Lucy arrives in Italy, fresh-faced and inexperienced, and if she has hidden depths, we can’t see much of them yet. Though she gently questions some of the laws Charlotte lays down, she can’t quite articulate concrete disagreements – so she keeps quiet most of the time. We see the Pension Bertolini as a little microcosm of proper British society, complete with upper class (Lucy, Charlotte, and the Miss Alans), clergy (Mr. Beebe), middle class (the Emersons), and the lower class (Signora Bertolini, the Cockney landlady). Though Lucy hopes to see a world beyond these English boundaries, she doesn’t do anything to break them… yet. However, everything changes when she witnesses the murder at the Piazza Signoria.
This is a tumultuous time for Lucy. She’s gone very quickly from a state of total inexperience to having too many intense experiences to deal with. The murder, her discussion about it with George, and his dramatic kiss all intervene with the calm life she’d led up to this point; all of a sudden, Lucy’s thinking unfamiliar thoughts and asking unfamiliar questions. Society’s rules don’t seem to make that much sense anymore, and things get very confusing very fast.
After returning home to England, land of good manners and great scones, Lucy attempts to put her Italian experiences behind her. She tries to return to the life of a proper young lady preparing for marriage to a suitable young man, but her nature has changed forever. “Complication” doesn’t actually seem like a big enough word for Lucy’s mind at this stage – trying to squeeze herself back into the mold of the Ideal Woman is more like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Try “Impossibility” instead.
Things get even more complicated when the Emersons move into Lucy’s hometown, and her brother Freddy innocently befriends George. It turns out that George is still carrying a flaming-hot torch for Lucy, and soon enough, he kisses her again. Poor Lucy is horrified…yet she can’t stop thinking about it. Her emotions go into overload, and we watch as she attempts to deal with matters her own way. However, this mostly involves lying to everyone, including herself, about the indisputable fact that she’s in love with George. Or Cecil. Or George. The first person she lies to about this is George himself. In this stage, we see Lucy brutally attempt to maintain control over her feelings and her life, not realizing that sometimes you can’t control either of these things.
Well, though George succeeds in making Lucy realize that Cecil is an old-fashioned prig (she breaks up with him, which he takes surprisingly graciously), the way isn’t yet clear for the young lovers. Lucy has developed into quite a deceptive young lady – so deceptive that she has herself completely fooled. She feels horrifically out of control, but thinks that going on a trip to Greece can help her calm down and get ready for a life of dull spinsterhood. She vows not to marry – and we hope she doesn’t go forward with that vow! We the readers, of course, are rooting for George to make another appearance, but… he doesn’t. Oh no!
Even though George doesn’t appear to save the day, his good old dad does. We should have known we could count on Mr. Emerson to step in at the eleventh hour. His earnest and sincerely touching conversation with Lucy makes her realize that she does have her own desires – to break free from the arbitrary social rules that restrain her and marry George, despite the differences in their social statuses, and her recent break-up with Cecil. We wonder if Lennon and McCartney were perhaps channeling Mr. Emerson when they claimed that “All you need is love” – that’s his message, and it’s (obviously) a good one. Love is what clarifies all of Lucy’s confusion.
George and Lucy are married, and are blissfully, completely, earnestly in love. However, though they’re happy with each other, society is not entirely happy with them. We learn that Mama Honeychurch and Freddy are unhappy that the lovebirds flitted off to the Continent to be married, after Lucy’s mother didn’t give them permission to marry. We are left to conclude, somewhat ambiguously, that while love is more important than anything society imposes, there’s still a price to pay – you can’t have everything.