Lucy Honeychurch, a young upper middle class woman, visits Italy under the charge of her older cousin Charlotte. At their pension, or guesthouse, in Florence, they are given rooms that look into the courtyard rather than out over the river Arno. Mr. Emerson, a fellow guest, generously offers them the rooms belonging to himself and his son George. Although Charlotte is offended by Mr. Emerson’s lack of tact and propriety, she finally does agree to the switch. Lucy is an avid young pianist. Mr. Beebe, watches her passionate playing and predicts that someday she will live her life with as much gusto as she plays the piano.
Lucy’s visit to Italy is marked by several significant encounters with the Emersons. In Santa Croce church, George complains that his father means well, but always offends everyone. Mr. Emerson tells Lucy that his son needs her in order to overcome his youthful melancholy. Later, Lucy is walking in the Piazza Signoria, feeling dull, when she comes in close contact with two quarreling Italian men. One man stabs the other, and she faints, to be rescued by George. On their return trip home, he kisses her, much to her surprise. She keeps his rash behavior a secret.
On a country outing in the hills, Lucy wanders in search of Mr. Beebe and the supercilious chaplain, Mr. Eager. However, the Italian cab driver leads her instead to George, who is standing on a terrace covered with blue violets. George sees her and again kisses her, but this time Charlotte sees him and chastises him after they have resurnedreturned to the pension. She leaves with Lucy for Rome the next day.
George plays tennis with the Honeychurches on a Sunday when Cecil is at his most intolerable. After the game, Cecil reads from a book by Miss Lavish, a woman who also stayed with Lucy and Charlotte at the pension in Florence. The novel records a kiss among violets, and Lucy realizes that Charlotte let the secret out. In a moment alone, George kisses her again. Lucy tells him to leave, but George insists that Cecil is not the right man for her, characterizing Cecil as controlling and appreciative of things rather than people. Lucy sees Cecil in a new light, and breaks off her engagement that night.
However, Lucy will not believe that she loves George; she wants to stay unmarried and travel to Greece with some elderly women she met in Italy, the Miss Alans. She meets old Mr. Emerson by chance, who insists that she loves George and should marry him, because it is what her soul truly wants. Lucy realizes he is right, and though she must fly against convention, she marries George, and the book ends with the happy couple staying together in the Florence pension again, in a room with a view.