemeTracker
Society, Manners, and Changing Social Norms Quotes in A Room with a View
I think he would not take advantage of your acceptance, nor expect you to show gratitude. He has the merit—if it is one—of saying exactly what he means. He has rooms he does not value, and he thinks you would value them. He no more thought of putting you under an obligation than he thought of being polite. It is so difficult—at least, I find it difficult—to understand people who speak the truth.
About old Mr. Emerson—I hardly know. No, he is not tactful; yet, have you ever noticed that there are people who do things which are most indelicate, and yet at the same time—beautiful?
Buon giorno! Take the word of an old woman, Miss Lucy: you will never repent of a little civility to your inferiors. That is the true democracy. Though I am a real Radical as well. There, now you're shocked.
I think that you are repeating what you have heard older people say. You are pretending to be touchy; but you are not really. Stop being so tiresome, and tell me instead what part of the church you want to see. To take you to it will be a real pleasure.
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.
"How wonderfully people rise in these days!" sighed Miss Bartlett, fingering a model of the leaning Tower of Pisa.
"Generally," replied Mr. Eager, "one has only sympathy for their success. The desire for education and for social advance—in these things there is something not wholly vile.”
At this point Mr. Emerson, whom the shock of stopping had awoke, declared that the lovers must on no account be separated, and patted them on the back to signify his approval. And Miss Lavish, though unwilling to ally him, felt bound to support the cause of Bohemianism.
Fifty miles of Spring, and we've come up to admire them. Do you suppose there's any difference between Spring in nature and Spring in man? But there we go, praising the one and condemning the other as improper, ashamed that the same work eternally through both.
Miss Bartlett had asked Mr. George Emerson what his profession was, and he had answered "the railway." She was very sorry that she had asked him. She had no idea that it would be such a dreadful answer, or she would not have asked him.
No, Lucy, he stands for all that is bad in country life. In London he would keep his place. He would belong to a brainless club, and his wife would give brainless dinner parties. But down here he acts the little god with his gentility, and his patronage, and his sham aesthetics, and every one—even your mother—is taken in.
Youth enwrapped them; the song of Phaethon announced passion requited, love attained. But they were conscious of a love more mysterious than this. The song died away; they heard the river, bearing down the snows of winter into the Mediterranean.