E. M. Forster’s A Room With a View tells the story of Lucy Honeychurch, a young girl living in Europe around 1900. Lucy is traveling through Italy with her older cousin Charlotte acting as her companion and chaperone. The book opens as they arrive in Florence, and Lucy’s eagerness to explore the city and admire the art is extremely relatable, especially as she travels around with her Baedeker, a brand of guidebooks at the time. I imagine if I didn’t have access to Google, I too would be wandering around with stacks of Baedekers for every city I want to travel to.
The book contains a lot of the typical types of travelers: the eager Lucy, who just wants to explore; the chaperone Charlotte, along for the ride; the know-it-all traveller Miss Lavish. I found Miss Lavish to be one of the most interesting characters, mostly because she is so irritating. She is not the good kind of know-it-all traveller, who knows all of the good places to see and has tons of helpful recommendations. She’s the kind of traveller that believes her methods of traveling are superior to all others. She takes Lucy’s Baedeker and haughtily informs Lucy that she doesn’t need it to see the true Italy, then promptly gets them lost. This would be fine if it was the good kind of lost, but the moment that Lucy actually begins to feel like it was the good kind of lost (“for one ravishing moment Italy appeared […] she had never seen anything more beautiful” (Forster 24)), Lavish pulls Lucy away and rushes her along.
Reading about Lucy’s experience really gave me a new appreciation for the opportunity and freedom I have today. For Lucy, she has to travel with a chaperone, stay in certain places, and cannot just decide to go out on her own and explore without being reprimanded. She still has more freedom than other women at the time, and is getting a wonderful traveling experience (fully funded by her parents, as well), but while she gets to see Italy, how she gets to see it is very controlled.
It is a testament to the experience and growth you can get from traveling that even with this controlled view Lucy really gains a new outlook for own life and identity. Or, as Forster puts it, “Italy was offering her the most priceless of all possessions–her own soul” (Forster 128). It takes her some time, but instead of just letting her family and friends pull her along, she becomes an individual in her own right. Admittedly, it was a close call, but in the end she (spoiler) rejects the fiance her parents and society approve of for the man she loves, despite the scandal it causes. Without the growth she gained in perspective and the ability to stand her ground, she would have gone along and married a man she didn’t love because it was what was expected.
Lucy’s story really made me acknowledge the huge opportunity I have right now even more. I am lucky enough freedom-wise and budget-wise that if I want to go to France for the weekend, I can. If I want to go all by myself, I can do that too, and nobody will try to tell me that it is unseemly. Of course, there are always safety concerns for solo travel, but I don’t have to travel with a chaperone watching my every move like a hawk. I have control over where I go and what I want to see, and that is a great deal more than many other people have.