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A Room with a View

E.M. Forster

Chapters 8-10

Chapters 5-7

Chapters 11-14

Summary

Most of the second half of the book takes place around the Honeychurch residence at Windy Corner, on Summer Street in a small country town in the Surrey hills of England. It is a wealthy town filled with members of the leisure class. Lucy has been home from Italy for a week. A young man named Cecil Vyse, of the Vyse family whom Charlotte and Lucy visited in Rome, visits, and, for the third time, asks Lucy to marry him. Lucy's mother, Mrs. Honeychurch, and her brother, Freddy, observe this process from the drawing room. Mrs. Honeychurch approves of the match, judging Cecil to be bright, rich, genteel, and well-connected, but Freddy has reservations that he can't fully explain.

Cecil enters the room with the news that Lucy has accepted his proposal. Everyone expresses their happiness, and Cecil suggests that Lucy take mother and brother out to the garden to tell them about it, while he writes to his mother. Alone, Cecil reflects upon how he came to know Lucy in Rome and admired her for her reticence, picturing her like a painting by Leonardo, whom he loved "for the things that she will not tell us," things "not of this life." He proposed twice in Italy, and though she gently refused him, they remained on good terms. He asked permission from both Mrs. Honeychurch and Freddy on the most recent attempt as he wanted support, and Freddy was somewhat rude in his response.

Mr. Beebe, now rector of Summer Street, arrives to have tea with the Honeychurches. He brings news that two villas, named Cissie and Albert, have been bought by Sir Harry Otway from a Mr. Flack. Without mentioning the engagement, Cecil discusses Lucy with Mr. Beebe, who compares Lucy to a kite waiting to find its wings and fly away. Cecil suggests that the cord has finally been cut, and announces their engagement, then inwardly regrets, too late, the arrogance suggested by the metaphor. Mr. Beebe is taken aback but manages to wish the couple well.

A few days later, Cecil and Lucy attend a garden party at which Cecil finds the local population highly provincial. The topic of Mr. Beebe comes up, and Lucy remembers the chaplain in Florence, Mr. Eager, who accused Mr. Emerson of "practically" murdering his wife; however, she changes the name to Harris to protect the Emersons. In her vehement expression of hatred for Mr. Eager, Lucy surprises Cecil, who finds her ranting to be unwomanly.

The carriage drives past the two ugly little cottages, Cissie and Albert, where they find Sir Harry Otway, who regrets that he can't take them down because Mrs. Flack, a sick old woman, still inhabits Albert. He must therefore find a suitable tenant for Cissie, someone who isn't the "wrong" sort of person. Lucy suggests the spinster Miss Alans, whom she met in Florence, and proposes to write to them, as they need a home. Mrs. Honeychurch, however, suggests finding younger male tenants--people who are going up rather than down in the world.

Cecil and Lucy walk the rest of the way home, and Cecil expresses his disapproval of Sir Harry, whom he regards as brainless. Lucy asks him whether it matters so much, and Cecil says that it matters very much. Cecil wants to walk in the woods, asking if Lucy would feel more comfortable there than in a room, and Lucy assents that she would, more than in a room with no view. At a clearing, Cecil asks if he can kiss her, and she agrees, but he realizes too late that he has asked awkwardly and should have simply kissed her.

Lucy, Freddy, and Mr. Beebe's niece Minnie are hitting tennis balls and chatting about Cissie Villa with Mrs. Honeychurch. Freddy reveals that he has heard the name of the new tenants: Emerson. Mrs. Honeychurch wants to know what Emersons they are, to decide if they are the right kind. Freddy says that they are friends of Cecil, which worries Lucy. Mr. Beebe remembers the Emersons in Florence but doubts whether such people would be friendly with the wealthy Vyses. He recall that the Emersons filled the room of the Miss Alans with blue violets upon hearing that the women loved flowers, and describes it as an act "so ungentlemanly and yet so beautiful."

Mr. Beebe mentions that Mr. Emerson, though very likeable, was said to have murdered his wife, which reminds Mrs. Honeychurch of the name Harris that Lucy mentioned in the carriage. Lucy finds Cecil inside and chides him for inviting people after she asked the Miss Alans but says she thinks his "nice" friends will probably be better. Cecil reveals that he has planned to get back at Sir Harry's snobbishness by inviting some lower-class Emersons, a father and son, whom he met in the National Gallery, and who had been to Italy. Cecil claims that the classes should mix and says he believes in democracy, but Lucy says that he doesn't know what democracy is. She accuses him of being disloyal, and berates him for interfering with her plans to invite the Miss Alans. Cecil thinks inwardly that bringing the Emersons to Windy Corner will make Lucy less snobbish, as well as creating entertainment suitable for the "Comic Muse."

Commentary

The opening lines of chapter 10 bring two themes into focus. The Honeychurch drawing-room's curtains protect the furniture from the damaging rays of the sun, just as Lucy has been protected in Italy by her cousin Charlotte, and as Cecil will attempt to protect her later in the book with his confining ideas. The curtains also symbolize human limitations: people are prevented from knowing the glory of heaven because if they could see it, it would be "intolerable" to them. Inside, the furniture and Lucy may feel safer, but they are denied the beauty of a "view."

However, Forster's description of the earthly world, as seen in the particular drawing-room, is one of pleasantness. Freddy and Mrs. Honeychurch certainly have their faults--Freddy is still young and his behavior toward Cecil is quite rude, while Mrs. Honeychurch can at times be somewhat petty and obsessed with civilities, but both are sympathetic characters. Through their conversation, Cecil is portrayed as a less than pleasant person before he even makes an appearance into the narrative--Freddy's honesty gives extra weight to the sense of mistrust he has for Cecil.

Cecil is associated in this chapter with the Middle Ages, and continues to be throughout the book. This chapter, called "Medieval," begins the story of Lucy's entanglement with him, while the last chapter of the book, "The End of the Middle Ages," represents the final end of it once and for all. Cecil's resemblance to the Gothic statues of saints suggests both his social and his physical awkwardness: like a saint, he seems different from everyday people. His prudishness and (as will be seen) refusal to take part in sport add to the sense of estrangement which amounts to a saintly celibacy.

Along with his appearance, Cecil's medieval associations suggest that he holds the old chivalric notions of courtly love, in which Lucy would be obliged to play the part of the passive medieval lady who was discussed in the opening paragraphs of chapter 4. Lucy, however, is first described as sitting, outdoors, with the view of Sussex behind her, as if hovering on a magic carpet. Mr. Beebe later talks of Lucy as a kite still being held down to earth, who will soon find herself and begin to fly. Though engaged, Lucy seems unwilling to relinquish her freedom. Even as Cecil comes inside with the news of their engagement, she remains outside, her hovering state showing that she can not yet follow her impulses--something still keeps her tied down.

The discussion of fences in chapter 9 shows how Cecil accepts the belief that there exist immovable and eternal barriers between social classes. Cecil feels that these barriers are forced on him rather than created by him. Mrs. Honeychurch says, "fences are fences," suggesting that the fence is there and one's attitude toward it and behavior are a matter of choice. For her, the class boundaries that should have prevented her family from becoming so highly regarded in the neighborhood have instead bent and been made looser by her pleasant personality and by sheer good luck.

Lucy's growth to womanhood began in the first half of the book, but quickens in the second half. Having learned more of herself in Italy, it falls upon her to take this knowledge back to her home and try to use it in her old environment, a difficult task. She has realized (chapter 10), that she must have equality with the man she loves. Cecil's attitude toward women is arrogant and dismissive: he treats her ideas as if they are of "feminine inconsequence" (chapter 9) and wants her to conform to an image of a Leonardo painting of mystery and quietness, in which he is always dominant and the only one able to make judgements. Her outburst against Mr. Eager in chapter 10 makes him uneasy: he associates it with a muscularity that can only, for him, exist in men.

Cecil hardly knows the real Lucy, but has instead constructed an image of what an obedient wife should be. When she tells him the Emersons' true name (chapter 9), it is the most intimate thing she had ever revealed to him. He disregards her feelings about the people she has loved all her life, and tries to make her see her own world through his eyes. Not only does he disapprove of people like Mr. Beebe and Sir Otway, but he claims that it matters greatly to disapprove of such people, suggesting that she should join him in his condemnations.

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