A Room with a View
by E.M. Forster
A Room with a View Part 1, Chapter 2 Summary
- Morning in Hotel Bertolini is a very pleasant thing. We’re treated to an appropriately pleasant description of the view from its very pleasant windows – presumably the very same windows Charlotte and Lucy now possess.
- We get a glimpse of actual Italians for the first time; they’re depicted as disorderly but good-natured animals. The streets outside the hotel are scattered with an interesting assortment of children, soldiers, and bulls.
- Charlotte comes bustling into Lucy’s room, succeeds in spoiling her enjoyment of the pleasant morning, and bustles out. When Lucy eventually makes it down to breakfast, Charlotte is already finished, and is talking with the “clever lady” from the night before.
- A typical passive exchange starts up between Charlotte (who is tired and wants to stay in all day) and Lucy (who, being young, vigorous, and in Florence for goodness' sake, wants to go out). The clever lady interrupts, claiming that Lucy will be safe if she goes out alone, since she’s an Englishwoman (apparently English ladies don’t get molested). Charlotte is unimpressed by this claim.
- The clever lady offers to take Lucy to Santa Croce (a famous church), via a dirty back way – we have to wonder exactly what that means. She also scolds Lucy for looking at her Baedeker travel guide, since, in her opinion, the travel guide doesn’t even touch upon the “true” Italy – and she does! She snatches the book away from poor Lucy.
- Lucy is fascinated by this claim, and hurries through her breakfast to get started on her quest for the real Italy.
- The clever lady, whose name is, appropriately, Miss Lavish, starts her journey with Lucy. She’s full of little gems of knowledge (or what passes for knowledge). She claims that Florence, like all cities, has its own smell. Lucy wants to know if it’s a nice smell; Miss Lavish snidely derides the “niceness” Lucy’s looking for.
- Miss Lavish unsurprisingly turns out to be incredibly condescending. She goes around ooh-ing and aah-ing about how very sweet and adorable all the Italians are.
- For the time being, Lucy’s excited to be with such a thrilling and festive person. Lucy and Miss Lavish talk politics briefly, then discover that they have some common acquaintances near the Honeychurches’ home in Surrey.
- The two women chat pleasantly until they discover that they’re totally lost. Miss Lavish is unalarmed – in fact, she’s excited about the prospect of an adventure. Uh oh.
- Lucy starts to suspect that something’s wrong; she suggests that they ask for directions. Of course, Miss Lavish is so not down with that.
- This unscheduled and uncharted detour makes Lucy unhappy. However, for a brief moment, she sees something that feels like the real Italy (and it’s not Miss Lavish’s Italy). Miss Lavish quickly pulls her away to keep looking for the elusive Santa Croce.
- Both proper ladies and unconventional ones get hungry sometimes, and Lucy and Miss Lavish stop to buy some chestnut paste for lunch, simply because it looks so “typical.” Whatever its appearance, it clearly doesn’t taste so good (anything described as reminiscent of hair oil probably isn’t so tasty).
- Fueled by their unpleasant lunch, the women finally get to Santa Croce which, in someone’s opinion (either the narrator’s or Lucy’s) is incredibly hideous.
- Miss Lavish disses some tourists going into the church, dismissing the “Britisher abroad.” From Lucy’s slightly offended comments, we gather that said tourists are Emerson Jr. and Sr.
- Suddenly, Miss Lavish flutters off after some unfortunate man she calls her “local-colour box” (what does that mean?), leaving Lucy in the dust.
- Lucy waits… and waits… and then remembers that it’s not appropriate for a young unescorted girl to hang around outside churches, or anywhere for that matter. As she heads over to her irresponsible chaperon, however, Miss Lavish and the local-colour box head off merrily.
- Poor Lucy. Deserted by a flighty, middle-aged fauxhemian and left to her own devices (without Baedeker!) in the big, bad city, she gives in to tears. All she can do is enter the church alone, embarrassed, and decidedly unpleased with everything.
- The church, Lucy knows, is quite wonderful and important, having been commented on by many famous people. However, she can’t help but notice its coldness and barn-like qualities. Furthermore, since she’s, as the title of this chapter tells us, In Santa Croce with No Baedeker (and no Miss Lavish), she has nobody to tell her which monuments are important or unimportant. She’s unwilling to admire the ones that aren’t praised in books.
- Inexplicably, though, Lucy begins to feel happier. She starts to enjoy her surroundings, and settles in to people-watch. The British tourists are everywhere, branded by their red copies of Baedeker and their equally red noses.
- In her observations, Lucy notices a trio of small Catholic children, “two he-babies and a she-baby.” Thinking that they’re being serious and religious, the “babies” douse each other with holy water, then go and genuflect dramatically at a memorial that they assume is for a saint. Unfortunately for the babies, the memorial is actually for Niccolò Machiavelli (infamous and not-particularly-holy Renaissance political philosopher). Perhaps through some particularly cruel divine retribution, the smallest he-baby immediately trips and falls on a statue of some bishop.
- Lucy and Mr. Emerson both try to sooth the screaming kid, to no avail. Mr. Emerson expresses a comically cynical view of the church, blaming it for the he-baby’s state of coldness, injury, and fear.
- The two would-be good Samaritans have no luck with getting the child to stay upright. Fortunately, a maternal Italian woman comes by and sets him right.
- Lucy, after her earlier slump, suddenly feels rather charitably towards the Emersons and vows to be nice to them (to go back to her earlier terminology, “beautiful rather than delicate”).
- When asked what she’s doing there alone, Lucy explains her abandonment by Miss Lavish and Baedeker. Upon hearing this, Mr. Emerson the Younger matter-of-factly declares that Lucy had better join them.
- Lucy is shocked. Get used to people being shocked in this world; they’re shocked by pretty much everything, pretty much all the time. She responds by putting on a kind of stiff Charlotte act.
- Mr. Emerson shows us just how different he is from conventional society. He basically calls Lucy out on the fact that she’s just mimicking the behavior of her elders, and tells her not to be so touchy. He kindly but bluntly insists that she just give in and tell him which part of the church she’d like to see.
- Lucy’s not even sure how to respond – shocked just doesn’t seem to be working, so she does just give in and tell the Emersons what she’d like to see.
- The trio heads off to look at the Giotto frescoes, Lucy’s request. There’s already a group there (of English people, of course). The group leader is in the midst of a soppy lecture on the virtues of Giotto’s paintings. Mr. Emerson loudly interrupts, and makes some somewhat rude and funny comments about Giotto’s imaginative religious scenes. He and George have what seems to them to be a fairly harmless exchange; the lecturer and his group (who turn out to be a clergyman and his parishioners) are offended. They get all huffy and leave the chapel.
- Mr. E feels bad for making the group leave. He recognizes the clergyman as one Mr. Eager, whom he and George have met before, and rushes off, leaving Lucy and George together… alone (gasp!).
- Unfortunately for us, nothing juicy happens. Lucy and George just have an awkward conversation about the Emersons vs. the World struggle. Frustrated, George starts pacing; Lucy admires him as he skulks about, and feels a certain subtle, ambiguous sense of tragedy and discontent. It’s unusual for her to feel such subtle feelings, though, and when Mr. Emerson returns, it goes away.
- Mr. Emerson still feels rough about ruining the lecturer’s talk in the chapel. He continues to watch the group as it circulates around other paintings. He and Lucy wander around the chapel, looking at the art and chatting. Lucy’s mental picture of the church transforms as her mood improves. While she still thinks of it as a barn, now she sees it as a barn with a harvest of beautiful things.
- Mr. Emerson, however, is more interested in watching George than looking at the frescoes. He’s worried about his son’s melancholy, and, in his blunt, honest way, opens up to Lucy. Apparently, he raised George to be free of the “superstition” of religion. Lucy is shocked again, and this time is somewhat disdainful. She thinks that the old man is both foolish and lacking in religion, and she’s certain that neither her mother nor Charlotte would approve of her befriending him.
- Ignorant of the disapproving thoughts going through Lucy’s head, Mr. Emerson just keeps going. Seemingly out of nowhere, he asks Lucy to attempt to “understand” George… whatever that means.
- Again, nothing racy happens here (yet…), so don’t get too excited. Lucy is… you guessed it, SHOCKED at this suggestion. Mr. Emerson goes on to detail George’s philosophical ordeals; apparently he’s dismayed by how the universe doesn’t fit together neatly. Lucy thinks this is inane.
- She then makes a rather inane response of her own. Attempting to put her past experience (which has seen nothing like George Emerson’s existential crisis) to work, she suggests rather oddly that George should take up a hobby. Seriously, Lucy, a hobby? Boy ponders the depth of universe; girl suggests stamp collection? Ridiculous.
- Mr. Emerson also thinks this is ridiculous, and it makes him sad that Lucy doesn’t get what he was talking about. He smiles at her, which Lucy takes as meaning “Oh, what jolly good advice! Yes, a hobby is just what my depressed and introspective son really needs right now! Thank you so much, Lucy Honeychurch!”
- George returns; he’s seen Miss Bartlett enter the church. Lucy loses herself for a moment and says some uncharitable things. Mr. Emerson calls her “poor girl,” which rouses her temper – she puts the civil Charlotte act on again before going to join the real-life Charlotte.
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