There was a haze of disapproval in the air, but whether the disapproval was of herself, or of Mr. Beebe, or of the fashionable world at Windy Corner, or of the narrow world at Tunbridge Wells, she could not determine. She tried to locate it, but as usual she blundered (1.27).
Charlotte generally disapproves of pretty much everything. Society as a whole is almost as dismissive. Lucy, however, isn’t completely tuned in to the rules and regulations of the polite adult world yet – and neither are we! As readers, we’re just as confused as our heroine by this stratified system of seemingly arbitrary approval and disapproval.
She hastened after her cousin, who had already disappeared through the curtains—curtains which smote one in the face, and seemed heavy with more than cloth. Beyond them stood the unreliable Signora, bowing good-evening to her guests, and supported by 'Enery, her little boy, and Victorier, her daughter. It made a curious little scene, this attempt of the Cockney to convey the grace and geniality of the South. And even more curious was the drawing-room, which attempted to rival the solid comfort of a Bloomsbury boarding-house. Was this really Italy? (1.20).
How disappointing. Hoping to escape from England and its oppressive culture of social class and limitation, Lucy has landed in a kind of parody of Italy, as acted out by her own countrymen and women. We get the sense that Britishness, as conceived of by Forster, is inescapable, and with it comes the heavy weight of class and social expectation.
Miss Bartlett was startled. Generally at a pension people looked them over for a day or two before speaking, and often did not find out that they would "do" till they had gone. She knew that the intruder was ill-bred, even before she glanced at him (1.6).
Right off the bat, Charlotte starts classifying people by their actions, words, and appearances. This ritual of identifying who is safe to associate with and who isn’t is ridiculous – we know it, Forster knows it, Lucy suspects it, but society still goes about doing it.
Part 1, Chapter 2
"My dear," said the old man gently, "I think that you are repeating what you have heard older people say. You are pretending to be touchy; but you are not really. Stop being so tiresome, and tell me instead what part of the church you want to see. To take you to it will be a real pleasure" (2.29).
Mr. Emerson flatly (but “gently”) refuses to accept any of the “delicate” and politically correct nonsense that Lucy regurgitates. He sees that she’s just adopting the stance of other women (notably Charlotte) who behave properly – and he highlights the fact that this is totally unnatural for her.
Part 1, Chapter 5
This successful morning left no pleasant impressions on Lucy. She had been a little frightened, both by Miss Lavish and by Mr. Eager, she knew not why. And as they frightened her, she had, strangely enough, ceased to respect them. She doubted that Miss Lavish was a great artist. She doubted that Mr. Eager was as full of spirituality and culture as she had been led to suppose. They were tried by some new test, and they were found wanting (5.27).
This “new test” is one that transcends social roles or ranks. After her confrontation with death (the murder), Lucy begins to see that people cannot simply be defined by their accepted roles in society.
Part 1, Chapter 6
“Well,” said he, “I cannot help it if they do disapprove of me. There are certain irremovable barriers between myself and them, and I must accept them” (9.6).
The “he” here, Cecil, is really just being a pretentious jerk. His inflated sense of self-importance and dramatic difference allows him to take pleasure in fancying himself “irremovably” separated from the nice old ladies of Lucy’s neighborhood. Not only does he see himself as another class, he is almost of another breed entirely.
Part 2, Chapter 8
The Honeychurches were a worthy family, but he began to realize that Lucy was of another clay; and perhaps—he did not put it very definitely—he ought to introduce her into more congenial circles as soon as possible (8.27).
What Cecil really means here is that he wants to remove Lucy from the “worthy” but unsatisfactory class the Honeychurches inhabit (that of the well-to-do bourgeois), and absorb her into the slightly more well-to-do, cosmopolitan social circle that his family belongs to. He likes to think of himself as open-minded (hah!), so he attempts to frame this situation in less class-based and snobby terms.
Part 2, Chapter 10
Life, so far as she troubled to conceive it, was a circle of rich, pleasant people, with identical interests and identical foes. In this circle, one thought, married, and died. Outside it were poverty and vulgarity for ever trying to enter, just as the London fog tries to enter the pine-woods pouring through the gaps in the northern hills. But, in Italy, where any one who chooses may warm himself in equality, as in the sun, this conception of life vanished. Her senses expanded; she felt that there was no one whom she might not get to like, that social barriers were irremovable, doubtless, but not particularly high. You jump over them just as you jump into a peasant's olive-yard in the Apennines, and he is glad to see you (10.2).
For the first time, Lucy can imagine a world unbounded by the pleasantly polite but limited restrictions of the social milieu she grew up in. Italy, unlike England, seems to her to be uninhibited by class or rank, and this sensation of equality and liberty shakes the foundations of her previous view of the world.
Part 2, Chapter 20
His own content was absolute, but hers held bitterness: the Honeychurches had not forgiven them; they were disgusted at her past hypocrisy; she had alienated Windy Corner, perhaps for ever (20.9).
Even after the young lovers, now husband and wife, break free from the stuffiness of polite British society, its echoes continue to haunt them – well, to haunt Lucy. The price she has to pay for personal happiness turns out to be uneasy separation from her family, at least for the time being. This goes to show that the society of Forster’s novel is ultimately unforgiving; the ominous words “perhaps for ever” add a jarring note to Lucy and George’s unconventional marital bliss.