It was not exactly that a man had died; something had happened to the living: they had come to a situation where character tells, and where Childhood enters upon the branching paths of Youth (4.28).
Here we see the first transition that Lucy undergoes, from Childhood, which is unquestioning and unknowing, to Youth. The latter is a period of fluctuation, of trial and error, and of self-discovery. The murder serves as a kick-start to this stage of Lucy’s life; it makes her evaluate herself and her position for the first time ever.
"I didn't know what to do with them," he cried, and his voice was that of an anxious boy. Her heart warmed towards him for the first time. "They were covered with blood. There! I'm glad I've told you; and all the time we were making conversation I was wondering what to do with them." He pointed down-stream. "They've gone." The river swirled under the bridge. "I did mind them so, and one is so foolish, it seemed better that they should go out to the sea—I don't know; I may just mean that they frightened me. Then the boy verged into a man. "For something tremendous has happened; I must face it without getting muddled. It isn't exactly that a man has died" (4.23).
George has just thrown Lucy’s soiled photographs into the river in an act of desperation and we see in his confusion the struggle between boyhood and manhood. He’s uncertain of how to deal with what has just happened, and clearly he feels, as Lucy does, as though something in his life has changed forever.
Part 1, Chapter 5
The Piazza Signoria is too stony to be brilliant. It has no grass, no flowers, no frescoes, no glittering walls of marble or comforting patches of ruddy brick. By an odd chance—unless we believe in a presiding genius of places—the statues that relieve its severity suggest, not the innocence of childhood, nor the glorious bewilderment of youth, but the conscious achievements of maturity. Perseus and Judith, Hercules and Thusnelda, they have done or suffered something, and though they are immortal, immortality has come to them after experience, not before. Here, not only in the solitude of Nature, might a hero meet a goddess, or a heroine a god (5.40).
Experience is key here in differentiating maturity from youth. Forster reinforces the idea that in order to grow up and really find oneself, the questing young person must be open to a variety of experiences. It’s no coincidence that this is where Lucy and George have their first fateful experience together, their joint witness of the murder.
Surely the vendor of photographs was in league with Lucy—in the eternal league of Italy with youth. He had suddenly extended his book before Miss Bartlett and Mr. Eager, binding their hands together by a long glossy ribbon of churches, pictures, and views (5.24).
Throughout the novel, we have the profound sense misunderstanding youth is a fundamentally English problem. Italy represents a space of youthful possibility and romance, and the photo vendor acts on behalf of it by literally holding the old English people, Charlotte and Reverend Eager, back.
Part 1, Chapter 7
[…] at the end there was presented to the girl the complete picture of a cheerless, loveless world in which the young rush to destruction until they learn better—a shamefaced world of precautions and barriers which may avert evil, but which do not seem to bring good, if we may judge from those who have used them most (7.33).
This depressing image, seen by Lucy after she realizes that Charlotte has duped her, is a gloomy, threatening description of the death grip social conventions have upon the people in the world Forster describes. The rules and “barriers” of this society don’t seem to have any real positive effect – at best, they just prevent disaster – which is the most frightening part.
Part 2, Chapter 12
But either because the rains had given a freshness or because the sun was shedding a most glorious heat, or because two of the gentlemen were young in years and the third young in spirit—for some reason or other a change came over them, and they forgot Italy and Botany and Fate. They began to play. Mr. Beebe and Freddy splashed each other. A little deferentially, they splashed George. He was quiet: they feared they had offended him. Then all the forces of youth burst out. He smiled, flung himself at them, splashed them, ducked them, kicked them, muddied them, and drove them out of the pool (12.27).
Here, youth is seen as almost a mystical energy. It possesses Freddy, Mr. Beebe, and even the serious George, and the way Forster describes it, it’s as though the powers of youth are unstoppable. Apparently, boys (and clergymen) just wanna have fun.
Then Freddy hurled one of the thunderbolts of youth. Perhaps he was shy, perhaps he was friendly, or perhaps he thought that George's face wanted washing. At all events he greeted him with, "How d'ye do? Come and have a bathe" (12.9).
Freddy is hilarious. Endlessly, endlessly hilarious. He is a terrific image of youth enjoying itself in the most outrageous, innocent, and often silly fashion, and is a great contrast to some of the stuffy other characters (especially Cecil!). The phrase “thunderbolts of youth” nicely expresses how Freddy goes about his life – as he likes it, with little inhibition.
Part 2, Chapter 16
"It is being young," he said quietly, picking up his racquet from the floor and preparing to go. "It is being certain that Lucy cares for me really. It is that love and youth matter intellectually" (16.29).
Youth, for George, is incredibly important. It gives him a kind of confidence and certainty, as though being young gives one the right to pursue happiness. In this book, and in life (or so we like to think) it does – it just takes Lucy a while to figure this out.
Part 2, Chapter 19
Waste! That word seemed to sum up the whole of life. Wasted plans, wasted money, wasted love, and she had wounded her mother. Was it possible that she had muddled things away? Quite possible. Other people had (19.16).
Lucy feels her youth start to slip from her grasp as she wonders if everything has gone to waste. Youth, as we see in the last quote, is confident in itself – perhaps too confident – until it’s too late, and opportunities for happiness have passed. We already have an dreadful example of someone who “muddled things away,” Charlotte Bartlett.
Part 2, Chapter 20
Youth enwrapped them; the song of Phaethon announced passion requited, love attained. But they were conscious of a love more mysterious than this. The song died away; they heard the river, bearing down the snows of winter into the Mediterranean (20.18).
Youth eventually triumphs at the close of the novel, albeit in not in an entirely satisfactory way. While the “passion requited, love attained” mentioned here is all nice and good, the river Arno (a reminder of the murder scene and its aftermath) still rushes by, carrying with it the snows of an earlier time… that is, the past is on its way out, but not all of its issues have been resolved (like Lucy’s rift with her family). The “love more mysterious” than the conventional romantic ending might have to do with Lucy and George’s challenge to society – and with the complexity of love in real life. What do you think?