E.M. Forster could certainly be quite cruel. His depiction of Eleanor Lavish is ruthless – she’s tragically, ridiculously, hilariously bad. There is something so fabulous and precise about the way he describes the unfortunate lady novelist as “playful as a kitten, though without a kitten’s grace,” that we have to wonder if she was based on someone Forster really knew and disliked intensely.
Miss Lavish doesn’t appear in the novel for very long, but her influence is important. Her novel, published under the name Joseph Emery Prank, is the book that Cecil reads aloud to Lucy and George, in which their passionate kiss in the Italian countryside is detailed. This, in turn, partially inspires George to deliver another passionate kiss in the English countryside… and thus, even from afar, the absent Miss Lavish still manages to wreak havoc in Lucy’s life. In the end, though, it turns out to be a good thing, since Lucy and George end up together, as they should. Apart from being a gossipy troublemaker and accidental fairy godmother, Miss Lavish is also a parody of the “new woman” who emerged in the post-Victorian era. She sees herself as liberal (Radical, actually), open-minded, and daringly modern; in reality, though, she is condescending, pretentious, and exploitative. Eventually, it’s Lucy who emerges as the genuine new woman, capable of taking charge of her own thoughts and desires.