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A Room with a View

E.M. Forster

Chapters 18-20

Chapters 15-17

Study Questions

Summary

Mr. Beebe receives a letter from the Miss Alans stating that they have decided to travel to Greece and perhaps Constantinople, and the thought of the two spinsters amuses him so much that he pays a call at Windy Corner to tell Lucy. On the road, he passes Cecil and Freddy, on their way to bring Cecil to the station. Freddy tells Mr. Beebe about the break-up.

The Honeychurch house is in a tumult, as the winds threaten Mrs. Honeychurch's flowers. Lucy plays Mozart in the drawing room, feeling despondent. Mr. Beebe decides to relieve everyone by taking Charlotte and Minnie out for tea at the Beehive Tavern. Mr. Beebe finds out from Lucy that the family has not approved of her decision. Lucy, meanwhile, is using her family as an excuse to justify her sadness, which has another cause she doesn't realize fully.

Mr. Beebe tells her about the Miss Alans' trip, and Lucy suddenly decides that she must go with the two old women in order to get away and know her own mind. Mr. Beebe and Charlotte discuss the situation over their trip to get tea, and Charlotte urges him that there must be complete secrecy around the news of the broken engagement. Mr. Beebe tells Charlotte of Lucy's wish to go to Greece, which he finds problematic, but which Charlotte, unexpectedly, fully endorses. She is mysteriously urgent about the importance of Lucy's trip, and Mr. Beebe agrees to help persuade the family to allow her to go. Secretly, he believes in celibacy, and hopes that Lucy may remain a virgin if she goes away.

Back at Windy Corner, Mr. Beebe puts in a good word for the idea of the journey, and Lucy is allowed to go. She is glad, but not as glad as she expected to feel.

In London (chapter 19), Mrs. Honeychurch and Lucy visit the Miss Alans, who are pleased to have Lucy join them. They think Lucy is still engaged. After the visit, Mrs. Honeychurch asks her daughter why she won't divulge the truth, but Lucy refuses to say that she is worried that George will find out and will continue his advances. Mrs. Honeychurch feels hurt that her daughter wants to leave home, but Lucy claims that she wants her independence, though she doesn't really know what she wants. Mrs. Honeychurch accuses her of sounding like Charlotte.

On the way home, they pass Cissie villa. No lights are on, and the gate is padlocked. Their driver informs them that the Emersons have left. Lucy feels that all the energy spent on going to Greece is unnecessary. At the Rectory, they stop for Charlotte, who wants to go to church. Mrs. Honeychurch agrees to go with her, but Lucy refuses, and is instead led into the Rectory's study.

There she comes across Mr. Emerson, who begins to apologize for George's behavior, explaining that he taught his son to trust in love, because passions lead one to understanding. He asks Lucy not to be too harsh on George, and not to call his behavior "abominable," especially because George has "gone under," in the sense that he will never find anything in life worthwhile again. He explains that George's mother felt the same way when she died. They had decided not to have George baptized, but when he caught typhoid fever as a boy, she blamed herself for not baptizing him.

Now, Mr. Emerson says that George can't bear to be near Lucy and her family and is taking his father to his London rooms. Lucy implores him to stay, and reveals that she is going to Greece. Lucy begins to lie about her trip, claiming that she is going with Cecil. Finally she tells Mr. Emerson that in truth she is not going with Cecil, though she lies about the reasons for his absence. Mr. Emerson tells her that he thinks she is in a "muddle," and is not listening to the true wishes of her soul. He tells her that she loves George, which shocks her. He explains that no matter where she goes or what she does, the love will stay with her because it is eternal. She begins to cry, but as he tells her that darkness has been creeping into her soul, she sees herself clearly at last. Mr. Emerson urges her to act according to what she knows to be true, even if others despise her for it.

It is spring again (chapter 20), and Lucy and George have eloped and are staying in the Bertolini Pension, in a room with a view. George feels that many people and things have helped him finally find happiness: his father, Lucy, and Italy among them. In their happiness together, they hope that their loved ones will forgive them in time and come back to them. They ruefully remember Charlotte, and her unpleasant manner. George thinks that Charlotte knew, when Lucy went into the study, that Mr. Emerson was there, and allowed her to go anyway. Lucy doubts this, but George insists that his father saw her before Lucy arrived. Lucy wonders if perhaps Charlotte, contrary to all her other behavior, meant for things to happen as they have. George thinks that underneath it all, Charlotte has always hoped for the two to come together. They feel conscious of their requited love for one another, but also of another, more mysterious love.

Commentary:

Starting with chapter 18, everyone begins to act irrationally, all because of Lucy's irrational behavior. She is even described as hysterical as she speaks with Mr. Beebe, and her need to escape to Greece from proximity to George infects everyone, from Charlotte to Mr. Beebe to her mother. Mr. Beebe finds Charlotte's impassioned and highly mysterious manner very convincing, and also feels compelled by a high regard for celibacy to prevent Lucy from marrying. This strange fixation that Mr. Beebe has for religion and virginity is only briefly sketched out, but seems to be the only reason for his behavior later in the book, when he stands in the way of Lucy and George's happiness by influencing Mrs. Honeychurch against the match.

The song that Lucy sings at her piano in chapter 18 speaks of living easily yet vacantly, which aptly describes the life she has recently set out to lead. Her desire to escape from what she fears becomes stronger than her more true desires to connect with George. Thus she becomes enmeshed in the "muddle" which Mr. Emerson perceives in the Rectory. His advice to her accords to a belief in "the holiness of direct desire," which holds that love emerges from the body's intuition and from the will of the individual. Just as Mr. Emerson wished for men and women to be on equal terms as Nature intended, so he wants Lucy to realize that Nature, the body, is the seat of her soul, and is the place to search for her answers.

As the Emersons teach Lucy to find her individuality and follow its guidance, Lucy shows George that there is happiness in life despite all of the unknowns. In the final scene, George comments that there's nothing to cry at, so he will laugh. Lucy's presence and the entire Honeychurch family, have transformed George from a morose young man into a person able to experience joy.

The behavior of Charlotte is left ambiguous at the end of the book. Did she really decide to help Lucy to find her true love? Charlotte herself, as revealed earlier in the story, once denied herself love by becoming an old maid. It is possible that she regrets her choice and does not want to see her young cousin taken up by the darkness forever. Her act of unselfish behavior may be the more "mysterious" love that George and Lucy feel at the end of the book.

At the time Forster wrote A Room with a View, new Edwardian ideals were replacing the old Victorian social norms. These ideals were more liberal and open-minded, stressing the possibility for human improvement through a liberal education. Mr. Emerson's attempts to teach his son according to his ideas make him seem like a spokesperson of the modern sensibility. Without his guidance, Lucy cannot fully come into her own; likewise, Forster seems to suggest, without the new rise in social liberalism, women will remain confined in the Victorian sentiments that always placed them at a level inferior to men.

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