Lucy Honeychurch, a young upper middle class woman, visits Italy under the charge of her older cousin Charlotte. At the Pensione Bertolini, in Florence, they are given rooms that look into the courtyard and not out over the river Arno. Lucy is disappointed since she wanted a room with a view. Mr. Emerson, a fellow guest who is there with his son George, generously offers them their rooms. Although Charlotte is offended by Mr. Emerson’s lack of tact, she finally accepts the swap, thanks to the intervention of Mr. Beebe, another guest of the pension and an Anglican clergyman. It is Mr. Beebe who, realizing how an avid pianist Lucy is, predicts that someday she will live her life with as much gusto and passion as she plays the piano.
Lucy’s visit to Italy is marked by several encounters with the Emersons. Their manners are awkward, but Lucy likes them. One day, in Piazza della Signoria Lucy witnesses a murder. One man is stabbed and Lucy faints. It is George who catches her. Till on a trip he kisses her, much to her surprise. She keeps the secret, but a second kiss follows on an afternoon trip to the countryside and this time Charlotte sees everything. The next day the two women leave for Rome, before Lucy can bid goodbye to George.
The second half of the book centers on Lucy’s home in Surrey, where she lives with her mother, Mrs. Honeychurch, and her brother, Freddy. A man she had met in Rome and had already refused, the snobbish Cecil Vyse, proposes to her for the third time, and she accepts. He disapproves of her family and the country people she knows, finding them coarse and unsophisticated. Things get complicated when the Emersons arrive as the new tenants of a small villa available for rent in the town. Lucy tries to play down the situation, but on a Sunday, after a tennis match, Cecil starts reading a novel that tells of a love scene that is very much alike the scene of the kiss George gave Lucy in Florence. Since the author of the book is Miss Lavish, a woman who stayed at the pension in Florence with Lucy and Charlotte, Lucy realizes that her cousin Charlotte must have told her about the kiss. Anyway, this reading gives George the inspiration, and he kisses Lucy again. She tells him to leave, but George insists that Cecil is not the right man for her. Lucy sees Cecil in a new light, and breaks off her engagement that night, even if her plan is not to marry George but to leave and travel to Greece with some elderly women she met in Italy. By chance she meets old Mr. Emerson, who insists that she loves George and should marry him, because it is what her soul truly wants. He succeeds in making Lucy realize he is right, and though she must fly against conventions, she marries George. The novel ends with the happy couple staying together in the Florence pension again, in a room with a view.
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