We meet Lucy as she arrives in Florence with her peevish cousin, Charlotte. Charlotte attempts to take charge of fixing their rooming arrangements.
Lucy expresses some confusion over the abstract concepts of what’s “beautiful” and what’s “delicate.” Charlotte thinks they’re the same thing. Lucy wonders if perhaps Mr. Emerson’s actions are beautiful, but indelicate.
The next day, Lucy and Miss Lavish go on an outing to the famous church of Santa Croce. Miss Lavish turns out to be a terrible tour guide; she takes Lucy’s guidebook, then runs off, distracted.
Lucy, abandoned, is despondent. She doesn’t know what to do without someone telling her what to appreciate.
The Emersons appear and shepherd Lucy around. Mr. Emerson implores Lucy to take an interest in George. Lucy is offended and confused. She lamely suggests that George take up a stamp collection instead.
Charlotte shows up at Santa Croce; Lucy hightails it away from the Emersons and meets up with her cousin.
On a rainy day, Lucy plays the piano for a while. She is observed by Mr. Beebe, who notes the marked difference between her enthusiastic playing and her passive lifestyle.
Perhaps over-excited by all the Beethoven, Lucy goes off to find an adventure alone. She wonders what makes some things ladylike and others unacceptable. She buys some postcards, and wishes something would happen to her. Something immediately does happen: Lucy witnesses a sudden violent argument that results in the murder of an Italian man.
George, who also happens to see this scene, rushes over to assist Lucy, who is overwhelmed and faints. When she revives, she attempts to make an escape, but is stopped by George. They discuss the event they just witnessed, and Lucy struggles to figure out the mysterious young man.
The murder has a profound impact on Lucy. She feels dissatisfied with the previous conditions of her life, and things that would have pleased her before it happened now seem insignificant.
The guests of the Pension set out on their drive in the hills, led by Reverend Eager. Lucy still feels discontented. When they arrive at the “view” and disembark, she attempts to follow Charlotte and Miss Lavish, who shoo her away.
Alone and bored, Lucy asks the Italian carriage driver to help her find the “buoni uomini.” She’s actually looking for the two Reverends, Eager and Beebe, but instead, she is delivered to George.
Lucy finds herself facing George across an overwhelmingly gorgeous field of violets; the scene is so beautiful that both of them are dumbstruck. George rushes over and kisses her. Charlotte sees them.
Shocked, Lucy and Charlotte try to come up with a solution for this mind-boggling turn of events. A dramatic storm raises the tension further.
Back at the pension, Charlotte comes up with a plan (one that exonerates her from any blame). She says that she will handle George. The two ladies plan to leave for Rome immediately.
Lucy realizes that she has been manipulated by Charlotte, but there’s nothing she can do about it.
Part Two commences with the announcement of Lucy’s engagement to Cecil Vyse, a family acquaintance she met up with in Rome.
We learn that Lucy and Charlotte haven’t communicated since the end of their trip.
Through Cecil, we see that Lucy has acquired new depths – he compares her to a woman painted by Leonardo da Vinci, whose subtleties are fascinating.
Lucy and Cecil visit some of the neighbors, a task that Lucy enjoys, but Cecil finds tiresome. He is openly contemptuous of the Honeychurch mode of existence.
Returning from one of these visits, Lucy and Cecil share their first kiss – it’s awesomely, terribly awkward, in contrast to the natural, passionate kiss George laid on her.
More bad news for Lucy – through Cecil’s machinations, the Emersons are moving to her hometown. Furthermore, Charlotte is due for a visit. A big storm is brewing.
During a visit to the Vyse’s home in London, Cecil’s mother expresses her desire to make Lucy “one of us.” Sound ominous? It is.
Back from the city, Lucy encounters George, half-naked and radiant after his swim with Freddy and Mr. Beebe. She’s unsettled by her desire to be near him, and can’t stop thinking about him.
George comes over to play tennis. Lucy is impressed by his vibrant activity and will to win.
Cecil, trying to be funny, reads a scene from a novel (written by Miss Lavish) to Lucy and George. Unfortunately, it recounts their kiss in Italy blow by blow.
On the way back to the house, George kisses Lucy once again.
Lucy accuses Charlotte of telling Miss Lavish about the kiss (Charlotte admits that she did).
The younger cousin is forced to handle the George situation herself, since Charlotte refuses to help her, having botched the job the last time.
George comes in soon enough to talk to Lucy, as Charlotte looks on unhelpfully. He comes right out and confesses his love for her, and tries to make her see that Cecil is all wrong. Lucy realizes that he’s right, but still rejects his overtures of love. She stifles her own feelings of confusion, certain that she’s doing the right thing.
Lucy’s confidence in her engagement to Cecil is totally gone. She breaks it off with him, using some of the same arguments George used on her. Cecil takes it pretty well, and thanks her for making him see the error of his ways. This doesn’t exactly make Lucy feel any better.
Upon hearing from Mr. Beebe that some old friends from the Bertolini, the two Miss Alans, are planning a trip to Greece, Lucy impulsively decides that she should join them. She feels the need to escape from home and all of the memories that dog her there.
Charlotte is all for the Greece plan, even if Mrs. Honeychurch isn’t. She convinces Mr. Beebe to help win over Lucy’s mother, which he does.
It looks as though all hope is lost, and Lucy is destined for a life of lonely spinsterhood – much like Charlotte’s. At the last minute, though, she runs into Mr. Emerson at the Rectory.
Lucy’s intense conversation with Mr. Emerson makes her realize that she’s wronging herself and everyone else by pretending that she doesn’t love George. She breaks down and finally realizes what she’s done. Mr. Beebe finds out, and tells her to marry George (though he’s not happy about it).
At last, we see Lucy and George reunited. We find the happy lovebirds in a room with a view in Florence – in fact, it’s the very same room with a view in the Bertolini that started this whole thing. It turns out that they “eloped” after Mrs. Honeychurch refused to consent to their marriage; as a result, the only thing that mars Lucy’s happiness is her alienation from her family. However, she tries to be optimistic, hoping that her mother and Freddy will eventually give in and welcome her back, as long as she and George are honest with each other and with everyone else.