When Lucy ends the engagement, Cecil is stunned. Lucy says they are simply too different, and Cecil says she is probably just tired. Lucy snaps back that he is always thinking “women don’t mean what they say.” She says that the last straw was when he selfishly refused to play tennis, but that she has often wondered “if I was fitted for your wife.”
Cecil arrogantly assumes that Lucy doesn’t know best, and is only tired, continuing his pattern of patronizing sexism. Lucy admits that her breaking off the engagement is not so much a sudden change of heart as an honest acknowledgment of what she has long felt.
Cecil is shocked and confused. For the first time in their relationship, he sees Lucy as “a living woman, with mysteries and forces of her own,” rather than as a beautiful work of art. He protests that he loves Lucy and that she loved him. Lucy says that she did not love him, but only thought she did. Cecil asks why she does not love him.
Cecil had previously seen Lucy as beautiful but as a kind of object, not a fully fledged person with desires, feelings, and opinions. Love is a confusing matter in the novel: both Cecil and Lucy were confused over the degree to which she really loved him.
Lucy answers that she doesn’t want to be protected and wants to “choose for myself what is ladylike and right.” She angrily says that she doesn’t care about “a woman’s place,” and that Cecil tries to “wrap up” her like an art object. She says resolutely, “I won’t be stifled.” Cecil admits that Lucy is right, and simply says that she should’ve warned him about her feelings earlier. He says, “this evening you are a different person: new thoughts—even a new voice.” Lucy angrily asks what he means, and he says “a new person seems speaking through you.”
Lucy stands up for herself in telling Cecil that she wants to be able to make up her own mind, but ironically in saying this she is essentially repeating what a man (George) has told her. Cecil’s comment about her speaking with a “new voice” picks up on this irony, which may also apply to the fact that Forster is a male writer speaking through a female character. Nonetheless, this does not negate the content of Lucy’s earnest speech to Cecil.
Lucy thinks that Cecil is suggesting that she is leaving him for someone else, which upsets her. She says she is not in love with anyone else, and angrily says that Cecil thinks a woman can’t break off an engagement “for the sake of freedom.” Cecil politely says that Lucy is right, and tells her, “You have taught me better.”
Lucy is not necessarily lying to Cecil, since she does not think she is in love with George, but she is lying to herself about this. Lucy has now broken free of Cecil’s influence: before, he taught her, whereas now he remarkably says that Lucy has educated him.
Cecil says that the engagement couldn’t have worked, because he is “bound up in the old vicious notions,” while Lucy is “splendid and new.” Cecil and Lucy say goodnight politely. Lucy resolves never to marry anyone, thinking that she must be the sort of woman she mentioned to Cecil, who breaks off an engagement only for freedom and independence. The narrator comments that Lucy has joined the ranks of those who have “sinned against passion and truth,” in pretending to George that she did not love him and pretending to Cecil that she did not love anyone else. The narrator compares Lucy to Charlotte thirty years ago.
Cecil does seem genuinely affected by what Lucy is saying, but describes himself as stuck: he now sees his understanding of the world as old and “vicious,” but the possibility of himself becoming “splendid and new” seems entirely beyond his comprehension. Although Lucy has finally been honest about her lack of love for Cecil, she is still denying her true feelings for George. The narrator compares Lucy now to the older Charlotte, whose opportunities for love seem to have passed her by (and again suggesting that Charlotte may have done something similar to what Lucy seems about to do now—to throw away love).