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Ever since Lilia married Charles Herriton, her mother-in-law Mrs. Herriton bossed her around non-stop: on what to say and how to say it, who to socialize with and who to avoid, how to act, dress, walk, and probably even how to breathe. Even after Charles dies, Mrs. Herriton is shocked—shocked—by Lilia's lack of proper manners and drinking-tea-with-the-pinky-finger-extended skillz:
Lilia would not settle down in her place among Sawston matrons. She was a bad housekeeper, always in the throes of some domestic crisis, which Mrs. Herriton, who kept her servants for years, had to step across and adjust. She let Irma stop away from school for insufficient reasons, and she allowed her to wear rings. She learnt to bicycle, for the purpose of waking the place up, and coasted down the High Street one Sunday evening, falling off at the turn by the church. If she had not been a relative, it would have been entertaining. (1.39)
To be honest, Lilia sounds pretty awesome—the kind of free spirit that we'd love to go on roadtrips with. She is impulsive, fun, and always on the lookout for a new adventure. Sure, she might not be the best at keeping house, but we don't see anything wrong with her letting Irma wear rings.
And even if she's a klutz for falling off her bike, the fact that she wanted to learn in the first place shows how eager she is to experience new things and break out of the boring routine of Sawston life. Unfortunately, Mrs. Herriton doesn't share our enthusiasm for Lilia's free spirit. Nothing Lilia does is ever good enough for her overbearing mother-in-law. When Lilia confesses to a friend that she has a crush on a Mr. Kingcroft, Mrs. Herriton scrambles to find a way to end the flirtation before Lilia ruins the family name: apparently in Edwardian England it wasn't cool for widows to get boyfriends even well after the death of their husbands.
Philip comes to the rescue with the brilliant idea of sending Lilia on a tour of Italy, and Lilia couldn't be more pleased by the prospect of getting away from the dullness of Sawston. Who could blame her?!
Her trip to Italy becomes an escape from a life of codes of etiquette and rules. In Italy, Lilia experiences a more natural and spontaneous way of life that opens her eyes to new possibilities for happiness. For the first time, she can imagine a world where you can do wild n' crazy things, like encourage your daughter to wear rings. Italy, unlike England, seems to be uninhibited by class or rank, and this seriously shakes up her worldview. Lilia even meets and falls madly in love with a dashing young Italian, Gino Carella, son of a local dentist in Monteriano.
Mrs. Herriton of course raises a huge stink over Lilia's involvement with a foreigner, but Philip arrives too late to convince Lilia to break off her ties: she has already married the handsome Gino. We have to give Lilia props for defying the Herritons and finally fighting for her own happiness. She plays the rebel card, and the Herritons are dealt the losing hand. Lilia: 1, Herritons: 0.
But Lilia's happiness is short-lived. She soon finds that life in Italy isn't what she was expecting, and we hate it to say it, but it seems like Mrs. Herriton might have been right that Lilia's marriage was doomed to fail:
As Mrs. Herriton had often observed, Lilia had no resources. She did not like music, or reading, or work. Her one qualification for life was rather blowsy high spirits, which turned querulous or boisterous according to circumstances. She was not obedient, but she was cowardly, and in the most gentle way, which Mrs. Herriton might have envied, Gino made her do what he wanted. (4.5)
The tensions between Gino and Lilia represent the conflict of values between Italy and England. Also, Forster also seems to be suggesting that Lilia isn't as strong as she appears. Sure, she rebels against the Herritons. But she's also cowardly and eventually caves under her husband's demands.
It's not really Lilia's fault that she doesn't have any "resources" to draw on. She wasn't raised in an environment that encouraged her to develop her independence; she had always been forced to live a super regulated life. So even though she tries to assert her own willpower, her efforts always ultimately prove to be ineffectual.
As her fights with Gino turn into big blowouts, Lilia clings to her last desperate hope that giving birth to a son will save her marriage. But Forster denies Lilia this chance for happiness: without warning, Lilia dies giving birth to her son. We're not at all prepared for the death of our heroine, and the novel isn't even halfway through yet! What gives?