Miss Lucy Honeychurch is a naï¿½ve young woman who has led a sheltered life so far. A life made stiff and rigid by the rules and virtues laid down by the Victorian society she is living in. On her trip to Italy, Lucy is accompanied by her cousin and chaperone Charlotte Bartlett, whose expenses have been paid by Mrs. Honeychurch. She, therefore, feels highly obliged to watch Lucy as best as she can and not let her commit anything that is not “ladylike.” Lucy has always been taught that men and women have strict roles in society, that men should be chivalrous, and women can be strong as long as they remain “ladylike.” Confused by the novelty of Italy and the presence of the Emersons, Lucy sometimes feels rebellious to these ideas and her impulses alternately guide and confuse her. After she faints at the sight of the murder in Florence, she is supported and carried by George. Lucy avoids letting her cousin know about it and instead keeps it a secret but the independence to think on her own scares her, for she has never thought on her own thus far.
George’s kissing of Lucy makes her even more confused in understanding herself. She says that she wants to grow older quickly to understand and resolve the conflicting tensions introduced to her life while in Florence. Not missing the opportunity introduced, Miss Bartlett dismisses George, and the two ladies decide to quit for Rome. By accepting Cecil’s proposal, Lucy goes against her instincts for love and passion and deems it right and safe to marry a man of status. Cecil is a medieval man who presumes women as passive characters in society and feels content as long as he is left with books. He thinks of Lucy as a painting of Leonardo. But With the knowledge that Lucy has harboured within her from Italy, she feels that she should have equality with the man she loves. Therefore, she gradually emerges from the mysterious painting of Leonardo, starts to think for herself and develops her own view of life rather than forming herself after the values that others deem to be correct.
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The conscious kiss between her and Cecil makes her utter the Emersons’ name, which she had kept a secret. This is perhaps suggestive of the profundity of the feeling she went through when kissed by George. Lucy’s music is a window into her mood and the workings of her soul. Her music uplifts her and takes her into a world of beauty separate from a society dominated by men where she should find her place. The music she plays is always expressive of her mood and thoughts at a particular moment. In Italy, with the vitality and novelty she experiences, Beethoven sounds the right tune to play. But at Vyses in England, her mood does not allow her to play her beloved Beethoven in artificial surroundings; hence, she chooses Schumann.
The protection of Lucy by her family and Cecil expresses human limitations. Just in the same manner that Miss Honeychurch protects her carpet from the sunlight, Lucy is denied the freedom to be herself. Lucy has been well taught in handling social situations, but she has not yet learned to know herself. She has not been encouraged to think her own thoughts. The Emersons play a key role in helping Lucy realize her true self and desires. However, she is too afraid of what she truly wants to pursue, as they force her to revolt against everything she has known thus far. No matter how hard Lucy tries to stifle her feelings about George, they persist, and they manifest themselves subconsciously as in the slip of her speech to Charlotte, though she doesn’t realize them herself. In defending himself after the second kiss, George gives voice to those feelings of Lucy which were mute but in conflict inside her. She starts to understand what exactly she thought of Cecil and what exactly she herself looked for.
The rising of these feelings and the development of the loathsome character of Cecil lead to calling off her engagement with Cecil. Throughout her speech to Cecil, she quotes George, which indicates how highly she approves of his views. But her subconscious guilt about loving George shows through in her fierce, uncalled-for assertion that there is no one else in her life. She, therefore, resolves not to marry at all, which suppresses a real part of her: her love for George. Her denial of this basic truth about herself leads her to plunge herself into the darkness and a life of falsity.
Mr. Emerson, who has always acted as a father figure for Lucy, comes to her rescue the very last time when she resolves to leave for Greece. He teaches her how to create muddles for herself by denying her instincts for true love and passion. He also guides her to claim the man she truly loves because by so doing, she will be saving not only herself but also George from sinking into the abyss. By listening to her true desires, Lucy owns the glorified life that had been awaiting her, a life that her mentors (Charlotte and Cecil) would otherwise deny her. Had she not followed her instincts, she would be living the life of a second Miss Bartlett and regretted the rest of her life.