A Room With a View: Chapter 17-20
Cecil is bewildered and hurt, and Lucy tries to explain her feelings. As Lucy asserts herself, it seems to Cecil that she has changed from a Leonardo painting to a living woman and become even more real and desirable. He exclaims that he loves her and presses her to tell why she doesn’t love him. Lucy repeats to him the phrases that George used: “you’re the sort who can’t know any one intimately…you’re always protecting me. I won’t be protected. I will choose for myself what is ladylike and right.” This is the crux of the reason why she cannot be with Cecil: he cannot view her as an equal; he wants to stifle her. Cecil realizes in a rush of insight that she is right about him and admires her more than ever. She insists that there is no one else, and he believes her.
Having lied to both George and Cecil, Lucy decides that she will never marry. She will live her life alone, a decision that Miss Bartlett made thirty years before. The narrator makes clear that by making this decision, she is sinning against love and entering a period of darkness.
In Chapter 18, Lucy lies to everyone else in her life: Mr. Beebe, Mrs. Honeychurch, Freddy, and the servants, about her broken engagement and her true feelings for George.
As the chapter opens, it is a stormy day, befitting the turmoil in Lucy’s life. Mr. Beebe, still unaware of the broken engagement, is coming to Windy Corner with news to share: the Miss Alans are going on a trip to Greece and possibly Turkey as well. On the way, runs into the carriage that is taking Cecil to the train station, Freddy along as escort. Mr. Beebe excitedly talks on about the Miss Alans’ journey. Greece, he thinks, is too much for him and his friends at Windy Corner: “Italy is heroic, but Greece is god-like or devilish . . . if our poor little Cockney lives must have a background, let it be Italian. Big enough in all conscience.” As their carriage drives away, Freddy discreetly tells Mr. Beebe of the broken engagement, and Mr. Beebe is delighted.
At Windy Corner, however, everyone is upset. Mrs. Honeychurch is in the garden, lamenting over the flowers that have been broken in the storm (although really thinking of the broken engagement), and Charlotte is exasperating everyone as usual. Lucy is playing the piano, in a despondent mood. She seems annoyed that Freddy told Mr. Beebe. He tells her she has done the right thing. To distract her, he tells her of the Miss Alans’ travel plans. She perks up immediately and declares that she must go with them. This surprises Mr. Beebe, who, not knowing anything of George’s indiscretions, cannot understand why Lucy would want to travel so far away.
As Mr. Beebe leaves, taking Minnie and Miss Bartlett out to tea with him, Miss Bartlett warns him very dramatically that he must not whisper a word of the broken engagement to anyone. To his surprise, Miss Bartlett fully supports the idea of Lucy going to Greece, and says ominously that it is very necessary. Finally Mr. Beebe decides that going to Greece might somehow help Lucy. Having a strong belief in celibacy, he is happy that she has chosen not to marry and would love to see her far away from Cecil. They return to Windy Corner and convince Mrs. Honeychurch to let Lucy go to Greece.
Meanwhile, Lucy is playing the piano and singing a song that Cecil gave her, one that speaks of self-denial and concludes, “Taste not when the wine cup glistens . . . stop thine ear against the singer / From the red gold keep thy finger / Vacant heart and hand and eye / Easy live and quiet die.” Mr. Beebe, who believes in celibacy, thinks it a beautiful and wise song, although somewhat overstated; however, Freddy says the words are “rotten.” Mr. Beebe thinks he detects, in the way Lucy sings the words, that she really agrees with Freddy.
In Chapter 19, Lucy and her mother go to London to visit the Miss Alans and make arrangements for the trip. The Miss Alans express surprise that Cecil is allowing her to make the trip and that he will not even be present to see her off. Still intent on keeping the broken engagement a secret until she has left England, Lucy does not tell the Miss Alans the truth. Now over her disappointment, Mrs. Honeychurch is relieved that Lucy is not marrying Cecil, and she doesn’t understand why Lucy is keeping it a secret. Furthermore, she still doesn’t understand why Lucy insists on leaving Windy Corner. “You’re tired of Windy Corner,” she blurts out.
Lucy is mixed up. It is true that she cannot be content at home, but this is because she is in a turmoil. She keeps telling herself that she does not love George and that she must go to Greece to get away from him. She admits to her mother that when she gets back from Greece, she’d like to live in London, that she wants more independence. Her mother grows angry and says that Lucy reminds her of Charlotte Bartlett, in the way she is always worrying and taking back words. Lucy is shocked, believing that she and Charlotte are nothing alike.
After shopping in London and buying a Baedeker for Lucy, the two women return home. Their carriage passes by Cissie Villa, which is locked up. They learn that the Emersons have left. Lucy starts to wonder if she has made a big muddle.
The women stop at the Rectory to pick up Miss Bartlett, who asks to be taken to church. Lucy, not wanting to go to church, will wait in the Rectory. To her surprise, she sees Mr. Emerson there by the fire. He apologizes to Lucy for George’s behavior. “I taught him to trust in love,” he explains. “When love comes, that is reality.”
Lucy protests that George has behaved “abominably,” and Mr. Emerson asks her to be kind, as George has “gone under”—he is very depressed and does not want to live. Mr. Emerson reveals that the same had happened to George’s mother. They had agreed not to baptize George, but when the boy became ill from typhoid, his mother, believing the illness a judgment from God, became depressed and died. This is what Mr. Eager had meant; from Mr. Eager’s point of view, Mr. Emerson had killed his wife by refusing to baptize his son.
Lucy feels very sorry, and is sad to hear about George. She pleads with Mr. Emerson not to leave the villa, but to stay, because at all events, she will be going to Greece. Mr. Emerson is surprised to hear that she is going to Greece, and even more so when he finds out that it is not with Cecil. She admits to him that she has left Cecil, and gives him her reasons. “You are in a muddle,” he tells her, and guesses the real reason for her trip—she loves George. Lucy begins to cry. The tickets have been bought, and she has lied to everyone. Mr. Beebe enters again, and Mr. Emerson tells him that Lucy has lied. He is disappointed in her, but Mr. Emerson gives her courage. “Remember the mountains over Florence and the view . . .Truth counts, Truth does count.” Later, she will wonder at how he was able to strengthen her, to make her see the holiness of desire.
Chapter 20 is titled “The End of the Middle Ages” because it marks the beginning of Lucy’s Renaissance, her rebirth as a happily married woman. The Miss Alans go to Greece, but they go alone. Lucy and George, newly married, go back to the Pension Bertolini in Florence, where they first met. George has his head in Lucy’s lap and is being silly and childish, which endears him to Lucy. He gets up to look out the window at the view, feeling full of gratitude that he is here with Lucy, and thinking of all the people who helped him to get there. Lucy’s happiness is less complete. All of Windy Corner is upset, and Freddy has written an indignant letter protesting their “elopement.” The two have had to marry without Mrs. Honeychurch’s consent. Cecil has grown cynical about women, and Mr. Beebe still has not forgiven them. George and Lucy can only hope that if they act the truth, people who really love them will come back to them in the end.
A carriage driver pesters them from the street below, trying to sell them on a ride in the countryside. Lucy thinks of Charlotte, and how rude she would be to such a man. She grows cross thinking of Charlotte and how her cousin had tried to ruin her happiness with George. George stops her. On the day that Lucy spoke to Mr. Emerson, Charlotte had known very well that the old man was in the Rectory, and yet she did not stop Lucy. It even seemed, on reflection, that Charlotte had deliberately arranged it so that Lucy would talk to Mr. Emerson. Charlotte, deep down, could have been hoping for them to be together all along, although she objected on the surface. At the Rectory she had given them one last chance to be happy. Lucy rejects the idea, but then decides that “it is just possible.” The two of them are enwrapped in youthful love, but as they contemplate the mystery of how they came together, they are conscious of something deeper and more mysterious than this—a love eternal as the river outside their window.
Analysis of Chapters 17-20
Cecil is a supremely unlikable character—priggish, supercilious, and chauvinistic—but Forster never allows the objects of his satires to become caricatures. Cecil has a great deal of humanity, particularly here in the scene where his heart is broken by Lucy. He accepts her criticisms with humility and grace, and there is a sense that Lucy has transformed him.
In Chapter 16, Lucy lied to George about her feelings. In Chapters 17-19, she continues by lying to everyone else in her life, including, of course, herself. This puts her into what Mr. Emerson wisely calls “a muddle.” She is unhappy, but she doesn’t know why; the reason, of course, is that she is denying her true feelings.
Throughout the novel, Forster has Lucy’s piano playing express her state of mind. The song Lucy plays at the end of Chapter 18 is “Lucy Ashton’s Song” by Sir Walter Scott. It expresses the life of self-denial Lucy is imposing on herself by denying her love for George. From the way she sings the song, it seems that Lucy inwardly agrees with her brother: the ascetic’s life of quiet self-denial is “rotten.”
As Mrs. Honeychurch astutely points out, Lucy is becoming more like her cousin Charlotte all the time. Just like Charlotte years before, she has decided that rather than be involved with a potentially improper relationship with a “cad,” she will live her life alone. For Forster, this is clearly not the right choice, at least not for Lucy. While Lucy reasons that she is being independent by taking off for Greece with the Miss Alans, really she is not; she is only running away from herself.
It is left to old Mr. Emerson to clear up Lucy’s muddle and to give her the strength she needs to follow her heart. Mr. Beebe cannot do this for her, because what he wants for her is what has made him happy, the celibate life. Lucy’s mother is too conservative and conventional to accept Lucy’s choice of George, especially as it comes on the heels of a broken engagement. Although she will upset everyone around her, although the tickets have been bought, and Mr. Beebe does not approve, Lucy must live her own Truth.
Back in Italy with George, Lucy is enjoying a new Renaissance as a happily married woman. She and George are equal partners; she sees that he can be silly and foolish and childish, and sometimes, he is wrong while she is right. For his part, he has learned to be happy and laughing with her; she has brought him out of his melancholy and into joy.
The mystery of Charlotte remains at the end of the novel. It is unclear whether she really did hope for Lucy and George to be together, despite all she did to keep them apart. From the hints throughout the book, it seems that thirty years before, when she was young, Charlotte had a romance of her own, but rejected her suitor’s advances as improper, thinking him a cad, or was hurt by a man who kissed her. “I have met the type before,” she tells Lucy in Chapter 7, “They seldom keep their exploits to themselves.” Perhaps at first she really meant to spare Lucy the pain she had felt, but then came to realize that she could not deny Lucy a chance at love.
A Room with a View is often classed as a comedy of manners. Human foibles and faults are satirized throughout the novel to comic effect, and the novel progresses from order to humorous misunderstanding or confusion and back again. Like all comedies, it has a happy ending. Also like all comedies, it has a serious message: that each person must follow his or her own truth, even at the risk of going against what others may deem proper. Published at a time when the restrictive attitudes of Victorian England were giving way to the more socially liberal thinking of the Edwardian Era, Forster’s novel is one in which conventions clash with passion, and passion triumphs.