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A Room with a View

E.M. Forster

Chapters 15-17

Chapters 11-14

Chapters 18-20

Summary

It's Sunday and the Honeychurches get ready to go to church. After church, Lucy sees the Emersons smoking in their garden. Lucy formally introduces them to her mother, and the Emersons say they are thinking of leaving because they have heard that the Miss Alans were planning to live there. George says that there is no way to make everyone happy, just as anyone who stands in the sun must cast a shadow somewhere. Mrs. Honeychurch agrees.

Charlotte appears but refuses to speak with the Emersons, bowing at them from the carriage. George somewhat awkwardly accepts an invitation to play tennis with the Honeychurches that afternoon; Lucy finds his awkwardness endearing. Mr. Emerson encourages his son to go, which Lucy takes as a sure sign that George has not told his father about the kisses in Florence. She is delighted at the realization, thinking that the kiss must not have been an exploit, and that George must not love her.

Freddy, Floyd, and George want to play tennis, and need one more to make a set of four. Cecil refuses on the grounds that he is a bad player, Minnie must stay inside and observe the Sabbath, so Lucy plays. Cecil bothers them all by reading and critiquing a bad novel out loud. After the game, he reads to Lucy and George, who realize that the book, which takes place in Florence and concerns a woman named Leonora, must be by Miss Lavish, writing under the pseudonym of Joseph Emery Prank.

George and Lucy are less interested in Cecil's book than the beautiful view from Windy Corner. George explains that all views are alike, made of air and distance, but with something supernatural added that makes them unforgettable to certain people. He remembers his first memory: his mother and father and himself looking out into the distance. Cecil gets frustrated since he cannot direct the conversation the way he wants, but Lucy implores him to stay and read on. He reads part of a chapter about a man embracing a woman standing in a field of violets in spring. Lucy suggests that they have tea, hoping to avert disaster. On the way inside, however, Lucy and George find themselves alone, and George kisses her again.

Lucy feels determined to stifle the love that she hardly realizes is rising between her and George, and excuses herself from tea in order to talk to Charlotte. She accuses Charlotte of telling Miss Lavish the secret of the kiss in the violets, and wants Charlotte to talk to George and set things straight, which Charlotte does not volunteer to do, so Lucy summons George. Lucy insists that he leave and never return to Windy Corner. George urges her not to marry Cecil, who he says is pretentious, materialistic, and concerned only with gaining mastery over Lucy's feelings. George proclaims his love for Lucy and says that he wants to love her but also have her think for herself. George says that if she doesn't understand what he is saying, he must face darkness.

George leaves, and Lucy finds herself torn by strange emotions. Freddy again asks Cecil if he'll play tennis, but Cecil again refuses. Lucy suddenly realizes that Cecil is "intolerable," and decides to break off the engagement.

Lucy breaks off her engagement with Cecil, saying that she suddenly sees how different they are. Though taken aback, Cecil takes it rather well, but wants to know her reason for not loving him. She explains that his constant sheltering of her and attempts to define how she should think are conventional and insulting. He tries to wrap her up in books and music but denies her the beauty of people and of life. Cecil feels that Lucy has revealed to him the truth about himself, and that he sees her as she really is for the first time.

Cecil leaves Lucy and she resolves not to marry, but to keep her liberty. However, her resolve to follow this path denies her what her heart and brain know to be true, and this plunges her into a kind of darkness.

Commentary

Cecil's snide and loathsome character is fully developed in these chapters. His refusal to play tennis shows that he is not able to perceive that the others want him to play regardless of whether he is a good player. He then proceeds to bother the players with readings from his novel, which only distract them. His self-absorbed nature and insensitivity to other people, as well as his favoring of books bother Lucy somewhat. But until George tells her exactly why she should not marry Cecil, she doesn't realize exactly what annoys her and to what extent.

George's speech on vistas shows his father's influence over him. His comparison of views to crowds shows that in people as in landscapes, there can emerge something highly powerful in the collective whole which that cannot be appreciated in just one individual. /PARAGRAPH As George points out to Lucy, Cecil doesn't value human life, which George characterizes as "sacred" (chapter 16). As Rose Macauley has pointed out in her book, The Writings of E. M. Forster, all the major characters in the book who can be identified with the forces of "good" share a flexible appreciation of other people that avoids the strict moralizing and pigeon-holing of traditional values.

Lucy's break-up with Cecil reveals the better side of his nature. Having realized how foolish he was to try to master Lucy, he finally sees her for what she is, an independent woman rather than a passive work of art. This too-late understanding of Lucy gives him a gallant and noble side that was invisible before: she grants him a personal enlightenment that he could not have otherwise received, just as other characters in the book enlighten her. She overreacts to his comment about hearing her speak in another voice, however, and her subconscious guilt about loving George shows through in her fierce, uncalled-for assertion that there is no one else.

Lucy's resolution to come to know herself by refusing to marry, however, only suppresses a very real part of herself: her love for George. She uses the ideas of women's liberty to escape her true emotions. Her denial of this very basic truth about herself leads her to plunge herself into what Forster calls the darkness, living a life of falsity.

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