In E.M. Forster’s book A Room With a View, a young girl, Lucy Honeychurch, faces the difficult challenge of growing up. The story starts in Italy, where Lucy is touring with her cousin and chaperone, Charlotte Bartlett. Charlotte is what was called an ‘old maid’ and insists that her young cousin stick by the bounds of strict social propriety. Lucy, however, was not brought up to have such rigid notions of proper behavior and places value on her own voice, symbolized by her piano playing.
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As she struggles between the strict social mores of her community and the desires of her heart, Lucy is influenced by both her own internal experiences and the external behaviors of those around her, finally realizing the happy marriage in the end.
There are hints provided throughout the story that Lucy was not raised within the strict confines of proper Victorian society. She tells Miss Lavish her family is Radical, which is surprising to the other woman because of the more conservative aspect of Lucy and Charlotte’s tour thus far. Lucy also speaks her opinion easily to Mr. Emerson and George throughout her stay in Italy despite often being quieted by Charlotte.
Although she is able to appear part of the upper class, this position is imposed upon her from without, as is detailed in the background of her family. The houses around the Honeychurch estate were “filled by people who came, not from the district, but from London, and who mistook the Honeychurches for the remnants of an indigenous aristocracy … by the time people found out that she [Lucy’s mother] was not exactly of their milieu, they liked her, and it did not seem to matter” (Chapter 10). Upon her return to England and her home, Lucy’s natural internal character becomes clearer, indicating she had once used the pond for outdoor swimming, had been active outdoors, and had been actively engaged in the processes of the family, all of which were decidedly against the ‘proper’ activities for a young Victorian lady.
Her experiences with others help Lucy to define her direction in life. In Italy, she shares precious few moments with George Emerson, but these moments are filled with meaning. Perhaps the most telling incident for Lucy was the witnessing of the murder in the Piazza Signoria. Though she fainted upon realizing that the man she had been watching had been stabbed, George was solicitous without forcing his will upon her as she recovered.
While the chivalrous inclination would have insisted upon a carriage home and a shift change in a topic so as to distract the mind from the reality of what happened, George allowed her to rest and speak of what was on her mind. “She talked of the murder. Oddly enough, it was an easy topic. She spoke of the Italian character; she became almost garrulous over the incident that had made her faint five minutes before. … She rose without his assistance … a cabman signaled to them; they refused him” (Chapter 4).
Respecting her wishes to care for herself, George does not impose his attentions on her, pretend to know her state any better than she does herself except when she is obviously acting in shock, and then uses reason to illustrate to her that he is merely responding to her condition. On the way back to the pension, George admits to Lucy that he has uncertainty in his behavior and weaknesses in his bearing, acknowledging himself to be equally as human as she and Lucy realize “it was hopeless to look for chivalry in such a man” (Chapter 4). A man without chivalry may make a decent friend, but could not be an acceptable husband as he is incapable of entering proper society.
When she returns to England and accepts Cecil Vyse’s marriage proposal, Lucy feels she has finally made the right choice in selecting a husband who is the epitome of mannered chivalry. Cecil is the perfect mannered gentleman in that he doesn’t work and he is highly educated. His ideas regarding the ‘proper’ behavior for a young woman are clear and his attitude toward Lucy’s home and community are barely concealed contempt.
This is made clear when he publicly snubs the Miss Alans in Lucy’s name after Lucy had gone to the trouble of attempting to secure them a home. Mr. Beebe observes that “Mr. Vyse was a tease – something worse than a tease: he took a malicious pleasure in thwarting people” (Chapter 10) when the news comes out that he purposely undermined Lucy’s plans, but this act is made infinitely worse in that Cecil hasn’t care at all how Lucy feels about this.
When she attempts to explain her feelings, Cecil continues to talk over her until he has finished his story out, finally prompting Lucy to declare “You don’t know what the word [democracy] means … You had no business to undo my work about the Miss Alans and make me look ridiculous. You call it scoring off Sir Harry, but do you realize that it is all at my expense?” (Chapter 10). However, Cecil remains unrepentant and Lucy is left to simply accept her inferior status.
While the clues are easily there for her to see, Lucy has a difficult time accepting that she is not in love with Cecil and that she is in love with George. Her childhood had prepared her to blossom into a full human being, which was brought out in her music and was greatly appreciated by George, but her society insisted upon her shrinking into a conceived notion of an inferior being called woman, which was expected by Cecil. Only after she was confronted with these truths did Lucy begin to understand herself and only with an understanding of herself was she able to make the decision that would bring her happiness at the end.