Lucy is an ordinary, extraordinary girl. On the outside, she’s a pretty, dark-haired, unremarkable and proper young English lady. Sure, she may express some unusual opinions at times, but everyone just puts that down to her youth and inexperience – after all, Lucy hasn’t yet “acquired decency.” On the inside, though, she’s feistier than she’d like to admit. As Mr. Beebe astutely notes, Lucy’s most exciting moments are reserved for her piano playing; we wonder, as he does, what will happen if that excitement ever breaks free from her music and invades her everyday life. At its core, we really just want to know if this good girl will ever kick up her heels and rebel. Maybe we at Shmoop have just been watching a little too much “Top Model,” but honestly, we spent the whole first half of the book waiting for some metaphorical Tyra Banks to step in and command Lucy to unleash her inner fierceness.
Well, fortunately for everyone involved (and for the plot of the book), she does. After just a few days in the permissive atmosphere of Italy, Lucy’s formerly sedate, conventional view of the world begins to rapidly crumble; she starts to feel discontented and uncertain about her lifestyle for the first time. This crisis of identity, motivated by her travels with Charlotte and kickstarted by the murder in the Piazza Signoria, is the main conflict of the novel – forget about the romantic entanglements and social quandaries, the question the book really wants to answer is whether or not Lucy will ever tear herself away from the twin menaces of Habit and Expectation imposed by her social status and upbringing, and discover her true self. All the other elements of the plot are consequences of Lucy’s struggle to reconcile her interior and exterior.
Part of Lucy’s problem is that she’s always divided against herself – she’s simultaneously rebel and slave, honest and dishonest, “beautiful” and “delicate.” Before she can get on with her life, she needs to commit to one side or the other – to her own personal happiness, or to the expectations of friends, family, and society.