A Room With a View: Chapter 5-8
At the beginning of Chapter 5, Lucy, still shaken up by her encounter with George the day before, decides it is best to avoid him. While out running errands, Charlotte and Lucy see Miss Lavish in the Piazza, at the site of the murder. She asks Lucy to tell her what she witnessed, explaining that she will use the incident in her novel, which is to be about love, murder, abduction, and revenge. Lucy prefers not to talk about the murder. She hopes Miss Lavish will not use her as a character in it.
Mr. Eager finds the ladies in the square and invites them for a drive in the hills. He, too, asks Lucy for details about the murder, causing Lucy to wonder at “the ghoulish fashion in which respectable people will nibble after blood.” Bothered by a photo vendor, Mr. Eager brushes him away rudely, inadvertently tearing one of his photos. Lucy decides that she no longer respects either Miss Lavish or Mr. Eager.
Mr. Eager begins talking about the Emersons, hinting that he knows something terrible about them. Pressed by Lucy, the chaplain blurts out that Mr. Emerson murdered his wife, although he provides no evidence for the outrageous claim.
After they say goodbye to Mr. Eager, Lucy and Charlotte discuss the drive he has proposed to take them on. They believe it will be a disaster, as Miss Lavish, invited by Mr. Beebe, will also be going, and Mr. Eager doesn’t approve of her. Lucy impetuously says that she is sick of Florence, and proposes that they leave at once for Rome to stay in a hotel with her mother’s friends. Both of them laugh at the impractical idea.
Chapter 6 tells of how Mr. Beebe, Mr. Eager, Mr. Emerson, George Emerson, Miss Lavish, Charlotte, and Lucy go on an outing in the hills, driven by Italian carriage drivers. On the way, Mr. Eager complains because the carriage driver has brought along his girlfriend and the two are being affectionate. Mr. Emerson protests that the young lovers should be left alone, but Mr. Eager insists that the girlfriend get down from the carriage.
The group arrives at the place where they are to see the beautiful view. Lucy follows Charlotte and Miss Lavish, but they send her away so they can gossip about the others. She asks the carriage driver to direct her to Mr. Beebe, but he takes her instead to George Emerson, who is standing alone in a field of violets, and tells her, “Courage and love.” Surprised to see Lucy, George rushes forward and kisses her. Just then, Charlotte appears and breaks up the romantic moment.
In Chapter 7, everyone returns to the carriage in a muddle, having lost one another in the hills. A storm is coming, but George insists that he will walk home. Back at the hotel, Lucy pours out her heart to her cousin. To Lucy’s horror, Charlotte suggests that George has had many exploits and that he will talk about his “conquest.” She hints that if she had not arrived on the scene, George would have taken advantage of Lucy. Lucy wishes to speak to George to straighten out the matter, but Charlotte will not allow it. She decides that they will catch the train to Rome first thing in the morning, and stay at the hotel with Lucy’s mother’s friends, the Vyses. They pack their things, and Lucy promises to Charlotte that she will never mention the incident to her mother, lest her mother blame Charlotte for leaving her alone.
Charlotte has a word with George, presumably to tell him to stay away from Lucy, and the two leave the next morning.
Chapter 8, “Mediæval,” opens at Lucy’s family home outside of London, a country estate called Windy Corner. Lucy’s mother, Mrs. Honeychurch, and her brother Freddy are waiting in the drawing-room as Lucy is being proposed to by Cecil Vyse. It is revealed that during her time in Rome, Lucy and Cecil became quite close and Cecil has already proposed twice, but been refused by Lucy. This time, Lucy says yes.
Freddy does not like Cecil, and showed disapproval when Cecil asked his permission to marry his sister. Mrs. Honeychurch says she does like Cecil, as he’s good, clever, rich, and well-connected.
Cecil enters the room to announce the engagement and immediately draws open the curtains. Lucy can be seen outside, against a beautiful view of the Surrey countryside. Cecil is tall and refined, well-educated and strong, but he seems self-conscious and fastidious, suggesting a man who is celibate rather than passionate. In Mr. Beebe’s words, “Mr. Vyse is an ideal bachelor.” Cecil sees Lucy as a figure in a Leonardo painting, full of mystery.
Immediately following the betrothal, while Freddy and Mrs. Honeychurch are outside congratulating Lucy, Mr. Beebe arrives for tea and shares some gossip with Cecil. Sir Harry Otway has bought two villas in town, called Cissie and Albert. Cecil declares his ignorance about town affairs. Changing the subject, Mr. Beebe asks what his profession is, and Cecil explains that he has none; he is independently wealthy. Unaware of the engagement, Mr. Beebe changes the subject again, talking freely to Cecil about Lucy, predicting that she will one day live life as wonderfully and heroically as she plays the piano. He is taken aback, and visibly disappointed, when Cecil abruptly announces that Lucy is going to marry him. Shortly thereafter, however, Mr. Beebe gives his blessing, and a cheery mood prevails as they all enjoy their tea.
Analysis of Chapters 5-8
Lucy is moved by George, and her encounters with him and his father have had an influence on her values. She now sees Miss Lavish and Mr. Eager for the hypocrites they are. Her encounter with George in the Piazza, when she faints and is caught by him, changes something in her. For the first time, she is keeping a secret from others, and for the first time it is left to her alone to decide what to do. It seems that Lucy is on the brink of taking control of her life, of choosing what is right for herself, when she enters the clearing where George stands, surrounded by violets (the “primal source whence beauty gushed out”).
But just as she receives a kiss from George, Charlotte appears, “brown against the view.” Lucy, unsure of herself and her feelings and looking to her cousin for approval, allows herself to be manipulated. She runs away from the beauty and truth and returns to the safe, bland embrace of the society she knows, reassured that she is doing the proper and correct thing by leaving George. Lucy is in a “muddle”—a word that recurs throughout the book to describe her confusion between what she actually feels and what she thinks she ought to feel. The driver has urged her towards “Courage and love,” but, as Lucy exclaims, “It is so hard to be absolutely truthful.” She ends by lying to herself in order to please her cousin and do what she thinks is expected of her.
There are two pairs of lovers in Chapter 6 who are parted—first, the driver and his girlfriend, and then George and Lucy. “Non fate guerra al Maggio,” says Mr. Emerson in defense of the driver and his girlfriend, quoting Lorenzo de Medici. To Mr. Emerson, springtime in the fields and springtime among lovers are the same thing, and should be admired equally; one should not be considered improper. This moral, one of the main messages of the novel, applies also to George and Lucy. English mores may call George’s kiss improper, the novel implies, but true love, which includes passion of the body, should be considered natural and beautiful.
For Forster, Italy is the land of Classical times and the Renaissance, associated with art, beauty, and humanism, while England represents the Middle Ages. Strict codes of conduct govern behavior, and love that in Forster’s view should be beautiful and natural is labeled improper. Accordingly, Chapter 6, in which George first kisses Lucy, takes place in the riotously pagan springtime hillside of Italy, with a driver called Phaethon and his girlfriend Persephone. Chapter 8, which opens in a darkened drawing room in England, is called “Mediæval” because it represents the Dark Ages, after Lucy has denied her love and chosen the mate she thinks is proper. Cecil is described as “mediæval” or “Gothic.” He is like a fastidious saint in a cathedral, in contrast with which the passionate, questioning George appears to be like a Greek statue, a representative of humanist thought of classical times. Lucy has entered the Dark Ages, and the Renaissance is yet to come.
Forster believed in equality between the sexes, and his portrayal of Cecil is a critical one. Mr. Beebe hopes that Lucy will break free of the controlling influence of those around her to become a fully realized person—“heroically good, heroically bad—too heroic, perhaps, to be good or bad,” but Cecil will not allow Lucy to come into her own that way. He prefers her to be shadowy, mysterious, like a woman in a painting instead of one in the flesh. The theme of women’s liberation is developed further as the story continues.