A Room with a View | Study Guide

E.M. Forster

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A Room with a View | Part 2, Chapter 17 : Lying to Cecil | Summary



In Part 2, Chapter 17, Cecil Vyse is stunned by the breakup, and questions Lucy Honeychurch closely about why she won't marry him. Wanting to be done with Cecil for good, she picks a fight, citing his refusal to play tennis with Freddy Honeychurch as the straw that broke the camel's back. He is genuinely bewildered, as Lucy has shown no signs of unhappiness before. "Couldn't you have warned me if you felt anything wrong? You talked of our wedding at lunch—at least, you let me talk," he says. Lucy contends that she didn't want to speak until she was sure of her mind. Lucy's blunt speech makes Cecil see her in a new light: "He looked at her, instead of through her, for the first time since they were engaged. From a Leonardo she had become a living woman."

Throughout the conversation, Cecil is both gentle and dignified. He expresses his sincere love for Lucy once more. She says she never truly loved him, and then turns to George Emerson's words to explain herself. "You're the sort who can't know any one intimately," she starts, which horrifies him. She then points out how he shelters her from the world. "I won't be protected. I will choose for myself what is ladylike and right." Stunned again, Cecil concedes: "True, every word. It is a revelation." He owns up to his callous behavior to Lucy's loved ones, and thanks her for helping him know his true self. He expresses how different Lucy seems, as if she is speaking with "a new voice." Lucy misinterprets the remark and strongly denies that she is in love with another man. She sends Cecil to bed with a handshake, and decides that she can never marry. "She must be one of the women whom she had praised so eloquently, who care for liberty and not for men; she must forget that George loved her." She goes to bed alone, and "the night received her, as it had received Miss Bartlett thirty years before."


Too late, Cecil Vyse becomes the kind of man that Lucy Honeychurch might actually wish to marry. Even though he is in shock, he is kind during the conversation, only wanting to know why. Lucy holds nothing back, but still, he responds gracefully, without anger. Cecil recognizes that he has never seen the true Lucy until that moment, and he grows from the experience. The reader might even feel sorry for him, as he is sent packing with almost no remorse on Lucy's part.

As for Lucy, she reveals that she is still not really being honest with herself, although she is making progress in her personal development. Breaking up with Cecil is the right thing for her to do, but she suppresses the real reason for doing so: she loves George Emerson. This is why she overreacts to Cecil's statement that she is speaking with a "new voice." She knows he is partly right; she has even used George's words to break up with Cecil. Lucy then buried her true feelings with the virtuous notion that she must never marry. This is really to save face, so that she won't appear hypocritical to her friends and family. She has long held certain views of the ideal woman, and feels she must live up to those, even if they don't reflect how she truly feels or what she really wants to do now. In other words, she must live a lie in order to hold onto outdated ideals she no longer believes in.

It is these same ideals that have turned Charlotte Bartlett into the bitter, lonely spinster that she is now. The final line of Part 2, Chapter 17 suggests that Charlotte once had a chance to choose otherwise, but that she turned her back on love. It is also possible that Charlotte was jilted or disappointed by a suitor; the reader will never know for sure.

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