A Room with a View | Study Guide

E.M. Forster

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A Room with a View | Part 2, Chapter 10 : Cecil as a Humorist | Summary

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Summary

In Part 2, Chapter 10, Lucy Honeychurch plays a romping lawn game with Minnie Beebe, Mr. Beebe's niece, while Freddy and Mrs. Honeychurch look on. Cecil Vyse stays inside the house, disliking "the physical violence of the young." The narrator tells of the Honeychurch family's middle-class background, and how they rose to higher society as affluent Londoners who moved to their country neighborhood. While Lucy is fond of her neighbors, Italy has broadened her view. She now sees her neighbors' shortcomings, as well as the worthiness of people in all social classes. For Cecil, though, Italy has only increased his irritation with people outside his own kind, particularly the residents of Summer Street.

Mr. Beebe announces that the Miss Alans are coming to live in Cissie Villa. Freddy contradicts him, stating that the name of the new tenants is Emerson, and that they are friends of Cecil's. Lucy is annoyed, for she has taken great trouble to coax the Miss Alans there. She retreats to the house and confronts Cecil about the matter, who triumphantly confirms Freddy's news. Cecil further irritates Lucy when he reveals that the new tenants are not friends of his at all, but strangers that he met in an art gallery in London. He applauds himself for the trick he has played on Sir Harry Otway, saying "Anything is fair that punishes a snob." He goes on to declare that the classes ought to mix and that there ought to be intermarriage. Lucy angrily calls him "disloyal" for undermining her efforts, and leaves the room in a huff—although her reaction is based more on her suspicion that the tenants might prove to be the Emersons she met in Florence than on anger at Cecil's behavior.

Analysis

Cecil Vyse prefers to stay safe and clean indoors, while the Honeychurches shout and tumble about the lawn—once again highlighting the differences in their characters and social classes. The Honeychurches rose to respectability mainly through luck and a wise investment by the late Mr. Honeychurch, who was a respectable and prosperous lawyer, while Cecil has traveled in the highest social circles his whole life. He continues to look down on the residents of Summer Street, and isn't above pulling nasty tricks on them simply to amuse himself. As the author says, "he took a malicious pleasure in thwarting people."

The rental of Sir Harry Otway's villa is a clear example of this behavior. Cecil convinces two strangers to move to the neighborhood, knowing that Sir Harry wants "genteel" folks rather than working-class people. Cecil practically crows with glee as he explains it to Lucy Honeychurch. He claims that the classes ought to mix, but Lucy does not buy it for one minute. She sees his spiteful character for what it is, with his true motivation being to teach Sir Harry a lesson. Cecil isn't pleased with Lucy's reaction, either. Her anger is "inartistic" to him; it shreds his illusion of Lucy as a passive piece of artwork that should remain perfect at all times. Cecil mistakes Lucy's anger for snobbishness; he thinks she wants the Miss Alans to rent the villa. What she really wants is for anyone but the Emersons to rent it. In a case of dramatic irony, it is Cecil who enables Lucy's would-be lover to move into the very neighborhood where she lives. Had he not interfered in Sir Harry's affairs, it is quite possible that Lucy and George Emerson would never have been thrown together again. But as Cecil himself has said, "Anything is fair that punishes a snob."

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