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Edward Morgan Forster's "A Room With A View" to James Ivory

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 4550 words Published: 4th Sep 2017

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Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Author (Edward Morgan Forster) and Director (James Ivory)
  3. Plot Summary
  4. Intersemiotic Translation of The Novel
  • Major changes in the plot structure
  • Characters in the movie and the novel
  • Production (lighting/ camera/ music/ casting )
  • Themes
  1. Conclusion
  2. References
  1. Introduction

Adapting a literary work into film is a process of translating the literary text into a visual text. In “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation” Roman Jakobson distinguishes three kinds of translation: intralingual (or rewording), interlingual (or translation proper) and intersemiotic translation (or transmutation). Intralingual translation involves “the interpretation of verbal signs by means of other signs in the same language” whereas interlingual translation is “an interpretation of verbal signs by means of some other language”. The third category, intersemiotic translation or transmutation is “an interpretation of verbal signs by means of non verbal sign systems” . In Roman Jakobson’s classification, intersemiotic translation includes adaptation of literary works into film. Jakobson specifically mentions cinema as one of the intersemiotic options for translating the untranslatable and writes that only creative transposition is possible. Jakobson’s concept of “intersemiotic transposition from one system of signs into another, for instance from verbal art into music, dance, cinema or painting” allows us to consider film adaptations within the realm of intertextuality as intersemiotic translation of words into film images.

Julie Sanders in Adaptation and Appropriation also defines adaptation as a “specific process involving the transition from one genre to another: novels into film; drama into musical; dramatization of prose narratives and prose fiction; or the inverse movement of making drama into prose narrative”. Since, film as an art has close relation to literature in its use of plot, characters, setting, dialogue and imagery, its strategies of expression and its tendency to manipulate space and time; one of the most seen kind of intersemiotic translation would be a literary work into film. In this paper, the novel “A Room With A View” and its intersemiotic translation example, the movie with the same title will be discussed. Since the novel adapted twice to screen, t is necessary to make it clear that this study deals with Merchant- Ivory movie in 1985 in terms of the effects of the author and the director on both the source and the translation; a small plot summary will be provided to give an insight to literary work and plot structure of the novel, and intersemiotic translation will be evaluated through plot structure, characters in the movie, technicalities such as casting, production design, music and camera; themes in the literary work.

II. The Author and The Director

  1. Edward Morgan Forster (1 January 1879 – 7 June 1970)

Edward Morgan Forster was a novelist and short story writer. He is known best for his ironic and well-plotted novels examining class difference and hypocrisy in early 20th-century British society. It is notably apparent that Forster’s work always includes a part of his life once you learn about Forster’s life story. In 1897 he went to King’s College, Cambridge where he found congenial friends, the atmosphere of free intellectual discussion and an emphasis on the importance of personal relationships. During his time at Cambridge he also began to write fiction. He started questioning his inherited conventional Christian morality and learned about secular humanism, which appears at the heart of his work. The pursuit of personal connections in spite of the constraints of contemporary society has a profound influence on most of his work such as A Room With A View.

After leaving Cambridge, he travelled in Europe and Asia including Italy, Greece, Germany, India and Egypt. His stay at a Florence pension helped him with the setting of A Room with a View in a similar establishment. Traveling experience developed Forster’s cosmopolitanism and his interest in foreign cultures, reflected in A Passage to India and A Room with a View.

It may also account for the sexual frustration in some of his books that he had troubles to come to terms with his homosexuality due to contemporary restrictions. In the following chapter, it will be explained shortly how it changed the cinematography in the movie, A Room With A View.

Forster had five novels published in his lifetime and achieved his greatest success with A Passage to India (1924) which is about the relationship between East and West, seen through the lens of India in the later days of the British Raj. He is also noted for his use of symbolism as a technique in his novels as can be seen in this relevant novel. His other works include Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), The Longest Journey (1907), A Room with a View (1908).

  1. James Ivory (born June 7, 1928)

James Francis Ivory (born June 7, 1928) is an American film director.

III. Plot Summary

Lucy Honeychurch, a young English woman, is vacationing with her cousin, Charlotte Bartlett at an Italian pension for British guests. They are vacationing in Florence, Italy together. While complaining about the poor views of their room, Lucy and Charlotte are interrupted by another guest, an old man called Mr. Emerson. Mr. Emerson offers them a room swap because he and his son George are both in rooms that present beautiful views of Florence. Charlotte refuses since for a woman to accept such an offer from a man would make her look like she owes something to him. But later that evening, Charlotte accepts the offer.

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Emersons are socially unacceptable by the snobbish standards of the other guests but Lucy likes them. One day, while Lucy is walking alone in Florence, she witnesses a murder. George happens to be there as well and he catches her when she faints. Later that week, they ride into the hills near Florence with other guests. While others wandering around the hills, Lucy finds herself alone. She comes to an earth terrace covered with violets, and finds herself face-to-face with George. He kisses her, but the kiss is interrupted by Charlotte.

Part 2 beginning after several months takes the reader to Windy Corner, the Honeychurch home in Surrey, England. In Rome, Lucy has spent a good deal of time with a man named Cecil Vyse. In Italy, Cecil has proposed to Lucy twice. She has rejected him both times. As Part 2 begins, Cecil is proposing yet again. This time, she accepts. Cecil, an aristocratic Londoner, despises the ways of the country upper circle. At Charlotte’s request, she has never told anyone about her kiss with George.

But before too long, the Emersons move into a villa not far from Windy Corner. She continues her engagement to Cecil even though to the reader, it is obvious that they are completely unsuitable for each other. Lucy persists in the engagement. Freddy invites George to come play tennis. Lucy gets nervous about what might happen.

Cecil refuses to play tennis and reads aloud from a bad British novel. Lucy realizes that the novel is written by Miss Lavish, a woman from their pension in Florence. Cecil reads a particular passage, which is a fictional recreation of her kiss with George. She realizes that Charlotte told Miss Lavish what happened. George is there during the reading of the passage. On the way back to the house, George catches Lucy alone in the garden and kisses her again. Afterwards, having Charlotte sit in the room as support and witness Lucy orders George never to return to Windy Corner. George argues with her passionately. He tells her that Cecil is unsuitable for her and that Cecil will never love her enough to want her to be independent. George loves her for who she is. Lucy is shaken by his words but she stands firm. George leaves, heartbroken. Later, something makes Lucy see him truthfully for the first time. She breaks off the engagement that very night.

But Lucy still cannot admit to anyone, including herself, her feelings for George. Rather than stay at Windy Corner and face George, she resolves to leave for Greece. But one day not long before she is supposed to leave, she goes to church with her mother and Charlotte and meets Mr. Emerson in the minister’s study. Mr. Emerson does not know that Lucy has broken off the engagement, but Lucy realizes before long that she cannot lie to the old man. She talks with him, and Mr. Emerson realizes that she has deep feelings for George. He presses the issue, forcing her to confront her own feelings. Finally, she admits that she has been fighting her love for George all along.

The novel closes in Florence, where George and Lucy are spending their honeymoon. Lucy has eloped with George. Even though Lucy does not have her family’s consent and it seems difficult to fix her situation with the family, there is still hope that it will get better. George and Lucy have each other now.

IV. Intersemiotic Translation of the Novel

  1. Major changes in the plot structure

A novel is completely a product of its writer; however, a movie is created with cooperation between the crew and the director. There are many factors that can change the movie such as screenwriters, art directors, producers, etc. For this reason, it is necessary to remember that a movie cannot be fully faithful to a novel (in the case of book to film intersemiotic translations) in order to make sense of the shifts in translations. Considering movies only last for a few hours, any attempt to include every detail of a novel in the translation (movie) would be futile. Nevertheless, visual and auditory elements help directors a good deal to reflect many details in a book; sometimes resulting in a better version of our imagination thanks to production and director. In order to create the best version of the translation, the director may omit the parts and/or add some other features to the characters or new events to the plot. During the process of this work, the crew and the director face constraints resulting from the novel or the style of the author.

As mentioned earlier in Introduction, A Room with a View was adapted for the screen twice, in 1985 and again in 2007. The first film is a 117-minute British production directed by James Ivory, starring Helena Bonham Carter as Lucy, Julian Sands as George, Maggie Smith as Charlotte, Daniel Day-Lewis as Cecil. In this paper, the movie shot in 1985 is being discussed in terms of the relation between the novel of Forster. The screenplay of the movie was written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who brought the movie one of its three Oscars in 1986, and it follows closely the original storyline.

There are only a few major changes in the plot structure of A Room With A View such as Cecil disappearing from the chapter in Italy completely, the relation between Lucy and music, and the ending. The constraints that the director, Ivory and the screenwriter, Jhabvala faced are derived from Forster’s notable symbolism. Even though Forster can make a well-balanced structure to imply the symbolism in little details in the book, it is almost impossible to render all the symbolisms. That’s why, director and screenwriter decided to make some omissions and changes in the plot. However, the film follows a classical path of adapting literary works, focusing on the development of the story and being as faithful as possible to the original. The additional elements are there to present in greater detail some aspects only touched by Forster or to emphasize his ideas. The structure of the film is also similar to that of the novel, the story being divided into various parts by Brecht-style intertitles based on some of the chapters. For instance, there are chapters in the movie named the same as the chapters in the book such as “Lying to George (Chapter16)”.

IV. a. 1. Omissions

In Chapter VII, it is stated that Lucy meets Cecil Vyse in Rome, and in the following Chapter VIII, characters talk about how they have met in Rome. Nonetheless, in the movie, Cecil never appears in the first part, shot in Italy. Director and screenwriter decided to remove Cecil character from the first part in order to accentuate the symbolism through settings because Forster make the readers compare medieval to renaissance, England to Italy through Cecil and George. Due to time constraints, Cecil has been omitted completely from the first part of the movie.

Secondly, the film interprets George’s kiss on the hills near Fiesole as a romantic kiss on the lips. Describing the scene, Forster writes simply that he ‘kissed her’ (Chapter VI), but he suggests later on that George kissed her on the cheek (Chapters XI, XIII as understood by “that touch of lips on her cheek”-and Chapter XV).

The last omission is about the relationship between Lucy and music. Forster addresses matters such as separation and connection in his fiction often approaching fragmentation through the lens of art. In “Art for Art’s Sake” (1949), he notes that “society can only represent a fragment of the human spirit…another fragment can only get expressed through art.” Forster renders music as a symbol for Lucy’s growth in time. Beethoven, Schumann and Wagner bring Lucy closer to her inexperienced social self with her sophisticated and intuitive musical self. These composers help Lucy develop from a girl who plays it safe and follows the rules of society – as Beethoven might have done in his early period – into a free-thinking and independent young woman who marries for love against the grain of her social class. Even though in the book, Lucy plays piano often; she plays only three times in the movie. Plot has adjusted due to time constraints but it includes Beethoven’s Sonata No. 21 ‘Waldstein’, Mozart’s Sonata No. 8 and Schubert’s Sonata No. 4. Every single composer describes a part of Lucy’s life. It can be concluded that even though there has been omission, the songs and the composers are chosen wisely to reflect the symbolism.

IV. a. 2. Additions

Although they have not caused important shifts in the translation, there are also scenes that are only narrated in the novel and the film chooses to bring on camera. For example: the lemonade episode (in Chapter III), the violets (here in the film they are cornflowers) for the Miss Alans (Chapters III and X), the conversation between Charlotte and George on the road to Fiesole (Chapter VI), Cecil’s encounter with the Emersons in the National Gallery -in flashback- (Chapter X) and Freddy singing comic songs and annoying Cecil (who does leave the room, Chapter XIII).

  1. Changes in the Characterization

The development of the story intertwined with the characteristic development of Lucy within English society as she emancipates herself from the society’s constraints. In order to highlight this concept in the story, great effort was assigned to present the other characters as complex personalities as Lucy too in a way that is fairly faithful to the novel. The other characters in the film are not just satellites around the heroine so to say; instead, they have clear paths to follow on their own. For this reason, the film adjusts the characters into more complex personas and improves the reflection of the Edwardian period at the time with relation to their “human side”. For example, in the Chapter XVII: Lying to Cecil where Lucy breaks off her engagement to Cecil, Cecil seems more typical of Victorian Era. Denying Lucy claiming that she “does not mean what she says”, Cecil is a simple example of the medieval. However, Cecil in the movie is saddened at the moment Lucy breaks off the engagement. It is more likely to see the “human” part of the character in the film.

Moreover, the Edwardian society is also well illustrated, by keeping Forster’s critical view of it through some kind of stock characters such as the intellectual woman (Eleanor Lavish), the maiden gentlewomen (the Miss Alans), the free-thinker (Mr Emerson), the prim chaperon (Charlotte Bartlett), the snob (Cecil Vyse), etc.
Another difference is that the film does even more than Forster to show that this is also George’s story instead of focusing on Lucy more. It brings on screen episodes that in the novel are just stories told by other characters about him, and gives George more time on the camera. We see his free spirit, his affection for his father, and even his love for Lucy and the effect that it has on him in the film. However, George’s socialist part as mentioned in the first chapter of the book is not include in the movie. It is reflected rather as an ideal.

  1. Technicalities

IV. c. 1. Production

A Room With A View is a product of a collaboration of producer Ismail Merchant and the director, James Ivory, now referred as “Merchant- Ivory”. Merchant-Ivory’s gift was recognizing which masterpieces of world literature would be translated well and provide material that can actually be photographed in addition to superlative prose (which cannot). A Room With A View was ideal with its clash between propriety and passion. The film won Oscar, BAFTA and several significant awards in 1987 and had many nominations as well. The collaboration of Merchant- Ivory reached to its peak with the movie. The screenwriter, Jhabvala, the talented third member of the Merchant / Ivory team did a magnificent adaptation of the novel by being very faithful to Forster’s novel and winning the Oscar for the best Screenplay – Adapted From Other Material.

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The movie also won the best Costume Design in Oscar Awards and became a landmark in the rise of the British costume movie. The clothes and the hairstyle of the characters are smart, elegant and proper; indicating the importance of decorum and also stressing the differences of class visually. As an example, Cecil’s and the Emersons’ clothes in the National Gallery vary from one another as in their classes, and also the differences of official and high society moments (the engagement party or the dinner party at the Vyses) and leisure activities of lower class such as playing tennis, which require comfortable clothes and between day activities and dinner time. Vincent Canby praised the collaboration of the trio in New York Times Movie Review as follows:

“As they’ve been doing now for over 20 years, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who wrote the screenplay for ”A Room With a View”; James Ivory, who directed it, and Ismail Merchant, the producer, have created an exceptionally faithful, ebullient screen equivalent to a literary work that lesser talents would embalm.”

IV. c. 2. Lighting and Camera

Lighting plays a significant role in the production as well. As title gives a hint, “A Room With A view” is the contradiction between being inside or outside. In order to emphasize it, the scenes indoors have a low lighting to have a gloomy setting as in the mindset of the characters. Director also uses ‘curtains’ in the film to stress symbolic conflict between indoors and outdoors as in the book with a low lighting. They protect the furniture and characters from the sun so that they will not get older easily.

IV. c. 3. Soundtracks

Soundtracks are significantly effective so as to take the audience to Italy in the first part of the movie. Most of the soundtracks were composed by Richard Robbins, an American composer. Since music is also an important theme in the novel, soundtracks plays an important role to understand the development of Lucy’s character, from a girl into a woman who can stand up to the contemporary constraints. For example, the aria “Chi il Bel Sogno di Doretta” from Puccini’s La Rondineone plays in the background of an important scene, quiet a turning point, to understand the movie where George kisses Lucy for the first time.

IV. c. 4. Casting

The cast is one of the best parts of the film. Many of the actors were quiet young and at the beginning of their career. Critic Vincent Canby wrote in 1986:

“Miss Bonham Carter gives a remarkably complex performance of a young woman who is simultaneously reasonable and romantic, generous and selfish, and timid right up to the point where she takes a heedless plunge into the unknown.”

”A Room With a View” has many rich roles, perfectly acted by a cast made up of both newcomers and familiar performers like Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliott.

  1. Themes
  2. Propriety and Passion

The conflict between contemporary social rules and passion is a central theme of the novel. Lucy’s match with George is completely unacceptable by social standards. But it is the only match that could make her happy. Her match with Cecil is far more traditional; however, marriage to Cecil would destroy Lucy’s spirit. The Emersons are unconventional people, far from propriety. Mr. Emerson speaks with great feeling about the importance of passion and the beauty of the human body. The British characters of the novel have very strong ideas about the need to repress passion and control young girls. To achieve happiness, Lucy has to learn to appreciate her own desires and fight these standards, many of which she has internalized.

As one of the central themes in novel, the conflict of propriety and passion is a significant themes in the movie as well. Director adjusted the ending as a püre happy ending in the film even though it is a bittersweet end in the novel to accentuate the contrast.

Society and Changing Social Norms:

The novel takes place at a 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 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 behaviour for a lady than does Charlotte or Mrs. Honeychurch. Lucy wants to move away from strict social hierarchies, prejudiced snobbery against the lower classes, and patronizing, sexist attitudes toward women in contrast to Mrs Honeychurch or Mrs. Vyse, who cares so much about maintaining traditional social norms.

The casting and the production design play a significant role in transferring this theme to movie. Also a lot of contrasts such as inside and outside or England and Italy show the differences of Victorian and Edwardian Eras thanks to symbolism as well.

The beautiful and the delicate

Lucy asks in the first chapter if beauty and delicacy are really synonyms. Even though Charletto believes that they are, Lucy is decisive to learn the answer by herself. One of Lucy’s important lessons is that beauty does not need be refined and anything beautiful in the gesture of kindness may not be appropriate. Lucy learns to see beauty in things that her society finds impropriate or condemns. The film also seeks to represents the difference of the two concepts.

V. Conclusion

As mentioned above, the film adaptations of the literature works can be analysed as a kind of translation, which takes place between two different media. Unlike written translation, this inter-semiotic translation, or film adaptation, cannot be carried out by rendering each word or phrase into the screen. Therefore, these translations cannot be criticized as just good or bad. The aspects and some specific details such as music, lighting, directing or production design can add so much to the movie whereas these items are left to the reader’s imagination in a novel. There are several other elements that affect the process of adaptation into the screen, like director’s interpretation, the audience’s expectation, time restriction, technology, etc.

E. M. Forster never wanted his literary works to be adapted into a film till his last days when he allowed the adaptations. He was worried that the essence of his book will disappear through a translation. Considering how common it is for the reader to not be pleased with the film adaptations of the books in general, A Room With A View has been a huge success in terms of audience reactions. Thanks to the talented screenwriter, the plot has been very faithful to the novel with the method of a traditional translation mostly keeping the details of the literary work, and the director put so much effort so as to keep most of the symbols in the whole book such as indoors and outdoors, or Italy and England, or nature, or music while the work of production design was awarded due to its undeniable effect in the course of the movie rendering the translation at its best. The movie is considered as a quite faithful translation of Forster’s book both by critics and the reader.

  1. References
  • Canby, Vincent. “THE SCREEN: ‘ROOM WITH A VIEW.” Nytimes, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.
  • Forster, E. M. “A Room With A View”. London: Penguin English Library, 2012.
  • Forster, E. M. “Art for Art’s Sake.” Harper’s Magazine (1949): 31-34. Http://www.unz.org/Pub/Harpers-1949aug. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.
  • E.M. Forster’s A Room With A View. Dir. James Ivory. Prod. Ismail Merchant. 1985. DVD.
  • Raicu, Elena. “A Room with Two Views: An Insight into the 1985 and 2007 Film Adaptations of E. M. Forster’s Novel.” Raicu, Elena. Presses Universitaires De La Méditerranée, n.d. Web. 21 Dec. 2016.
  • Jakobson, R. (1950). On Linguistic Aspects of Translation. In L. Venuti, (1st ed.), The Translation Studies Reader (pp. 113- 118). New York: Routledge.
  • Sanders, Julie. Adaptation and Appropriation. London: Routledge, 2006.


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