Study Guide

A Room with a View Lies and Deceit

By E.M. Forster

Lies and Deceit

Part 1, Chapter 1
Reverend Arthur Beebe

“It is so difficult—at least, I find it difficult—to understand people who speak the truth” (1.23).

Mr. Beebe, the speaker here, sums up an opinion apparently held by all of conventional society according to Forster: nobody can really understand the people who are direct and honest, since everyone else is so caught up in simply following social cues.

Part 1, Chapter 2
Lucy Honeychurch

"Poor girl? I fail to understand the point of that remark. I think myself a very fortunate girl, I assure you. I'm thoroughly happy, and having a splendid time. Pray don't waste time mourning over me. There's enough sorrow in the world, isn't there, without trying to invent it. Good-bye. Thank you both so much for all your kindness. Ah, yes! there does come my cousin. A delightful morning! Santa Croce is a wonderful church" (2.49).

We see Lucy deceive herself for the first time here, in conversation with Mr. Emerson. At this point, she’s unskilled at lying, and it comes off as awkward and hilariously uncool.

Part 1, Chapter 7

"I want to be truthful," she whispered. "It is so hard to be absolutely truthful" (7.10).

Again, we see how very difficult it is for characters in this world to come to terms with themselves and with others. The thick layers of social convention that one has to struggle through in order to get to truth, which is constantly being obscured, are incredibly difficult to surmount.

Part 2, Chapter 8

An engagement is so potent a thing that sooner or later it reduces all who speak of it to this state of cheerful awe. Away from it, in the solitude of their rooms, Mr. Beebe, and even Freddy, might again be critical. But in its presence and in the presence of each other they were sincerely hilarious. It has a strange power, for it compels not only the lips, but the very heart. The chief parallel to compare one great thing with another—is the power over us of a temple of some alien creed. Standing outside, we deride or oppose it, or at the most feel sentimental. Inside, though the saints and gods are not ours, we become true believers, in case any true believer should be present (8.45).

This quote demonstrates the persuasive power of social convention. Everyone knows they should be happy at the announcement of an engagement, so Lucy and Cecil’s engagement becomes such a “potent” thing that it can “compel” everyone to put on the illusion of great happiness, even if they’re actually discontented in their secret selves.

Part 2, Chapter 11

Secrecy has this disadvantage: we lose the sense of proportion; we cannot tell whether our secret is important or not. Were Lucy and her cousin closeted with a great thing which would destroy Cecil's life if he discovered it, or with a little thing which he would laugh at? Miss Bartlett suggested the former. Perhaps she was right. It had become a great thing now. Left to herself, Lucy would have told her mother and her lover ingenuously, and it would have remained a little thing (11.8).

The nature of the secret is such that you can’t ask for help in resolving it – and so it’s able to grow out of proportion. Lucy and Charlotte, who seemingly have no other outlet for their secret problem, lose what little perspective they have on it.

Part 2, Chapter 16

The contest lay not between love and duty. Perhaps there never is such a contest. It lay between the real and the pretended, and Lucy's first aim was to defeat herself. As her brain clouded over, as the memory of the views grew dim and the words of the book died away, she returned to her old shibboleth of nerves. She "conquered her breakdown." Tampering with the truth, she forgot that the truth had ever been. Remembering that she was engaged to Cecil, she compelled herself to confused remembrances of George; he was nothing to her; he never had been anything; he had behaved abominably; she had never encouraged him. The armour of falsehood is subtly wrought out of darkness, and hides a man not only from others, but from his own soul. In a few moments Lucy was equipped for battle (16.3).

The “armor of falsehood” that Lucy dons is a self-consciously created thing. Forster emphasizes her willful denial of the truth (that she loves George), and shows us a cold, strong Lucy very different from the one we first met in the Bertolini. However, she’s using her developed will-power for evil here, by shutting herself off from others – and her own true feelings.

But Lucy had developed since the spring. That is to say, she was now better able to stifle the emotions of which the conventions and the world disapprove (16.1).

Lucy has grown up. She’s a far cry from the childlike, rather simple heroine we first encountered, and has learned the essentially adult skill of conscious self-deception. She has also made a choice here to follow the rules of “conventions and the world.”

Part 2, Chapter 17

It did not do to think, nor, for the matter of that to feel. She gave up trying to understand herself, and the vast armies of the benighted, who follow neither the heart nor the brain, and march to their destiny by catch-words. The armies are full of pleasant and pious folk. But they have yielded to the only enemy that matters—the enemy within. They have sinned against passion and truth, and vain will be their strife after virtue […] Lucy entered this army when she pretended to George that she did not love him, and pretended to Cecil that she loved no one. The night received her, as it had received Miss Bartlett thirty years before (17.54-5).

Here, Forster reminds us that Lucy is not alone in shutting herself off from her own desires – depressingly, many, many people do it. The denial of true feeling is a dangerous thing when viewed this way, and Forster suggests that if Lucy keeps it up, she’ll end up like Charlotte in a few decades – ugh!

Part 2, Chapter 19
Mr. Emerson

“Now it is all dark. Now Beauty and Passion seem never to have existed. I know. But remember the mountains over Florence and the view. Ah, dear, if I were George, and gave you one kiss, it would make you brave. You have to go cold into a battle that needs warmth, out into the muddle that you have made yourself; and your mother and all your friends will despise you, oh, my darling, and rightly, if it is ever right to despise. George still dark, all the tussle and the misery without a word from him. Am I justified?” Into his own eyes tears came. “Yes, for we fight for more than Love or Pleasure; there is Truth. Truth counts, Truth does count” (19.52).

Here, almost at the close of the novel, Mr. Emerson tells Lucy what she’s needed to hear all along – Truth really matters. We can’t go around deceiving ourselves and others and still hope to have everything come out right; furthermore, we have to take responsibility for our actions and the “muddles” we make.

Lucy was silent. She was drifting away from her mother. It was quite easy to say, "Because George Emerson has been bothering me, and if he hears I've given up Cecil may begin again"—quite easy, and it had the incidental advantage of being true. But she could not say it. She disliked confidences, for they might lead to self-knowledge and to that king of terrors—Light. Ever since that last evening at Florence she had deemed it unwise to reveal her soul (19.7).

We see poor Lucy in a sad state of angst and distrust here. The fear of “self-knowledge” that she feels is pretty telling – she knows that there’s something she’s not admitting to herself (the fact that she’s in love with George – duh!), but she’s unwilling to come to terms with it.

Lucy had hoped to return to Windy Corner when she escaped from Cecil, but she discovered that her home existed no longer. It might exist for Freddy, who still lived and thought straight, but not for one who had deliberately warped the brain. She did not acknowledge that her brain was warped, for the brain itself must assist in that acknowledgment, and she was disordering the very instruments of life (19.9).

At the lowest point of her self-deception, Lucy feels like she can’t even go home to Windy Corner; she can’t even admit that she’s lying to herself, and as a result she’s in a state of total, unnatural confusion.

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