The narrator describes how Lucy likes playing the piano, as music offers her a momentary escape from “the kingdom of this world,” and its concerns. One rainy afternoon at the Bertolini Pension, Lucy plays the piano. Looking on, Mr. Beebe recalls seeing her play before, in England, at “one of those entertainments where the upper classes entertain the lower.” She had played some Beethoven and Mr. Beebe had been so taken with the music that he asked someone to introduce him to her.
Lucy’s aesthetic experience of beauty through music offers her an escape from the restrictions of society. The beautiful music also draws people together, as it makes Mr. Beebe curious about and interested in Lucy.
Upon meeting Lucy, Mr. Beebe had found her less interesting than her music playing would suggest. He made a comment to Lucy’s mother that “if Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting both for us and for her.” Now, in the Pension, he makes the same remark to Lucy herself. Lucy and Mr. Beebe discuss Charlotte, who has gone into the city with Miss Lavish. Mr. Beebe jokes that Miss Lavish “hopes to find the true Italy in the wet.” He informs Lucy that Miss Lavish is writing a novel about modern Italy.
Mr. Beebe’s remark hints that Lucy is not yet living up to her full potential, but is being held back and constrained by both societal and familial expectations and her own inclination to give in to those pressures. Mr. Beebe pokes fun at Miss Lavish, who snobbishly looks down on tourists, but whose attempts to find the “true Italy” can be seen as just another form of tourism.
Mr. Beebe is puzzled by the surprising friendship between Charlotte and Miss Lavish. He wonders whether Italy is moving Charlotte away from “the path of prim chaperon.” The narrator says that Mr. Beebe has always “loved to study maiden ladies,” and “preferred to be interested rather than enthralled” by women. Miss Alan, another guest at the Pension, comes up to Lucy and says that she heard the piano even from her room with the door closed. She says that there is no privacy in Italy, and Mr. Beebe agrees.
Mr. Beebe suggests that the foreign country of Italy has the power to move people away from the normal, “prim” roles of British society. Mr. Beebe is kind, but his attitude of “studying” ladies like Charlotte or Lucy can be seen as patronizing.
Miss Alan tells Lucy about how Miss Lavish lost the entirety of a novel she was working on, and took up smoking “in despair” afterwards. Miss Lavish has apparently forgotten what she had written in the old novel, but is now at work on another, about modern Italy and “all the local colour.” Miss Alan is sympathetic to Miss Lavish, but admits that she finds her a bit “unwomanly,” and shares an anecdote: Mr. Emerson had once warned a woman in the Pension about drinking too much lemonade because of the acidity in her stomach, and Miss Lavish had applauded Mr. Emerson’s plain speaking, whose crass mentioning of the digestive system alarmed Miss Alan.
Miss Lavish can be somewhat snobbish in her own right, but Miss Alan looks down on her as rude. Miss Alan has very strict, conservative ideas about what is womanly or unwomanly, as well as what is appropriate to talk about. Forster satirizes Miss Alan by showing how troubled she is over the mere mention of someone’s stomach. By contrast, Mr. Emerson says what he wishes without regard for what he sees as dated notions of propriety, and yet he is always trying to help people.
An older woman at the Pension had left the room after Mr. Emerson’s rude remark, and Miss Lavish had exclaimed, “Tut! The early Victorians.” Miss Alan goes on to describe how Miss Lavish later invited her to go into the smoking-room with the Emersons, which she regarded as “an unsuitable invitation.” Miss Lavish then went and spent time alone with Mr. Emerson. Lucy asks Mr. Beebe whether Mr. Emerson is “nice or not nice,” and he tells her to make up her own mind about him. Miss Alan insists that the Emersons are not nice.
Miss Lavish sees herself as modern and progressive, denouncing the older generation of “early Victorians” as prim and repressed. Miss Alan finds Miss Lavish’s behavior unladylike, thinking that a woman shouldn’t spend time alone with a man. Not confident enough to think for herself entirely, Lucy asks Mr. Beebe’s opinion on the Emersons before offering her own.
Lucy says that she thinks the Emersons are nice people, and Miss Alan tells her that the Emersons shouldn’t spend time with her and “must find their level.” As evening approaches, Lucy decides to go out on the town in a tram. Miss Alan and Mr. Beebe are alarmed at the prospect of her walking around alone, and Lucy decides not to ride the tram, but just to go for a walk. As she leaves, Mr. Beebe opines that her boldness is because of “too much Beethoven.”
While Miss Alan believes in a rigid social hierarchy, Lucy is sympathetic to the Emersons, and seems to care less about the Victorian values espoused by Miss Alan. Her bold plan to walk alone through town shows that she can be somewhat independent, and doesn’t share Miss Alan’s restrictive ideas about the proper place of a lady.