James Joyce – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (ingilizce Kitap Özeti)

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


Now largely of interest as a way of understanding the mind and the developing writing style of James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a largely autobiographical novel tracing the author’s youth from his birth to his departure from Ireland. It was published in The Egoist 1914-5 in serial form but its first draft, Stephen Hero, was also published later in 1944. The central character is Stephen Dedalus (who also appears in Ulysses) and he narrates his own life in words and styles appropriate to each phase: as such the earliest stages are expresses in simplistic and fragmentary diction, while his university life is given complex and articulate form. This is its chief innovation, but otherwise it is notable for its wonderful evocation of a child blessed and cursed with intellect and a middle-class upbringing. We follow Joyce/Dedalus through his crisis of faith inspired by Father Arnall’s ‘hellfire’ sermon and various childhood difficulties such as bullying and into sexual and emotional development. In the background to this and central to the narrator’s concerns are the vulgar narrow-mindedness of both the Irish Catholic Church and nationalism, which was at its peak at the end of the nineteenth century when this novel is set. The book is best enjoyed as either a route towards the complexity of Ulysses from Dubliners or as a way of understanding Joyce’s psyche after experiencing Ulysses.

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark Bard Books (Avon), 1973
Memento Mori, by Muriel Spark, is touted as being Spark’s best novel. This said, I had great expectations when I began reading the book. For the first forty pages or so, I began to doubt the jacket quotes due to the slow pace at which the story evolves. However, the reader comes to understand only later why Spark lets the plot evolve at such a languid pace. This is a novel about growing old and dying. It begins with one older woman receiving a phone call from an anonymous voice that cheerfully reminds her “Remember, you must die.” Soon, others in her close circle of family and friends begin to receive the same phone calls. And, not so surprisingly, they do die. The novel introduces us to a cast of characters that, on the surface, seem to be doting, forgetful, cantankerous — fulfilling every stereotype commonly held about the elderly. However, through the course of the story, we gradually learn of the intrigues, the love triangles, the clever manipulations of wills, the secrets that flow like hidden currents under the superficial facades each person initially shows. Who is making the disturbing phone calls? and why? Spark plots a delightful journey to the answers to those questions.

Summary Seventy-nine year old Dame Lettie Colson begins to receive anonymous phone calls from a man whose message is, “Remember, you must die.” Soon, her octogenarian brother, her senile sister-in-law, and many of their tottery friends begin to receive similar phone messages.
The novel takes us through a year or so in the lives of this group of eccentric elderly upper-class Brits and a few of their not-so-privileged servants and caretakers. As they pursue the source of the “memento mori” message, we discover a complex matrix of infidelity and deception, ranging from youthful love affairs and harmless perversions to manipulation and blackmail. In the end, though, Death will not be denied.

Commentary This is an eminently readable dark comedy that reveals the fears and foibles of the very aged. Ms. Spark gives exceptional portraits of many of her aged protagonists; for example, Charmian Colson, the comically senile novelist; Percy Mannering, the poet, a perfectly realized Old Fart; and Mrs. Pettigrew, the vituperative companion who blackmails her employer. In these days when it is politically correct to take Old Age very seriously, Memento Mori reminds us how humorous the human condition can be.
Memento Mori By Muriel Spark

t was G.K. Chesterton whose resourcefulness first showed us that literary conventions as frivolous-seeming as those of the detective story could be adapted to serious purposes. After him, novelists as different as Charles Williams and Graham Greene extended his strategy, borrowing mystery and thriller techniques to purvey human mysteries that would have seemed stiffly doctrinaire in any other form.
The third generation of this distinctly British family has now appeared, and a bright young lady named Muriel Spark has mixed a touch of Agatha Christie with some of the swift, slightly brutal comedy of Evelyn Waugh to produce a novel about death that ought to tease, entertain, and quietly perturb a wide variety of American readers.
Two or three of the characters in “Memento Mori” are less than 70 years old, but they are wholly incidental. The remainder average 80 and comprise a thorough London cross-section of their age-group: an Edwardian lady-novelist, a wealthy brewer, a spinster prison-reformer, a couple of lady’s companions, the dozen occupants of the female wing of a state home for the aged, a retired Scotland Yard man, and a considerable number of others, including an amateur student of geriatric statistics–himself 79. Over a several-months period, they all receive the same anonymous telephone call. A male voice, of varying age and register, confirms their name and then adds, “Remember you must die.”
In the course of events, Miss Spark’s trim, unloitering narrative reveals a fairly complete gamut of human seaminess. The flesh may lapse after three-score-and-ten, but at least five of the Seven Deadly Sins can still proliferate. So, too, can love, humility, and compassion, though their incidence is relatively infrequent. At one point, the Scotland Yard investigator assembles everyone around a table, and observes: “Without an ever-present sense of death, life is insipid. You might as well live on the whites of eggs.” And the solution of the mystery proceeds from this premise. It is fair, implicit, a little more than temporal, and should disappoint only readers without moral imagination.
As a whole, the book is most engaging, though I thought Miss Spark could have accomplished her purpose with half as many characters as she has used, and left the reader less distracted with remembering who is who. It is also, at times, a daffily hilarious book, even though it is pervasively concerned with the importance of Death and Judgment. Mr. Phelps is the author of the novel, “Heroes and Orators.”

Structuralism is appealing to some critics because it adds a certain objectivity, a SCIENTIFIC objectivity, to the realm of literary studies (which have often been criticized as purely subjective/impressionistic). This scientific objectivity is achieved by subordinating “parole” to “langue;” actual usage is abandoned in favor of studying the structure of a system in the abstract. Thus structuralist readings ignore the specificity of actual texts and treat them as if they were like the patterns produced by iron filings moved by magnetic force–the result of some impersonal force or power, not the result of human effort.
In structuralism, the individuality of the text disappears in favor of looking at patterns, systems, and structures. Some structuralists (and a related school of critics, called the Russian Formalists) propose that ALL narratives can be charted as variations on certain basic universal narrative patterns.
In this way of looking at narratives, the author is canceled out, since the text is a function of a system, not of an individual. The Romantic humanist model holds that the author is the origin of the text, its creator, and hence is the starting point or progenitor of the text. Structuralism argues that any piece of writing, or any signifying system, has no origin, and that authors merely inhabit pre-existing structures (langue) that enable them to make any particular sentence (or story)–any parole. Hence the idea that “language speaks us,” rather than that we speak language. We don’t originate language; we inhabit a structure that enables us to speak; what we (mis)perceive as our originality is simply our recombination of some of the elements in the pre-existing system. Hence every text, and every sentence we speak or write, is made up of the “already written.”
By focusing on the system itself, in a synchronic analysis, structuralists cancel out history. Most insist, as Levi-Strauss does, that structures are universal, therefore timeless. Structuralists can’t account for change or development; they are uninterested, for example, in how literary forms may have changed over time. They are not interested in a text’s production or reception/consumption, but only in the structures that shape it.
In erasing the author, the individual text, the reader, and history, structuralism represented a major challenge to what we now call the “liberal humanist” tradition in literary criticism.
The HUMANIST model presupposed:
1.) That there is a real world out there that we can understand with our rational minds.
2.) That language is capable of (more or less) accurately depicting that real world..
3.) That language is a product of the individual writer’s mind or free will, meaning that we determine what we say, and what we mean when we say it; that language thus expresses the essence of our individual beings (and that there is such a thing as an essential unique individual “self”).
4.) the SELF–also known as the “subject,” since that’s how we represent the idea of a self in language, by saying I, which is the subject of a sentence–or the individual (or the mind or the free will) is the center of all meaning and truth; words mean what I say they mean, and truth is what I perceive as truth. I create my own sentences out of my own individual experiences and need for individual expression.
The STRUCTURALIST model argues
1.) that the structure of language itself produces “reality”–that we can think only through language, and therefore our perceptions of reality are all framed by and determined by the structure of language.
2.) That language speaks us; that the source of meaning is not an individual’s experience or being, but the sets of oppositions and operations, the signs and grammars that govern language. Meaning doesn’t come from individuals, but from the system that governs what any individual can do within it.
3.) Rather than seeing the individual as the center of meaning, structuralism places THE STRUCTURE at the center–it’s the structure that originates or produces meaning, not the individual self. Language in particular is the center of self and meaning; I can only say “I” because I inhabit a system of language in which the position of subject is marked by the first personal pronoun, hence my identity is the product of the linguistic system I occupy.
This is also where deconstruction starts to come in. The leading figure in deconstruction, Jacques Derrida, looks at philosophy (Western metaphysics) to see that any system necessarily posits a CENTER, a point from which everything comes, and to which everything refers or returns. Sometimes it’s God, sometimes it’s the human self, the mind, sometimes it’s the unconscious, depending on what philosophical system (or set of beliefs) one is talking about.
There are two key points to the idea of deconstruction. First is that we’re still going to look at systems or structures, rather than at individual concrete practices, and that all systems or structures have a CENTER, the point of origin, the thing that created the system in the first place. Second is that all systems or structures are created of binary pairs or oppositions, of two terms placed in some sort of relation to each.
Derrida says that such systems are always built of the basic units structuralism analyzes–the binary opposition or pair–and that within these systems one part of that binary pair is always more important than the other, that one term is “marked” as positive and the other as negative. Hence in the binary pair good/evil, good is what Western philosophy values, and evil is subordinated to good. Derrida argues that all binary pairs work this way–light/dark, masculine/feminine, right/left; in Western culture, the first term is always valued over the second.
In his most famous work, Of Grammatology, Derrida looks particularly at the opposition speech/writing, saying that speech is always seen as more important than writing. This may not be as self-evident as the example of good/evil, but it’s true in terms of linguistic theories, where speech is posited as the first or primary form of language, and writing is just the transcription of speech. Derrida says speech gets privileged because speech is associated with presence–for there to be spoken language, somebody has to be there to be speaking.
No, he doesn’t take into account tape recordings and things like that. Remember, a lot of what these guys are talking about has roots in philosophic and linguistic traditions that predate modern technology–so that Derrida is responding to an opposition (speech/writing) that Plato set up, long before there were tape recorders. Just like poor old Levi-Strauss talks about how, in order to map all the dimensions of a myth, he’d have to have “punch cards and an IBM machine,” when all he’d need now is a home computer.
Anyway, the idea is that the spoken word guarantees the existence of somebody doing the speaking–thus it reinforces all those great humanist ideas, like that there’s a real self that is the origin of what’s being said. Derrida calls this idea of the self that has to be there to speak part of the metaphysics of PRESENCE; the idea of being, or presence, is central to all systems of Western philosophy, from Plato through Descartes (up to Derrida himself). Presence is part of a binary opposition presence/absence, in which presence is always favored over absence. Speech gets associated with presence, and both are favored over writing and absence; this privileging of speech and presence is what Derrida calls LOGOCENTRISM.
You might think here about the Biblical phrase “Let there be light” as an example. The statement insures that there is a God (the thing doing the speaking), and that God is present (because speech=presence); the present God is the origin of all things (because God creates the world by speaking), and what God creates is binary oppositions (starting with light/dark). You might also think about other binary oppositions or pairs, including being/nothingness, reason/madness, word/silence, culture/nature, mind/body. Each term has meaning only in reference to the other (light is what is not dark, and vice-versa), just as, in Saussure’s view, signifiers only have meaning–or negative value–in relation to other signifiers. These binary pairs are the “structures,” or fundamental opposing ideas, that Derrida is concerned with in Western philosophy.
Because of the favoring of presence over absence, speech is favored over writing (and, as we’ll see with Freud, masculine is favored over feminine because the penis is defined as a presence, whereas the female genitals are defined as absence).
It’s because of this favoring of presence over absence that every system (I’m referring here mostly to philosophical systems, but the idea works for signifying systems as well) posits a CENTER, a place from which the whole system comes, and which guarantees its meaning–this center guarantees being as presence. Think of your entire self as a kind of system–everything you do, think, feel, etc. is part of that system. At the core or center of your mental and physical life is a notion of SELF, of an “I”, of an identity that is stable and unified and coherent, the part of you that knows who you mean when you say “I”. This core self or “I” is thus the CENTER of the “system”, the “langue” of your being, and every other part of you (each individual act) is part of the “parole”. The “I” is the origin of all you say and do, and it guarantees the idea of your presence, your being.
Western thought has a whole bunch of terms that serve as centers to systems –being, essence, substance, truth, form, consciousness, man, god, etc. What Derrida tells us is that each of these terms designating the center of a system serves two purposes: it’s the thing that created the system, that originated it and guarantees that all the parts of the system interrelate, and it’s also something beyond the system, not governed by the rules of the system. This is what he talks about as a “scandal” discovered by Levi-Strauss in Levi-Strauss’s thoughts about kinship systems. (This will be covered in detail in the next lecture).
What Derrida does is to look at how a binary opposition–the fundamental unit of the structures or systems we’ve been looking at, and of the philosophical systems he refers to–functions within a system. He points out that a binary opposition is algebraic (a=~b, a equals not-b), and that two terms can’t exist without reference to the other–light (as presence) is defined as the absence of darkness, goodness the absence of evil, etc. He doesn’t seek to reverse the hierarchies implied in binary pairs–to make evil favored over good, unconscious over consciousness, feminine over masculine. Rather, deconstruction wants to erase the boundaries (the slash) between oppositions, hence to show that the values and order implied by the opposition are also not rigid.
Here’s the basic method of deconstruction: find a binary opposition. Show how each term, rather than being polar opposite of its paired term, is actually part of it. Then the structure or opposition which kept them apart collapses, as we see with the terms nature and culture in Derrida’s essay. Ultimately, you can’t tell which is which, and the idea of binary opposites loses meaning, or is put into “play” (more on this in the next lecture). This method is called “Deconstruction” because it is a combination of construction/destruction–the idea is that you don’t simply construct new system of binaries, with the previously subordinated term on top, nor do you destroy the old system–rather, you deconstruct the old system by showing how its basic units of structuration (binary pairs and the rules for their combination) contradict their own logic.

warning: Before you begin John Fowles’s new novel, be certain there’s only one log on the fire. If, unhappily, you lack the fireplace by which this book should be read, set an alarm clock. “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” is 467 pages long. No matter how fast a reader you may be, it’s not good for the circulation to sit in one position for the length of time required to read it. You’ll need something to remind you to stretch your legs every so often. It’s that kind of book. It’s filled with enchanting mysteries that demand solutions, and the solutions are withheld until the last page. And even beyond the end. When I finished it, I started over, searching for missed clues, testing the beginning in light of the end. If I’d had time, I’d have read it straight through again. The language is elegant enough, the solutions elusive enough.
First of all, there is Mr. Fowles’s story–a story so irresistibly novelistic that he has disguised it as a Victorian romance, one thinks at first. The year is 1867. Our leading man, Mr. Charles Smithson, is looking forward to an excellent marriage to Miss Ernestina Freeman, the fair daughter of a wealthy tradesman. Charles is in the prime of life (32), well-born (with prospects of a baronetcy), a gentleman of honor, a scientist of sorts, quite modern, an adherent of Mr. Darwin’s writings.

A Destined Convergence

One day, while walking by the sea with his betrothed, and exchanging hyperbolical pleasantries, Charles comes upon a strange young woman standing forlornly, “her stare aimed like a rifle at the farthest horizon.” Upon asking Ernestina about the woman’s identity, he learns that she is Sarah Woodruff, known to the residents of Lyme Regis, Dorset, as the abandoned lover of a French naval officer, and a “hoer.”
Sarah is not precisely beautiful. But to Charles there is something in her eyes and in her manner that sets her far apart, that makes her the secret possessor of possibilities that marriage to Ernestina threatens to blot out forever.
It is deliciously obvious from page 1 on that Charles’s and Sarah’s paths are destined to converge. But Mr. Fowles withholds the encounter deftly enough to charge it with magically erotic possibilities. What, after all, is more seductive than a possibility? (And though his prose is chaste in thought and deed, Mr. Fowles clearly knows his Victorian …..graphers.) Very Victorian, in short. If you have the smallest residual weakness for Dickens, you are lost.
But why, for Heaven’s sake, a Victorian novel in this day and age of RobbÈ-Grillet? What is this practitioner of flawed Gothica (“The Collector” and “The Magus”) up to now? Here quickly arises another element of suspense. For it is also clear from page 1 on that Mr. Fowles is not going to be satisfied merely with witty (and often brilliantly erudite) anachronistic comments on the manners, morals, literature, art and science of a century before. Not only will something surprising happen to the story of “The French Lieutenant’s Woman;” something will happen to the form of the book as well. And the prospect adds immeasurably to the suspense.

Choice of Two Endings

Let me recapitulate. One likes Charles. One admires him even. As an enlightened inhabitant of the 1960’s one can share his Darwinian view of Sarah Woodruff, with her cool contempt for Victorian morals, as an evolutionary advance. One can identify with his considerable heroism in throwing in his lot with her, even at the cost of his good standing (and Fowles makes his act more poignant than your would imagine possible). One cares a great deal how the story will turn out. And one feels, secure in Mr. Fowles’s hands, that it will turn out well.
But it develops that Mr. Fowles has a problem, which he graciously explains in chapter 55, while riding with Charles on a train to London. (Yes, literally.) Mr. Fowles doesn’t know what to do with his story. He can’t manipulate the plot (or, as he says, “fix the fight”) “to show one’s readers what one thinks of the world around one” because this story happened a hundred years ago and “we know what has happened since.” The only solution, he decides, is to write two endings.
So he proceeds. The first is heart-warming, gratifying, a very “Great Expectations” of an ending, a thorough domestication of eroticism, wholly consistent with Fowles’s charming tale. The tale we thought we had been reading, at any rate.
Then comes the second ending. It explodes all the assumptions our Victorian sensibilities had so willingly embraced. In a giant step it covers the distance between the Victorian novel and the roman nouveau. It leaves one wondering which century was more sexually liberated. It is a shock. It is comic. It signals the sudden but predictable arrival of a remarkable novelist.


The setting throughout the novel is predominantly Victorian. Most
of the novel’s action takes place at Lyme Regis, Dorset, England.
Lyme Regis was one of many small villages in southwest England
scattered along the coast. It consisted largely of small houses
surrounded by hills on one side and the sea on the other. The Cobb
was built along the shore and it is a promenade where people could
enjoy the sea air while taking a walk. A section of the hills, known
as the Ware Commons, was a meeting ground for most young
couples and where Charles and Sarah meet clandestinely. Lyme’s
community was close-knit and provincial. Unlike the larger
metropolitan areas such as London, here people upheld the
prevailing social norms. Unconventional behavior is seen as an
aberration and often times a sign of mental illness. The repressive
norms and the people’s insensitive attitude towards Sarah succeed
in driving her to Exeter.

In the nineteenth century, Exeter served the same purpose as
London does today. Exeter was notorious for providing all sorts of
wicked entertainment. Brothels, dance halls and gin palaces thrived
there. It served as a haven for “shamed” girls and women, namely
unmarried mothers and mistresses who were victims of sexual
abuse or social rejects. Due to its scandalous reputation, many
upstanding English kept their distance. Social norms were virtually
non-existent. Because no one knows her or interferes with her,
Sarah feels free, a pleasure that was denied to her while in Lyme. It
is in Exeter that Charles and Sarah consummate their relationship,
which is the turning point of the novel.

For a brief moment the action shifts to London where Charles
signs his statement of guilt. It is also here that Charles and Sarah
meet, after a two-year separation, at the Rossetti residence. The
action tends to move back and forth between the Victorian and the
modern age as Fowles tends to make intrusive comments about the
past and the present. He has deliberately recreated a Victorian
world so that he can criticize those aspects of the Victorian era that
would seem alien to a modern reader. It is interesting to note the
different social conditions prevalent in these places and their
effects on individuals.


Major Characters

Sarah Woodruff – The bearer of the book’s title ‘The French
Lieutenant’s Woman.’ She is also referred to as “Tragedy” or “The
French Loot’n’nt’s Tenant’s Hore.” She is the scarlet woman of
Lyme, the outcast dismissed by society because of her affair with a
French sailor. She is a figure of intrigue due to rumors that
circulate around her, most of them false. She is the protagonist of
the novel. Her character is that of a mysterious or evil woman
commonly found in a Victorian novel.

Charles Smithson – Male protagonist of the novel. He is a wealthy
Victorian gentlemen and heir to a title. He is interested in Darwin
and paleontology and considers himself to be intellectually
superior to other Victorian men, as he is one of the few who holds
scientifically advanced ideas. He is engaged to Ernestina Freeman
but is attracted to the mysterious Miss Woodruff. He is unhappy
with the way his life is unfolding, yet he is extremely sensitive and
intelligent. He is an insecure man constantly analyzing his life.

Ernestina Freeman – Charles’ fiancée. She is pretty, coy and
intelligent, but at times she tends to reveal her youth and naivete.
She likes to think of herself as a modern woman but her attitudes
are similar to most of the young Victorian women who behaved in
a proper manner. She is Aunt Tranter’s niece and is vacationing in
Lyme when the story begins.

Aunt Tranter – Ernestina’s mother’s sister. She is a kind woman
who is loved by her domestic staff because she treats people with
respect. She offers to help Sarah when the rest of the town rejects
her. Aunt Tranter is an honest woman and lacks hypocrisy of any

Mrs. Poulteney – A cruel old woman, she takes great delight in
harassing her domestic staff. Her temperament is exactly opposite
to that of Mrs. Tranter’s. She believes herself to be an upholder of
Christian virtues yet in reality, she is a hypocrite who reluctantly
helps people only out of a show of charity. Sarah in employed by
her in the position of a companion. She succeeds in making
Sarah’s life miserable by constantly reminding her that she is an

Mrs. Fairley – Mrs. Poulteney’s housekeeper. She pretends to be
virtuous but is a confirmed hypocrite like her employer. She acts as
Mrs. Poulteney’s spy reporting Sarah’s movements back to her.
She is jealous of Sarah and succeeds in getting Sarah dismissed
from her job.

Dr. Grogan – An intelligent, friendly man who befriends Charles.
The younger man finds him to be a sympathetic listener. Dr.
Grogan empathizes with Sarah but finds her behavior too
outrageous to be taken seriously. He is refreshingly unconventional
in his views for a Victorian although he belongs more to an earlier
age that was more liberal in many ways.

Sam Farrow – Charles Smithson’s valet. He is not content with his
present status and wants to climb the social ladder. He is ambitious
and is determined to secure his future with Mary even if he has to
blackmail Charles.

Mr. Freeman – Ernestina’s father. He is a haberdasher who has
succeeded in attaining a higher status in society. Although he
comes from a lower class, he is able to have his daughter marry
into nobility.

Lieutenant Varguennes – Sarah Woodruff’s alleged French lover.
He was injured in a shipwreck when he first met Sarah and tried to
flirt and seduce her. Later, Sarah found out that he was married.

John Fowles – The author of the novel. Fowles tends to intrude into
the narrative to make his own critical comments about the
characters as well as the relationship between art and life. He
comes in the guise of a foppish theatrical director or as a bearded


Protagonists: The novel has two protagonists, Sarah Woodruff and
Charles Smithson. Both of them are character types commonly
found in a nineteenth century romantic novel. These lovers are
doomed from the beginning. Sarah is an outcast, rejected by
Victorian society. Charles is an aristocratic Victorian gentleman
already engaged to be married to someone else. Charles must
challenge the conventions he lives by and eschew them. He does
this through the help of Sarah who has already moved beyond
society’s definition of who she is. By Victorian standards their
union would have been seen as scandalous. Through their
characters Fowles is attempting to understand how people’s lives
were dictated by what the Victorian Age thought was true about
the essential nature of men and women and how they relate to one

Antagonist: The novel’s antagonist is the Victorian society, which
spurns women like Sarah who do not conform to normal gender
roles. If not for society’s strict definitions of what women should
be and how they should act, Sarah would not be an outcast.

Climax: Charles breaks his engagement with Ernestina when he
realizes that he loves Sarah but when he goes to Exeter to meet her,
he does not find her. Finally, in despair he leaves England to try
and forget her. After two years of being separated, he learns of her
whereabouts. During their separation both had undergone a
change. Charles has shrugged off his conventional layers and Sarah
is representative of a New Woman of the Age.

Outcome: They finally meet after a two-year separation period at
the Rossettis. Sarah has changed drastically and Charles cannot
adapt himself to this new version. To complicate matters further,
Fowles gives two different endings to the novel. One follows the
conventional rule of a happy ending, and the other attempts to be a
more unconventional but realistic ending.

In the conventional ending, Charles meets his baby daughter and
the couple reunite with their love is strengthened by all that they
have gone through.

In the unconventional ending, Charles rejects Sarah and feels
disgusted with himself for allowing himself to fall for a woman
like her. He leaves without meeting his child. Though he is bitter
and alienated, he does realize a strength within him that was
dormant. Since deciding to break off his engagement and shrug off
his age’s burdensome conventions to follow his heart, he can now
take on the world by himself.

Unlike traditional gothic novels, Fowle’s objective is not to unite
his protagonists, Sarah and Charles, but to show that every human
being must face hurdles in life in order to be able to grow.

PLOT (Synopsis)

At the beginning of the novel, Charles Smithson and Ernestina
Freeman are engaged to be married. Charles is an upper-class
aristocrat and Ernestina is a wealthy heiress. They meet Sarah
Woodruff, an unemployed governess and the scarlet woman of
Lyme. Charles is struck by this woman who “had been dumped by
her French lover and now wandered the shores in the hope that he
would return someday.”

Sarah is employed as a lady’s companion by Mrs. Poulteney of
Malborough House. Her stay is miserable due to Mrs. Poulteney
and the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairley, who keeps spying on Sarah.
They attempt to restrict her freedom in the name of making her
repent for her sins. Meanwhile, Charles is intrigued by the outcast.
His interest in her grows to be an obsession. An amateur
paleontologist, he meets her on several occasions at Ware
Commons. He wants to help her but his interest is routed in the fact
that he finds her singularly different from other Victorian woman.
As on outcast, Sarah does not follow societal norms yet she insists
on Charles help. Dr. Grogan, Charles friend, sympathizes with her
situation but believes that Sarah wants Charles’ constant attention.
He diagnoses her condition as a mental illness called melancholia
and wants to get her institutionalized.

Meanwhile, Sarah has come to depend on Charles who is himself
going through a change. He is beginning to question his age’s
conventions and questioning himself. He urges Sarah to leave
Lyme and go to Exeter where she will have more freedom to live
an unconventional life. Sarah takes his advice but Charles cannot
forget her. At the same time, he feels guilty for even thinking about
her. He does not love Ernestina and is marrying her solely for her
wealth. He thinks their relationship is nothing more than a façade.

Fowles constantly interrupts the narrative by making authorial
comments with a twentieth century perspective. The narrative
action digresses back and forth from the Victorian Age to the
twentieth century in time. Fowles is writing a novel set in the
nineteenth-century romantic literary genre but with a twentieth
century perspective. Charles finds the prospect of living a life as a
dutiful husband and son-in-law unappealing. His uncle disinherits
him, so he has no money and title. He wants to have a more
meaningful life, unrestricted by traditions. He makes the ultimate
decision of his life by breaking his engagement to Ernestina and
follows Sarah to Exeter, where they consummate their relationship.
When he returns for her, after informing Ernestina of the break-up,
he learns that she has left with no forwarding address. His valet
Sam betrays him. In despair, Charles reaches Sarah but to no avail.
Ernestina’s father makes him sign a humiliating statement of guilt
for breaking the marriage contract and Charles’ friend and solicitor
prevails upon him to leave England for some time.

Charles travels the world but prefers America, which he finds
refreshingly modern compared to England. While touring America,
he receives word that Sarah has been found. He hurries back to
England and finds Sarah living with the Rossettis. She has changed
drastically, and Charles finds this difficult to accept. Fowles gives
two endings to the novel. In the conventional ending, Charles
meets his baby daughter and Sarah and he reunite. They live
happily ever after like any other hero and heroine in a romantic
novel. The other ending is unconventional and more realistic, an
ending more apt for a twentieth century novel. Charles rejects the
new Sarah, yet despite feeling bitter and alienated, he has found a
new awareness and strength within himself. Because of his
involvement with Sarah, Charles has changed from his old
conventional self, rejecting the values that sought to confine him.


Major Theme

In this novel, Fowles is interested in the literary genre of the
nineteenth-century romantic or gothic novel and succeeds in
reproducing typical Victorian characters, situations and dialogue.
But Fowles perception of the genre is touched with typical
twentieth-century irony. His thematic concerns range from the
relationship between life and art and the artist and his creation to
the isolation that results from an individual struggling for selfhood.

Minor Theme

Fowles’ aim is to bring to light those aspects of Victorian society
that would appear most foreign to contemporary readers. Victorian
attitudes towards women, economics, science and philosophy are
tackled as minor themes within the main plot. Both women and the
working-class are two groups that are revealed as being oppressed
both economically and socially in a society that inhibits mobility
for anyone who is not middle or upper-class and male. These are
the social issues that Fowles explores within the guise of a
traditional romance.


The general mood throughout the novel is somber and turbulent.
From the initial chapter, the mood is set. A strong easterly wind is
blowing and a storm is coming in. It is in such a setting that
Charles and Sarah meet. The atmosphere suits Sarah’s enigmatic
personality. Throughout the novel, she is presented as a dark,
mysterious and intriguing figure. The reader are unconsciously
aware that the lovers, Charles and Sarah, are doomed from the
beginning. In several sections, the mood changes to one of irony
and realistic recording of details. Fowles tends to comment on
several unknown aspects of the Victorian era (e.g. prostitution) in
an ironically realistic manner.


Major Theme

In this novel, Fowles is interested in the literary genre of the
nineteenth-century romantic or gothic novel and succeeds in
reproducing typical Victorian characters, situations and dialogue.
But Fowles perception of the genre is touched with typical
twentieth-century irony. His thematic concerns range from the
relationship between life and art and the artist and his creation to
the isolation that results from an individual struggling for selfhood.

Minor Theme

Fowles’ aim is to bring to light those aspects of Victorian society
that would appear most foreign to contemporary readers. Victorian
attitudes towards women, economics, science and philosophy are
tackled as minor themes within the main plot. Both women and the
working-class are two groups that are revealed as being oppressed
both economically and socially in a society that inhibits mobility
for anyone who is not middle or upper-class and male. These are
the social issues that Fowles explores within the guise of a
traditional romance.


The general mood throughout the novel is somber and turbulent.
From the initial chapter, the mood is set. A strong easterly wind is
blowing and a storm is coming in. It is in such a setting that
Charles and Sarah meet. The atmosphere suits Sarah’s enigmatic
personality. Throughout the novel, she is presented as a dark,
mysterious and intriguing figure. The reader are unconsciously
aware that the lovers, Charles and Sarah, are doomed from the
beginning. In several sections, the mood changes to one of irony
and realistic recording of details. Fowles tends to comment on
several unknown aspects of the Victorian era (e.g. prostitution) in
an ironically realistic manner.



John Robert Fowles (1926), novelist, was educated at Bedford
School and New College, Oxford, where he read French. After
serving in the Royal Marines, he worked as a schoolteacher before
embarking on a career as a full-time writer. He spent some time on
the Greek island of Spetsai before the success of his first novel,
The Collector, enabled him to write full-time.

The Collector is a psychological thriller in which a girl, Miranda,
is kidnapped by a psychologically possessive repressed clerk and
butterfly-collector who keeps her as one of the many specimens of
his butterfly collection. The novel ends with her death and his
plans to add another specimen to his collection.

This novel was followed by Aristos (1965), an idiosyncratic
collection of notes and aphorisms aimed at a ‘personal
philosophy.’ It is a self-portrait, revised in 1980, on ideas that set
forth the personal version of existentialism which underlies his
novels. Fowles’ concern with the strategies of fictional narrative
and the implications of conventional ways of writing fiction is
explicated in the valuable notes on an unfinished novel in The
Novel Today edited by Malcolm Bradbury (1977).

The Magus (1966, revised 1977), is a long, compulsive
masquerade of sexual enticement and historical manipulation set
on the Greek island of Phraxos. A British schoolmaster, Nicholas
D’urfe, half-guest and half-victim is subjected to a series of
mysterious apparitions and tableaux which, despite their
naturalistic explanations, give the novel a narrative complexity and
mythological dimension faintly suggestive of Magic Realism.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), is a careful pastiche of a
Victorian novel undercut by twentieth century literary and social
insight. Its heroine, the governess Sarah Woodruff, is one version
of the elusive, inscrutable woman who appears throughout Fowles’
fiction, notably in the titular novella of The Ebony Tower (1974), a
collection of shorter fictions. The novel is notable for the author’s
intrusive commentary and suggestion of alternative endings, an
aspect represented in Pinter’s screenplay by a double action of

Daniel Martin (1977) is a dense, realistic novel rooted in post-war
Britain and expounding an unfashionable philosophy and
humanism. It is a long self-searching, semi-naturalistic, semi-
experimental account of screen-writer Daniel Martin and his
relationship with Hollywood, capitalism, art and his sister-in-law,
set in a wide variety of locations, ranging from opening sequences
in Devon and Oxford to a closing sequence in the ruins of Palmyra.

Mantissa (1983) is a sexual jeu d’esprit and satire of contemporary
structuralist ideology. It consists largely of an extended erotic
fantasy on the subject of la femine inspiratrice, with mythological
undertones and A Maggot (1985) is a murder mystery set in the
eighteenth century and written as a transcript of the subsequent
interrogations of the murderer.


In this novel, Fowles is interested in the genre of the nineteenth-
century romantic or gothic novel and successfully recreates typical
characters, situations and even dialogue. Yet his perspective is that
of the twentieth century as can be noted in the authorial intrusions
and opening quotations drawn from the works of Victorian writers
whose observations were uniquely different from the assumptions
that most Victorians held about their world. In this way, he
attempts to critique those values that Victorians most heralded.

Until today, the Victorian Age was seen to be a Golden Age where
Reason and Rationality were proclaimed as dogma and faith.
People were beginning to question the claims that religion made
about the existence of God and the beginning of man. Anything
that could not be proven through experimentation and science was
immediately treated with suspicion. With Charles Darwin’s The
Origin of Species (1859) the biblical myth of Adam and Eve and
the origins of man were shattered. Darwin’s work created quite an
uproar as it succeeded it in shattering the Victorian people’s
unquestioning religious faith.

The Victorian society imposed a great deal of repressive
conventions and norms on its people, especially women and the
working class. Victorian women were socially conditioned to
believe that their rightful place was at home with their husbands
and children. A Victorian woman was expected to accept the
patriarchal norm unhesitatingly. Her duty was to her husband and
children. Only if she toed this social line would she be deemed a
proper young Victorian lady. The institution of marriage was often
a contract agreement. Money often married into a titled family as
in Charles and Ernestina’s case, thereby reinforcing the dominant
society’s power. Money and nobility were often the main criteria
for a Victorian marriage.

The practice of prostitution was a topic that Victorian archivists
rarely touched upon. Most historians up until recently thought that
the Victorian age was known for its virtuous and pure qualities yet
Fowles’ novel reveals that even during the Age of Propriety
prostitution flourished and consequently women were often
victims of sexual abuse or social rejects. By giving prostitutes a
mention in his novel, Fowles is attempting to be realistic about
their situation. He is obviously concerned about the role of women
in Victorian England and society’s treatment of them. As is
apparent women of all classes right from the aristocracy to the
prostitutes were exploited by society which was largely patriarchal
and this practice continues even today.

The aristocrats were a dominant class once upon a time in England
yet it is during Queen Victoria’s time that the class hierarchy
began to dismantle. The nobility were no longer all powerful. The
rising middle-class was a new class coming into existence and
successful businessmen in the trade and commerce industry were
now socially prominent leaders of society. London was the place
where all urban activity took place partly due to its reputation as an
industrial capital. The working classes in industrial London
consisted of the lower classes that had migrated from the
countryside to better their prospects. The middle class had the
largest population. Class structure was based more on money than
breeding in the changing Victorian social scene. Successful
members of the trade and commerce industry now held the upper
rungs of the social ladder although there was still some resistance
in terms of acceptance into certain social circles.

A Victorian gentleman was expected to have a sense of duty and
propriety. He was expected to stick to his commitments, be they
legal or marital. They were expected to keep up the facade of a
proper gentleman. But Fowles informs the reader that very often
the norm was flouted to the advantage of men. In a telling chapter,
Fowles comments on upper class men patronizing the prostitution
dens. There were one set of social rules for men and one for
women. Rules of propriety were started by the middle classes in
order to keep their members from straying from the ‘proper’
pathway. The upper classes and the lower classes had no hang-ups
about pre-marital sex yet the middle classes treated this as a taboo

Fowles is interested in society’s effects on its members and the
concerns that arise from it. Much of the novel is geared towards
analyzing particular roles that various members of society had to
play due to societal pressure to conform to a particular behavior.
His characters often act and react to how they are supposed to be
behaving rather than to any individual agency. Fowles is also
interested in twentieth century novel conventions and the Victorian
romantic novel conditions and their treatment of realism. The
Victorians were trying to write in a realistic manner whereas their
modern counterparts were attempting to clearly define the meaning
of realism through their writings.



The initial chapter begins with an extensive description of Lyme
Bay in 1867. The narrator observer informs the reader that since
that time very little has changed in Lyme. He compares it to a tiny
Greek island, Piraeus. It is picturesque place a dozen or so houses,
sloping meadows and wooded hills. From the perspective of an
outsider looking in, the narrator informs the reader that he is the
local spy. He uses his telescope to spy on two people taking a walk
along the Cobb. The two people seem to be well-dressed and from
the upper class. The young lady is dressed in the height of fashion,
which the narrator says was a revolt against the crinoline and large
bonnet commonly worn by Victorian women. The man too is
expensively clothed.

The narrator/spy then shifts his telescope to the other figure
standing at the end of the Cobb. Dressed in black, the figure is
staring out to sea. She is a woman who appears distressed.


The novel begins with a quote from Thomas Hardy’s “The Riddle”
and is an apt description of the French Lieutenant’s Woman and
the reader. She is portrayed as a singular figure, alone against a
desolate landscape. This image piques the reader’s curiosity.

Chapter 1 gives an extensive, detailed description of Lyme Bay.
The narrator makes it a point to insist that very little has changed
in Lyme Regis since the nineteenth century to the present day. The
narrator deftly moves between the two centuries and comments on
the present day events in the same tone in which he comment on
the Victorian period. That is, he adopts a rather formal, stiff
Victorian tone while narrating the events in the novel yet the
content of what he says is contemporary.

The narrator is in the persona of John Fowles, the author. His
authorial intrusions are very pointed and sometimes biased. He
comments on Charles and Ernestina’s dress sense, saying both
appeared fashionable, especially Ernestina who has adopted a more
provocative style of dress. For instance, Ernestina’s skirt is shorter
than the accepted length, and she wears a pork-pie hat instead of a
large bonnet. Her sense of fashion is alien to a place like Lyme
Regis, which is provincial and rooted in conventions. This gives
the reader a sense that Ernestina may be less conventional than a
typical Victorian woman yet whether her adventurous dress sense
matches her ideas will soon be seen.

The narrator plays the role of participant and observer. It is through
his lens, metaphorically seen in the use of his telescope, that the
characters and situations are wrought. He provides insight and
information about the characters as well as providing authorial
commentary about the setting.

PinkMonkey.com-MonkeyNotes-The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles


Fowles gives a quotation from E. Royston Pike’s “Human
Documents of the Victorian Golden Age” which is a commentary
on the role of Victorian women.

The chapter introduces the reader to Ernestina Freeman and
Charles Smithson, the two people walking along the Cobb. The
couple are engaged to be married. Their conversation is largely
small talk and rather trite. Ernestina appears to be lively, romantic
and coy, typical of Victorian women. Her fiancée, Charles is
interested in the theories of Darwin. He likes to think of himself as
rational and scientific. His aim is to be different from other
Victorian gentlemen.

The wind is blowing rather hard and a gale is coming in when
Charles sees the women in black standing at the far end of the
Cobb. He is concerned for her safety. Ernestina tells him that the
woman is nicknamed “Tragedy” and that she is awaiting the return
of her lover who has abandoned her. Charles is intrigued by the
story and curious to meet the woman. He attempts to warn her
about the storm but the woman simply turns around and stares at
him. The look has a strong impact on Charles. He finds her face is
unforgettable and tragic. When she turns away from them, Charles
and Ernestina leave.


Chapter 2 starts out with a quotation from E. Royston Pike’s
“Human Documents of the Victorian Golden Age” which
comments on the population of women being higher than that of
men. Pikes implies that because of these statistics the set role of
Victorian women is that of a wife and mother. Yet because there
are more women than men, not all women can fulfil their role as
wives and mothers; therefore, the quote becomes ironic in the
context of the French Lieutenant’s Woman. Although Sarah’s
epithet appears to attach her to a man, he is in fact not present so
far in the novel and she is free of the conventional role society
attempts to impose on her.

The reader is introduced to Charles Smithson and his fiancée,
Ernestina Freeman. Their conversation is banal. Ernestina typifies
a Victorian woman in that all of her energy is expended on
captivating a man’s attention yet what she says is insubstantial.
Much of this has to do with her socialization and she cannot be
judged too harshly. Yet the differences between her and Charles is
significant here. Whereas she has no interest in Sara other than the
story of misfortune, Charles finds her odd and disconcertingly
attractive because she is outside the norm. He has a predilection for
scientific inquiries and theories such as Darwinism yet Ernestina
shares none of this. He believes himself to be rational and
analytical as he is scientifically inclined, but in reality, he is like
any other Victorian gentleman: romantic, idealistic and
conventional. When Ernestina informs him about Sarah, he is
attracted by her unconventionality yet repelled by her strangeness.
It is as though he is looking at some exotic specimen.


Fowles begins the chapter with a passage from The Origin of
Species (1859), a controversial work written by Charles Darwin
that created an uproar during the Victorian age because its theory
undermined the creationist myth of Adam and Eve as told in the

The chapter focuses on Charles Smithson, an amateur
paleontologist, interested in Darwin’s theory. He likes to think of
himself as rational and analytical as well as intellectually superior
to other Victorian men because he holds progressive views. The
narrator intrudes in to make statements about the nature of time
and the differences in perception from one century to the next. He
notes that if the twentieth century suffers from a lack of time than
our Victorian counterparts suffered from tranquil boredom or what
is known as ennui. However, ennui was experienced by those in
the upper classes who did not have to work to live. It is this which
Charles finds so dissatisfying in his life and which also makes him
vulnerable to that which is different or strange.

Charles Smithson was born into the upper class. His grandfather
was a renowned paleontologist and although Charles was inspired
by his work, he only dabbles in it rather than studies it seriously.
Charles’ uncle is now the owner of the estate, and Charles is his
heir. Deep down Charles is idealistic and romantic. He is also
cynical unlike other young men of his class. After his studies at
Cambridge, he had decided to join the Church. His father
discouraged him and sent him to Paris. There, he lost some of his
idealism and became more cynical and worldly-wise. His
experience in the city of Sin matured him greatly. Charles, the
narrator informs the reader, is rather superficial yet paleontology
keeps him occupied. His interest in scientific tracks is only a
passing fancy. He is one of the most eligible bachelors and is
constantly hounded by mothers with marriageable daughters.


This chapter is begins with a quotation from Darwin’s The Origin
of Species. This work caused a lot of controversy during the
Victorian age as it led to a breakdown in religious attitudes. The
reader must not forget that the Victorian period was once of great
discoveries and that with this new knowledge of the universe and
biological diversity, people were questioning the origins of their
existence. Charles is a pseudo-intellectual and pretends to be a
Darwinist although in reality he does not understand the work. By
claiming to be a Darwinist, he is making a statement that he is
different from his Victorian peers.

The narrative digression explores the concept of time in the two
adjoining centuries. If lack of time is the anathema of modern man
(which leads them to neurosis) then tranquil boredom is the ill of
the wealthy class. Because Charles does not really have to work for
a living, he is easily bored as well as confined by social rules that
frustrate and exasperate him. He is a romantic and idealistic man
like any other Victorian, but deliberately chooses to read scientific
tracts which he took up to relieve his boredom.

Charles is trained to be a conventional moralist and his first sexual
episode makes him run to the Church. But once in Paris, the City
of Sin, he does not mind indulging in what his age proclaims is
forbidden pleasure yet at the same time condone it as his father
does when he forbids him to take Holy Orders. This double
standard prevalent in Victorian destroys Charles’ youthful idealism
and replaces it with a more worldly cynicism. He may be
outwardly superficial yet the man inside is still an idealistic
romantic. His double standards often confuse him. His age has
taught him to think of sex as something evil but he derives pleasure
from sometimes deviating from the norm. Thus, the reader may be
able to understand his being attracted to Sarah Woodrufft as being
not only unconventional but also sanctioned by the society he lives
in though it would be loath to admit it.


The chapter starts out with a quote about the social conditions of
the British upper and middle classes. The chapter introduces the
reader to Mrs. Poulteney who is well known in Lyme Regis and
dreaded for her taskmaster attitude. Her domestic staff is
overworked and underpaid and Mrs. Fairley, her maid, acts as her
spy. Anyone caught shirking his or her duties is immediately
reported to Mrs. Poulteney.

Mrs. Poulteney likes to think of herself as a morally upright and
religious woman. Her spy pretends to be religiously virtuous for
her mistress’ sake. In reality, both are hypocrites. Mrs. Poulteney is
well known for her charity yet her motives for being “charitable”
are mercenary. Firstly she wants to assure a place for herself in
Heaven. Secondly, she wants a cheap source of labor and so asks
the vicar if there is anyone she can take into her household who
has fallen on unfortunate circumstance. This also gives her a
morally superior edge. Her sanctimoniousness is evident in her
request. The vicar, Mr. Forsythe recommends Sarah Woodruff.


The chapter begins with another quotation from Pike’s work, and it
expounds on the social conditions of British upper and middle
classes and their attitudes towards the lower classes. In Pike’s own
words ‘cesspool’ is the term he uses to refer to the lower classes.

The chapter is largely a portrait of Mrs. Poulteney and her
housekeeper/spy, Mrs. Fairley. Mrs. Poulteney professes to be a
moralistic upright woman and her sidekick, Mrs. Fairley pretends
to be the same. But in reality both are hypocrites. Together they
succeed in making the lives of the domestic staff at Malborough
Hill a living hell. Mrs. Poulteney, the narrator intrudes in to
mention, is well known for her charity yet her motives are selfish.
She believes she is feathering a bed for herself in Heaven. Both of
these women are common types in Victorian novels. Whether or
not such types really existed is worthy of inquiry although their
high-mindedness and social and moral superiority are attributes
associated with many Victorians. Together the two mean women
succeed in making Sarah’s life miserable and make Sarah’s
character more sympathetic.


The chapter begins with a quote from Lord Alfred Tennyson’s In
Memoriam which is a reflective commentary on Victorian attitudes
towards sexuality and duty and the moral conflicts Victorian men
and women faced.

This chapter has Charles and Ernestina parting after their walk and
focuses on Ernestina’s return to her room where she gazes in the
mirror while undressing. The reader is informed that Ernestina has
features appropriate for the age she lives in. She is the epitome of
everything a Victorian woman stands for: beauty, purity, and
modesty. Her father, Mr. Freeman, is a trader who has risen from
the lower classes to be a prominent citizen in London. He is
representative of the new merchant class which could buy its way
into a good social standing. The narrator makes intrusive
comments about the Victorian age and the roles women were
expected to play. Ernestina is a lively young lady who finds Lyme
Regis very dull and boring. Although quite traditional and
constantly conforming to the norm, Ernestina has moments when
she breaks away from the set. She has been brought up like all
Victorian women to think that her duty is to her husband and
children, and she is desperate to conform to this rule. Like most
women she is sexually repressed. The thought of sex and what
would be expected of her once she married Charles makes her
wince and shudder. She looks upon her engagement to Charles as a
kind of duty. She has to go through it for her father’s sake. Her
father is ambitious and wants a title for his daughter. After all
Charles is heir to a small fortune and estate. Ernestina is the perfect
foil to Sarah, who chooses not to conform to societal norms.


Chapter 5 is a portrait of Charles fiancee, Ernestina Freeman.
Ernestina typifies the heroine one would usually find in a Victorian
novel – beautiful, virtuous, ebullient and yet she is much too
controlled by her social conditioning to be a true heroine. Instead
she epitomizes everything the Victorians demanded out of a
woman – shy, pretty, dutiful. She accepts her future role as a wife
and mother. The author informs the reader that under normal
circumstances, that is by Victorian standards, Ernestina would
have been the Heroine of this novel. But she has to relinquish her
role to the more darkly, intense Sarah who defies convention.

Ernestina, nevertheless, emulates the ideals of the Victorian
woman. She is the rich, pampered daughter of her trader-father
who has risen from the lower classes and is ambitious that his
daughter marries into a high-ranking family. Her engagement to
Charles is only done out of a sense of duty to her parents and
society. An unfortunate condition of many Victorian women,
whether prostitutes or the daughters of wealthy businessman, was
that they were commodified. In Sarah’s case, her commodity is her
virginity, which was heavily prized at the time. Like most
Victorian women, she is sexually repressed, curious yet ignorant
about her sexuality at the same time. Her society has trained her to
believe that her body is meant for the sole sexual gratification of
her husband and to bear his children.

Fowles gives the reader a quote from Tennyson’s In Memoriam at
the beginning of the chapter that illustrates how Victorians
believed that if love could not be immortalized then it ended in
lust. This is in parlance with the Victorian attitude that love is
transcendental and not physical.

The author’s descriptions and dialogue are rendered in a style
suitable for a Victorian novel. The accuracy of detail and dialogue
should be noted for its authenticity.


Fowles gives the reader a detailed account of Sarah’s tragic
circumstances. At the vicar’s recommendation, Mrs. Poultenay
agrees to interview Sarah for the post of a lady’s companion. Her
conditions are that Sarah should be god fearing, respectable and
above reproach. From the vicar Mrs. Poulteney learns that Sarah
was at one time an appointed governess to the Talbot children.
Sarah’s family came from the lower classes of society but she had
been educated.

While working for the Talbots, she met a French Lieutenant,
Monsieur Varguennes. His ship had sunk and he was recuperating
at the Talbot residence. The Talbots had kindly given him shelter.
Since Sarah was versed in French, she was given the task of
tending to the injured Frenchman. Through this contact their
relationship blossomed. Two days after he had left, Sarah gave up
her job and followed him to Weymouth. He falsely promised her
that he would return from France and marry her. Since then she has
been awaiting his return.

Mrs. Poulteney takes a vicarious pleasure when she hears of
Sarah’s tragic circumstances. Sarah seems like the perfect charity
case, and she agrees to meet this “fallen” woman. At the interview,
Mrs. Poulteney mistakenly assumed Sarah’s reserved posture to be
that of someone who is remorseful and full of shame. She thinks
that Sarah wants to redeem herself. Sarah is made to read a passage
from the Bible and successfully passes the test. Mrs. Poulteney
exults in Sarah’s melancholic demeanor as she mistakenly
interprets her to be mourning her loss of moral values.

Sarah has received better offers of staying but she has her own
reasons for accepting Mrs. Poultney’s offer. Firstly, she is close to
destitution and needs some security and secondly, Malborough
House is conveniently near to the sea. This way she can continue
her watch for the Frenchman.


In this chapter, the reader gains a more detailed history of Sarah’s
past as well as Mrs. Poulteney’s sanctimoniousness as she feigns
compassion for a destitute woman. To her, Sarah is the perfect
candidate for charity and she is determined to make sure that her
charity-case redeems her fallen status. Sarah is the scourge on
which she could lay to rest her own sins in order to reach Heaven.

In fact, during the interview, she takes great delight in taunting
Sarah. She is satisfied that Sarah appears remorseful of her present
status. In fact, Sarah’s reserved melancholic demeanor is a habitual
one but Mrs. Poulteney prefers to think that she is morning her loss
of moral virtue. Mrs. Fairley realizes that Sarah is slowly taking
over the position that she originally has. To keep in Mrs.
Poulteney’s good favors, she deliberately gives unfavorable reports
on Sarah to Mrs. Poulteney. In fact, both women had already made
up their minds to personally see to it that this young sinner
underwent redemption. The author intrudes to inform the reader
that if Sarah’s countenance did not bear that visible repentant look
then Mrs. Poulteney would never have taken her in. It is important
to note Sarah’s reasons for accepting the post despite receiving
better offers from less harsher employers is that she is close to
destitution, and most importantly, Malborough House’s location
near the sea allows Sarah to continue her vigilance of the sea for
her French lover. If Mrs. Poulteney had known her reasons, she
would have been incensed.


A new day is ushered in bright and sunny. Our narrator introduces
the reader to Sam Farrow, Charles valet. Sam is working class and
has a distinct Cockney accent for which he is constantly heckled
by his master. Their entire conversation is a light-hearted bantering
where Charles teases Sam for his Cockney accent, his humble
lower class origins and his attraction to Ernestina’s maid, Mary.
Sam, being on the receiving end, resents his master’s jokes, which
he finds very patronizing. He considers his class a bane to his
social ambitions.

The narrator then goes into a long digression on the social
conditions of the lower classes during the Victorian period. He
compares Sam Farrow to Dickens’ popular character Sam Weller,
the Cockney servant from The Pickwick Papers. But then he is
quick to point out that since the publication of the papers, thirty
years have passed and much has changed. Earlier the lower classes
were content with their status. Now, they are determined to make
their mark on the social ladder. Sam Farrow belongs to this new
generation of servants. Sam is very snobbish as he portrays himself
to be a cut above his country cousins. He wears new, fashionable
clothes, and is constantly making an effort to improve on his
accent. The author intrudes in to comment that the gentile classes
were relatively kind to their domestics. Ironically, it was the
nouveau riche that treated their servants harshly. This was an
astonishing aspect as they themselves belonged to the same class.
Charles’ treatment of Sam borders on friendship. The narrator
winds up the chapter with a stark statement saying that where Sam
Weller was content with his lot, Sam Farrow was determined to get
out of it.


Chapter 7 is a reflection on Charles and Sam Farrow’s relationship
and looks more broadly at the relationship between the classes. At
the beginning of this chapter, a passage from Karl Marx’s Capital
(1867) comments on Victorian class attitudes, especially with
respect to the exploitation of the lower class by the upper class.

The conversation between Charles and Sam is seemingly friendly,
but to the readers, Charles’ attitude borders on condescension. The
narrator then digresses into a lengthy commentary on the situation
of the working classes in 1867. The likes of Sam Farrow were
decidedly upwardly mobile. Unlike their predecessors, they were
not content with their servile status. The author makes a
comparison between Sam Farrow and Sam Weller, Dickens’s
famous character from The Pickwick Papers.

Sam Weller was content in his position of the Cockney-accented
servant. Sam Farrow is not content with his present status and is
constantly looking for ways to improve himself. He despises
Charles patronizing talk. The narrator terms this new generation of
the London Cockney class as snobs because they consider
themselves a cut above their rural brothers. This is evident from
Sam’s attitude towards Mary, the maid. The author makes an
ironical statement that the upper class shared a better relationship
with their domestics than the rising middle-classes. This new breed
of nouveau riche set up rigid boundaries between them and their
servants as a way to make a distinction between them even though
many came from that very class.


The chapter starts out with Charles’ visit to Ernestina’s house only to find her indisposed. Out of a sense of duty, he asks if he should summon the doctor but is dissuaded by Aunt Tranter. He decides to spend the day indulging in his hobby and goes to the seashore to look for fossils. The narrator then interrupts the narrative to give the reader scientific data on the geographical strata that is available in Lyme Regis. It is a haven for anybody who is scientifically inclined towards fossils. The narration returns back to Charles. He is highly overdressed by twentieth century standards. For instance, he wears hob-nailed boots to walk on a beach strewn with boulders. The narrator hastens to warn the reader from laughing at Charles’ attire as Victorians tended to be a little bit overzealous in their efforts. They were guided by their driven sense of duty. The narrator digresses again stating that modern man was not interested in the past, only the present. The narrator states that Charles had a sentimental attitude towards science than any deep rooted realistic interest in it. He claimed to be a Darwinist, but the truth was that he did not understand the great theorist. Paleontology eased his boredom. When Charles finds a fossil specimen, he remembers Ernestina and his duty to her. He decides to give the fossil to her and reluctantly turns back from his search. He realizes that he has lost a lot of time and decides to take a shortcut through the undercliff. Notes Chapter 8 is a discussion of Victorian attitudes towards scientific inquiry. The Victorian Age was heralded as the age of rationality. The Victorians were questioning religious dogmas and conventions of the past and were now encouraging factual scientific research. Science and its findings fascinated the Victorians, but they rarely understood it. They realized that very little efforts were channeled toward this purpose and so encouraged it, but the scientific method of inquiry was not popular at the time. The scientific method required the scientist to arrive at a hypotheses and then to prove or disprove it with factual data using empirical methods of research. The Victorians were ignorant of this method. They instead proposed theories to explain the existence of natural phenomenon that had no scientific backing. Like the majority of the Victorian public, Charles did not understand Darwin’s theory on the origin of species. He prefers to call himself a Darwinist as this makes him feel contemporary as well as driven by larger ideas about the world and its origins. Charles has very little direction and practically no expectations out of life. He prefers to play the role of an upper class gentleman and dilettante naturalist. Also, his sense of duty is very strong like most Victorians. The author digresses to inform the reader that his switch from paleontology to his duty to Ernestina was easily done. According to the narrator, Charles interest in science was more a way to deflect boredom and avoid making decisions rather than a deeply driven need to discover. Victorians believed that all knowledge was already discovered and that it just had to be catalogued. Therefore, Charles’ purpose in finding fossils is not to discover anything new but to focus on minutiae and avoid the larger picture of his life. .


The narrator returns to the developing relationship between Sarah and Mrs. Poulteney. The reader gets a detailed account of Sarah’s young life. She was the daughter of a poor vicar and because she was extremely intelligent, she was educated and trained to be a governess. The narrator digresses to inform the reader that Sarah possesses a rare talent, the ability to astutely judge the real nature of an individual, and see through their pretensions. This talent serves to be more of a bane than a boon. She remained unmarried because she was considered to be of low economic standing to upper class men. Also, her penetrating insight into people’s nature made her reject their proposals. Condemned to be alone, she earned her living working as a governess. Shifting back to Sarah and Mrs. Poulteney, the observant narrator notes that on the first few weeks of Sarah’s stay, a perceptible change took place in Malborough House. She endears herself to the servants when she takes up for Millie, a young maid, and rescues her from being dismissed. Also, Mrs. Poulteney unwillingly finds herself drawn to Sarah, especially to the fervent way she read the Bible. Mrs. Poulteney actually interprets it as a sign of redemption. But even as Sarah is proving her worth to Mrs. Poulteney, she is unwittingly making an enemy of Mrs. Fairley, who thinks the young woman is usurping her role as Mrs. Poulteney’s favorite servant. Mrs. Fairley is a constant thorn in Sarah’s side. She spies on Sarah’s movements and reports back to Mrs. Poulteney that Sarah has been gazing at the sea in her free time. Mrs. Poulteney assumes that she is pining for her lover, and forbids her from walking that way. Instead of defending herself, Sarah offers to leave. Mrs. Poulteney has come to depend on Sarah’s services, and rather than lose her companion, she agrees to a compromise. Sarah must not be seen too often near the sea. When Sarah falls ill, Mrs. Fairley continues with her spying. She soon reports back that Sarah has taken to walking on Ware Commons. The information scandalizes Mrs. Poulteney. Notes Chapter 9 begins with a quotation from Matthew Arnold’s A Farewell and is an apt description of the French Lieutenant’s Woman who has an element of the unknown about her which is her most attractive quality. Sarah is a perceptive, young woman and an excellent judge of people’s characters. She, being naturally astute, can see through people’s artifices and judge them for what they really are and not what they pretend to be. Because of this intuition, she often sees the evil motives behind the seemingly kind veneers of the people she meets. In the Victorian age, where there was a public and private face, this kind of perception could pierce the deceptive appearances that people strove to keep intact. Despite being educated, upper class suitors rejected her because of her class and men belonging to own class found her too progressive for their taste. So she was subject to rejection from all quarters. As a single woman, Sarah must make due on her own. Therefore, she is often at the mercy of people who are malicious and want to control her. Both Mrs. Poulteney and Mrs. Fairley do not hesitate in making Sarah’s life a misery by not only tracking her whereabouts but constantly bringing up her past. Mrs. Poulteney reminds her to redeem her “fallen” self. Mrs. Fairley is jealous of Sarah and enjoys spying on her. Sarah is forbidden to walk along the sea as the two ladies feel she is not really repenting for her sins. Their need to keep her life circumscribed and “pure” is in fact a desire to make her conform to proper female behavior. The author’s criticism is directed towards close-minded attitudes of people like Mrs. Poulteney and Mrs. Fairley who cannot move beyond appearances and surfaces. Sarah’s chief fault was that she did not behave like other Victorian women. Despite her longing to be free, she is not able to get away from those who try to restrict her because of her class and gender.


The narrator focuses his attention back to Charles. Fowles gives an extensive description of the Undercliff, a coastal area that is densely overgrown with vegetation. Someone could easily get lost in it although it is not that big an area. He digresses to let the reader know that nothing has changed since then and in fact it is now a national preserve. Charles has been forced to use this shortcut to get back to Ernestina on time. The scenic beauty of the area enthralls and captivates him. Charles is a sentimental romantic at heart. He quits his hobby for the moment and allows himself to be hypnotized by the wondrous beauty around him. The woods are totally secluded and uninhabited except for some wild birds and animals. The eastern-half of this place is popularly known to the locals as “Ware Commons”. This is also a place where young lovers are rumored to meet because of its privacy. For this reason, it has a notorious reputation. While winding through the dense vegetation, Charles comes out onto a grassy meadow overlooking the sea. Just below him on a sloping ledge jutting out into the sea, he spots a darkly clothed woman who is sleeping. Approaching her, he realizes she is the French Lieutenant’s Woman. When he attempts to get nearer, Sarah wakes up and their eyes meet. He is embarrassed to be caught staring at her and she is ashamed that he caught her sleeping. In this brief meeting, Charles intuitively guesses that the rumors about Sarah are not true. She is not what her notorious story makes her out to be. He apologizes for waking her up and leaves quickly. Notes Chapter 10 begins with a description of the Undercliff, which is an unruly and uninhabited place and contrasts sharply to the otherwise docile landscape of southwestern England. It is here that young lovers meet in an age when any physical contact between the sexes before marriage is frowned upon. Therefore, Mrs. Poulteney’s reaction to the news that Sarah goes to the Commons seems a suitable one for the prudish Victorian woman. Much of the imagery in this chapter captures the wildness of the setting, its uninhibitedness as well as mystery. So when Charles finds Sarah sleeping in the woods, he reacts to her as part of the landscape. Something that is not quite part of the world he knows and lives in. He gazes at her first with sexual longing and then with a feeling of sympathy as he realizes that the rumors about Sarah are false. Rather than the disreputable woman she has been made out to be, she is instead innocent. The author digresses to inform the reader that in this unconscious act Charles has shrugged off the Victorian values impressed upon him of morality and propriety. He also sees through her image of a wanton woman and finds that she is an actuality a despairing person who has been unjustly ostracized. He is impatient with the Victorian attitudes towards sex and instinctually realizes the double standards existing within society. What he thinks and what he is supposed to think about this woman become two separate realities.


Ernestina wakes up in grumpy mood, feeling restless. Mary, her maid, brings in the flowers that Charles has sent through Sam. Hearing Sam flirt with Mary, she mistakenly assumes it is Charles and because she is fearful that Charles is attracted to her maid, she is rude to Mary. The observer narrator gives a brief portrait of Mary who is a lively, down-to-earth, warm-hearted young girl. He says she is the most beautiful of all the women in the novel although her beauty is not appreciated. She has been working for Aunt Tranter since her dismissal from Mrs. Poulteney’s services. The author digresses to inform the reader that Mary was quite unlike other Victorian women. Firstly, she was not a lady and secondly, she did not possess any physical attributes appropriate to Victorian standards. Meanwhile, Ernestina recalls her first meeting with Charles. She knew that Charles did not like women to pursue him, so she deliberately acted coy to lure him towards her. The author informs the reader that Charles had his own reasons for pursuing Ernestina as he was more in love with her money than with Ernestina. She reminisces about the moment when Charles first proposed to her and how happy she was and how her father heartily approved of the match because of his title. Notes Chapter 11 begins with a quotation from Duty by A. H. Clough. Fowles has deliberately incorporated it into the chapter as it clearly explicates the meaning of duty to a Victorian woman, that of wife, churchgoer, and socialite. Ernestina is unsure of her real feelings for Charles yet he is the best choice of a partner for her. Despite being engaged to him, she feels she still does not know him. She is insecure about the relationship but does not dare to speak about her true feelings to Charles or anyone else. This would be seen as being improper behavior. Compared to Ernestina, Mary appears to be beyond social protocol because of her class. She is lively and down-to-earth unlike Ernestina who must act within the dictates of social conventions. In fact, Mary is dismissed from Mrs. Poulteney for kissing a stable boy, which is seen as sacrilegious behavior according to Mrs. Poulteney. This chapter reveals how the upper classes attempted to repress women’s sexuality as well as reveals how women are used as commodities as is the case with Ernestina’s engagement. Her father uses Ernestina as a bargaining chip to gain social prominence. Ernestina knows what is expected of her yet attempts to find someone who she will at least find attractive and interesting. She deliberately sets out to lure Charles although he thinks that he came to her of his own volition. The power of economics and social status in Victorian society is displayed quite overtly. In return for the title, which Ernestina will acquire through her marriage to Charles, Charles will benefit economically. This quid pro quo arrangement benefits both parties. The marriage proposal is no different than a business contract in the Victorian age. At the same time, this mercenary exchange is vitiated by Charles’ growing need for a more substantive relationship with women. Knowing that his excursions to Europe for sexual satisfaction are less and less satisfying, Charles longs for a sexual partner as well as a companion.


Charles returns from Ware Commons and stops for a bowl of milk at “the Dairy.” While in conversation with the dairyman, he sees Sarah come out of the woods. The dairyman refers to her as “the French Loot’n’nt’s Hoer,” and Charles is incensed by this charge but quietly walks away. He goes after Sarah attempting to engage her in conversation and apologize for his actions. Sarah politely rebuffs him. When he visits Ernestina, he deliberately avoids telling her of his encounter with Sarah lest she misconstrues it. The narrator then digresses to explain the reasons why Ware Commons was treated as forbidden territory to young unescorted Victorian women. It was a private haven, a secluded retreat for all lovers. Mrs. Poulteney had based her opinions about the place on the rumors that were circulated rather than actually seeing what took place there. On hearing about Sarah’s new walking grounds, she promptly and rather severely reprimands Sarah and forbids her from ever walking there again. That very night, Sara stands by the window, crying. The author informs the reader that she was contemplating suicide but does not jump. Notes Chapter 12 reveals Charles’ own innocence and sexual inhibition. He is upset at the dairyman’s insensitive comment about Sarah but social conventions prevent him from defending her. His feelings towards Sarah are ambiguous at the moment. Although he is obviously physically attracted to her, he couches his feelings towards her as being that of respect and duty. He does not want to be like the others in town who have rebuffed her based on inconclusive evidence of her past behavior. Yet he feels guilty about these brief meetings and refrains from telling Ernestina about his meeting. Ernestina follows the predominant discourse about Sarah and divulging his meeting with her would make Ernestina question his motives, which are as yet unclear to Charles, although the reader can pick up that he finds her exciting. Here, the reader notes another typical Victorian masculine attitude towards women: what should and should not be told to Ernestina. Half- truths then become a protective device which shields women from fully knowing the truth and prevents them for exerting any influence on matters outside the household. Sarah and Ernestina are constantly juxtaposed as being dissimilar yet both act in a manner predetermined for them by the social and economic dictates of their culture. The narrator digresses to comment on the notorious reputation Ware Commons has gained for itself. Mrs. Poulteney makes her based assumptions on the rumors she has heard. To her the thick vegetation only served to cloak all kinds of wickedness that would endanger any moral soul. Her imagination runs wild but this may be due more to her intake of opium which conjures up fantastical images than to anything based in reality. In this respect, Fowles shows how often times those who criticize sexual transgressions are often the most prurient and hide their sexual depravity behind a cloak of piety. Sarah is unjustly reprimanded and forbidden to go there despite her being a mature …… Because of this oppression, she contemplates suicide, but the observer intrudes in to say that she does not do so. He notes that her sorrow is of the melancholic kind and not emotional.


Fowles makes an important digression in this chapter, commenting on his art as a novelist. He informs the reader the story is all a part of his imagination and that he admits he is writing in the Victorian convention as that is the age where his story is placed. He tries to examine the relationship between the creator and his creation and questions the autonomy of the characters and the conventions of writing in the Victorian age and the twentieth century. The author digresses onto the topic of Sarah as she continues to walk through Ware Commons heedless of Mrs. Poulteney’s warning. Notes In Chapter 13, the narrator quite violently disrupts the narrative to expound on his own theories of creativity and the writing process. By claiming that his story is entirely fictitious, he is bringing the reader into the mind of the creator to understand the workings of the creative mind. Disrupting the narrative flow makes the reader aware that these characters are indeed created and not real although they are autonomous individuals in themselves. He questions the conventions followed by Victorian novelists and their modern counterparts and explains why he deliberately chooses to write and adopt a Victorian tone in his novel. Being the author, he can be both observer and manipulator. Throughout the chapter, Fowles examines his style and method and provides an interesting inquiry into the long traditon of this kind of novel. He is making a link between his own creation and those that have come before. In using this particular genre, he is in a way exploring its storytelling capabilities and critiquing its conventions. Sometimes, he wants to tell the reader the entire story, yet prefers to let the story unfold by itself. He constantly questions his role as a novelist and tries to explain what he is doing yet reveals that he has the power to manipulate the reader and yet wants the reader to join him in seeing how a novel is constructed and what choices a writer makes and which ones are made for him by the characters themselves. He immediately jumps to the topic of Sarah who did not jump from the window out of choice. She still continues to secretly visit Ware Commons without Mrs. Poulteney’s knowledge. The chapter is an excellent example of digression and authorial intrusion which was a popular novelistic convention used widely in sixties’ literature. Often called “metafiction”, its aim is to make the structure and creation of the novel as important a feature as its storytelling capabilities by calling attention to itself.


Mrs. Tranter, Ernestina and Charles pay a visit to Mrs. Poulteney andCharles and his hostess do not exactly hit it off. He is bored by the formality of the occasion yet intrigued that Sarah is present at the meeting. She is generally ignored except by Mrs. Tranter, who attempts to draw her into the conversation. Charles is annoyed at his fiancée’s uncharacteristically rude behavior towards Sarah. When Mrs. Poultney complains of Mary’s flirtatious behavior, she and Charles disagree on the appropriate manner of courting. Throughout this exchange Sarah sits silent and aloof from the rest of the company. On hearing Mrs. Poulteney criticize Mary, Mrs. Tranter is quick to defend her maid only to be put down by Ernestina’s dry, hurtful remarks. Charles comes to Mrs. Tranter’s rescue and the argument leaves everyone feeling uncomfortable. Charles and Sarah share an empathetic look at this junction. The narrator moves to Mrs. Tranter’s kitchen where Sam and Mary are deep in conversation. Their relationship is in stark contrast to the shallow relationship of Charles and Ernestina. Notes Chapter 14 is a reflection of a typical Victorian soiree where such outings were always very ritualistic and formal. Charles is forcibly taken to visit Mrs. Poulteney and finds the entire affair stiff and boring. The meeting is one of tedious boredom, stiff formality and polite small talk, all aspects of his class that he would prefer to disregard. Charles and Mrs. Poulteney disagree on several topics and reveal how the orthodox Victorian values of Mrs. Poulteney jar with the relatively progressive ones of Charles. What is important in this exchange is how divided Charles and Ernestina are on the topic of courting and proper behavior. Whereas she comes off as prudish and offended by the more sexually uninhibited Mary, Charles and Mrs. Tranter defend her. Because of this difference in opinions, Charles becomes irritated with her and unseen by the other ladies, he and Sarah share a look of solidarity. Both of them feel out of place at such social gatherings and also disagree with the harsh indictments of Mary’s behavior. Ernestina senses that she has displeased Charles but she does not understand why. She tends to go with the predominant ideology of what is proper behavior for women while Sarah and Charles question it. The passage Fowles has selected from Jane Austin’s ‘persuasion’ aptly mirrors Charles’ own feelings about social gatherings. The chapter is reflective of the way Victorians of different classes viewed love. Sam and Mary’s relationship is much more refreshing than the stale artificiality seen in Mrs. Poulteney’s house. Sam and Mary have their own standards of morality. Respectability is not expected from them as they come from the lower classes. Yet, they are affected by trends in the standards of morality demanded by their society, though they are less conscious of rigidly adhering to them. Charles is confused by the double standards that he sees in society where women are chastised for any display of sexuality while men are encouraged. Sarah, who has dared to be different, has been ostracized. Although this bothers him, he rarely summons the guts to question the rigid conventions that bind women and allow him to act freely.


On reaching home, Ernestina immediately apologizes to Charles for her rude behavior. Charles is surprised at her quick change in mood and teases her as if she were a young child. He passes witty comments about Mrs. Poulteney and succeeds in making Ernestina erupt into uninhibited laughter. The author comments that this is a rare exchange these two Victorian people indulged in. In a moment of good humor, Ernestina gives Mary one of her old dresses. The next day, Charles teases Sam about his flirtatious behavior. He tells Sam that Mary is a kind hearted, gentle girl and warns him not to hurt her. If Sam’s intentions towards Mary were not honorable then he should leave immediately. Sam assures Charles that his intentions are definitely honorable. Pleased, Charles agrees to talk to Mrs. Tranter on Sam’s behalf. Notes In Chapter 15, the reader notes Ernestina’s change in attitude towards Charles. She defuses the tension between them by resorting to girlish tactics, those that originally won Charles over in the first place. Rather than stand by her opinion, she acts like a dutt to hurt her. If Sam’s intentions towards Mary were not honorable then he should leave immediately. Sam assures Charles that his intentions are definitely honorable. Pleased, Charles agrees to talk to Mrs. Tranter on Sam’s behalf. Notes In Chapter 15, the reader notes Ernestina’s change in attitude towards Charles. She defuses the tension between them by resorting to girlish tactics, those that originally won Charles over in the first place. Rather than stand by her opinion, she acts like a dutt to hurt her. If Sam’s intentions towards Mary were not honorable then he should leave immediately. Sam assures Charles that his intentions are definiteldifferent tones while speaking to people depending on who they are while this may appear as duplicitous it is in fact the way many people act


Five days have passed since their argument and Charles and Ernestina’s courtship is explained in detail. Its shallowness is more evident. Ernestina tries to make up for the disagreement between Charles and her by behaving as her gender role prescribes yet this dutiful wife act does not fool Charles. He finds her lacking in substance. The narrator then digresses to comment on the social status of women in the Victorian period. Ernestina reads a poem by Mrs. Caroline Norton to Charles who merely mocks the poetess’ efforts. The feminine emancipation was in full force. But Ernestina, like most other women, laughed at the efforts of men like Disraeli, who tried to uplift the status of women in Victorian England. The narrator shifts his attention to Charles, who is walking on Ware Commons. He encounters Sarah and attempts to talk to her. He tries to convince her to accept Mrs. Tranter’s offer of help and to resign from Mrs. Poulteney’s services. Sarah is touched by his concern. Charles stoutly denies the truth of the rumors. Sarah shocks Charles by confessing that she is not waiting for her Frenchman as she is well aware that he is already married. She leaves Charles feeling totally bewildered and curious about her continued sorrow. Notes In Chapter 16, the more domestic aspects of Charles and Ernestina’s courtship is revealed. Ernestina acts like a coy, dutiful wife in order to make up for the argument she had with Charles. Her change in mood surprises Charles because it does not seem like her. Ernestina is unconsciously showing sign of her shallowness and her upbringing. The narrator then digresses to comment on the social status of woman in the Victorian period. The feminist movement was being ushered in at the time and women such as Sarah who better understood better their own pathetic conditions fought for their rights. Women, like Ernestina, were complacent about the issue and laughed at these women’s efforts. Because of her closed and secure life, Ernestina is unaware of the implications of this rebellion, and laughs with Charles at these lame attempts. She is like most other Victorian women socially conditioned to believe that her duties are restricted to being a wife and mother. Sarah on the other hand does not have the economic security that Ernestina does; therefore, she can sympathize with the attempts of these women to right the disparity between the sexes. Her precarious position has made her a victim of a society that privileges men and money. Fowles deliberately gives the reader this comparison to illustrate the differences in the two women despite them both being Victorian. Sarah is touched when she realizes that Charles genuinely cares for her well being. She confesses that she is not waiting for Varguennes and this shocks Charles. He is unable to understand her motives for living in Lyme where she is being ostracized by society. Her strangeness and dark intense personality hypnotizes him and he finds her sexually inviting, especially her mouth. At this juncture Charles is unwilling to admit his attraction for Sarah yet the reader can see that his forays into Ware Commons is more enticing now that he knows she may be there. Because his life is staid, he is inclined towards the strange and unusual. Sarah fits this description.


Charles attends a concert with Mrs. Tranter and his fiancée at the Lyme Assembly Rooms. The narrator digresses briefly to give a historical account of the Assembly Rooms. Charles finds it difficult to concentrate on the concert. Thoughts of Sarah distract him constantly. He mentally compares Ernestina and Sarah, and finds the former rather shallow and more like a stranger to him. At the same time, he realizes his growing attraction to Sarah. His conventional upbringing prevents him from acknowledging his feelings for her, so he feels guilt instead. The narrator shifts his focus to Sam Farrow and his love interest, Mary. Like his master, Sam too is pondering over his life. Like Charles, Sam sees himself as a cynic. So when he does meet Mary, her innocence is like a whiff of fresh air. Sam is ambitious and he knows Mary will be supportive of his future plans. Both are in love with one another and want to marry. Notes In Chapter 17, the reader note that Charles is becoming more and more aware of his real relationship with Ernestina, which on the surface is supposed to be about love and respect yet there is an underlying difference in the way they view the world. She does not understand him, and he cannot relate to her. Her attitude at the concert reveals her as being socially competent but lacking in depth. Now that he has met Sarah, he cannot help comparing the two women although this is quite unfair considering the different backgrounds both women have come from. He is attracted to Sarah’s dark intensity as well as her overt sexuality. Ernestina is artless and callow compared to her. Because of his conventional upbringing, he feels guilty for even harboring thoughts of Sarah. Charles’ attraction, it must be noted, is slowly growing into an obsession. He builds an idealistic aura around the woman he thinks to be Sarah and will later have a difficult time accepting the real Sarah. The narrator then shifts his attention to Sam Farrow who is ambitions and wants to climb the social ladder very quickly. His experiences in London and the world make him a bit pretentious and he likes to think of himself as worldly-wise. Mary would make the perfect mate for Sam as she is full of life and spontaneous where he is cynical. Her innocent charm beguiles Sam. Earlier Sam thought of her as being uncouth and provincial but he sees beyond her outward appearance and falls in love with her. Their love is more meaningful than the one Charles and Ernestina supposedly have and is not bound by an economic contract.


Two days later Charles is again trekking over Ware Commons with his tools hunting for fossils. Thoughts of Sarah continue to obsess his mind. Her dark intense self is impinged on his memory. When he suddenly comes upon her, she hands him two fossil specimens, then asks for help. Charles is a little shocked at her forwardness. He suggests she take up Mrs. Tranter’s offer of help. He advises her to leave Lyme Regis and go to London where she could find better jobs with her educational qualifications. Sarah brushes aside the suggestion and hints that she may end up in a prostitute’s brothel. She wants to tell Charles her story and pleads that he meet her at a later date. At first, he refuses on the grounds that it would be socially improper for them to be seen together then he reluctantly agrees to meet her. Yet, he is left feeling uneasy about the situation, as he knows that such behavior is socially forbidden for someone in his position. Notes In Chapter 18, not only is Charles growing obsession with Sarah delved into more explicitly but Sarah’s interest in him begins to take shape. It is easy to understand Charles’ attraction for anything that is uniquely different from the mundane objects he comes across in his life and Sarah represents many taboos: mystery, sexuality, independence. She is intensely vivid as compared to the coy, docile women in Victorian England. He is drawn to Sarah yet conventions prevent him from giving in to his desire. He knows that being an engaged man he should not be associating himself with women who have tarnished reputations. When Sarah tells him that she wants him to know her story, he is surprised and flattered but does not understand her reasons. Sarah wants his understanding, not his pity. She intuitively senses that he is not judgmental like most Victorian men and recognizes Charles’ sensitive soul. Charles, of course, is bewildered by her behavior. When she asks him to meet her in private, he acts alarmed, almost offended by her forwardness and lack of social mores. Thus, the reader sees his double-standard attitudes. One minute he wants to defy convention but the next minute he does not dare go against what society deems proper behavior. With Sarah, he adopts a kind of formality in his speech, which is pinched and restrained. He attempts to treat their relationship as one of pity rather than seduction and uses moral grounds as the reasoning behind his concession to her pleas. The author digresses at a particular juncture to inform the reader that Victorian women never contradicted their men. Men supposedly said and did the right thing and it was not the woman’s place to go against a man’s word. Despite his better thinking, Charles agrees to meet Sarah. He is both excited as he is entering into the socially “forbidden” world, yet ashamed and guilty for going against convention. Charles may proclaim to be different yet he identifies with the prevailing Victorian ideology of what is correct and incorrect behavior. Charles’ motives for helping Sarah are not entirely altruistic, which is evident from his ambivalence.


Charles and Ernestina host a dinner party that night for Aunt Tranter and Dr. Grogan. The narrator introduces the doctor as being of Irish origins and the resident doctor of Lyme Regis. He knows the temperaments of each and every patient of Lyme, Mrs. Poulteney’s in particular, and can handle them accordingly. He is an extremely intelligent and witty man, and a good friend of Aunt Tranter. In his company Aunt Tranter is very relaxed and laughs at his jokes uncontrollably. Her behavior shocks Ernestina. Charles is now alert to her constantly swinging moods and wishes she could be her normal self. After dinner Dr. Grogan invites Charles over for a drink. They discuss several intellectual topics and discover that they have a shared interest in science and Darwin’s theory in particular. While on the topic of science, Charles shrewdly drops Sarah’s name and asks the doctor his opinion of her. Dr. Grogan admits that he had attended her on one occasion and had diagnosed ‘melancholia,’ a disorder which prevents her from taking any action to improve her situation. The two men discuss her case and wonder at her reasons for staying on in Lyme. Dr. Grogan theorizes that Sarah probably enjoys being treated like an outcast and indulging in self-pity. She deliberately continues to stay on at Lyme when there is no reason to do so. Charles feels he can now understand Sarah better and decides to help her out, their discussion justifying his need to help her. The narrator swiftly shifts his line of narration to Sarah and Milly, Mrs. Poulteney’s maid. The young maid is afraid of the dark and sleeps with Sarah at night. The narrator cautions the reader not to look deeper into their relationship as lesbianism was an unheard of topic in the Victorian age. Sarah is merely comforting the sick girl as she empathizes with Milly’s hard life, having undergone it herself. The narrator shifts back to Dr. Grogan and Charles who are immersed in a discussion on Darwin. Fowles deliberately digresses in order to show the reader that no one, neither Dr. Grogan nor Charles nor any modern psychologist, can decipher Sarah. She is incomprehensible. Notes In chapter 19, the reader is introduced to Dr. Grogan, the doctor of Lyme. Ernestina’s aunt and Dr. Grogan share a friendly uninhibited relationship. They are relaxed in each other’s company and speak frankly. Ernestina who has been brought up in a rigid atmosphere is shocked at Aunt Tranter’s uninhibited laughter. Charles realizes that all this time, she was merely pretending to be jolly. Her artifice puts him off and he wonders if she will always be this way. The reader must realize that Ernestina is a product of her age. She does not dare to defy convention even when she is tempted. By doing so, she would jeopardize herself and her position in society as well as her chances to marry well. Dr. Grogan, and Charles discussion of Sarah’s condition is representative of the Victorian need to classify and define all phenomenon. They attempt to understand and rationalize Sarah’s behavior and attempt to solve her problems. This is ironic since what Sarah suffers from is a malaise that transcends traditional diagnoses, therefore it can only be defined as madness. Their discussion of Sarah’s woes relieve Charles of his guilt as he realizes somewhat vainly that he really can help her. Little does he know that Sarah willfully chooses to act as she does rather than being the victim of a mental illness. However, at the time, any woman who showed even a little sign of rebellion from the standard moral code was termed as mad or insane. Society was very rigid and Fowles is aiming his criticism at this very society as well as the men who appear well intentioned but are only contributing to the inferior and powerless position of women. Moving his narration to Sarah and Millie, who are sharing the same bed, Fowles is comparing the two pairs of friends and their interactions with each other. Sarah and Millie’s relationship is based on common experience and empathy whereas the two rationalists’ discussion centers around solutions and diagnoses. The narrator then comments on Darwinism as well as lesbianism, both of which fail to explain the motives behind Sarah’s behavior. That she defies categorization is one of the reasons she is so deplored by the people of Lyme Regis. Despite their attempts at determining her problems, she remains an enigma to Dr. Grogan and Charles as well as to any modern psychologist.


Charles and Sarah meet in Ware Commons as planned earlier. She hands him another fossil and leads him to a secluded dell where she reveals the real details of her story. Varguennes was the sole survivor of a shipwreck. Since she could speak French, she was given the job of tending to the injured sailor. The Frenchman charmed and beguiled his way into Sarah’s heart. After leaving the Talbot residence, he asked Sarah to meet him. Assuming that he was going to marry her, Sarah resigned from her post and followed him to Weymouth. Charles tries to understand her motives and feels such behavior is to be expected from one who has very little social options. Sarah goes on to reveal that she deliberately chose to sleep with Varguennes, not because she felt any love or physical craving for him but because she wanted to be different from the women around her. Society would ostracize her but she wanted them to so that she could be a symbol of suffering for all women like her who defied convention. Charles cannot understand her bizarre behavior. He tries to justify it but fails yet he realizes he is attracted to this strange women. Notes In Chapter 20, Sarah’s true story about her affair with the shipwrecked sailor is revealed. She tells her story to Charles who cannot fathom why she has chosen him as her confidant. He is bewildered when Sarah says that she was aware of Varguennes’ underhanded motives for calling her but deliberately chose to sleep with him. She wanted to be different from other Victorian women and chose to defy societal mores. She wanted to be ostracized by society in a total act of defiance that would place her against the grain of the dominant culture. Sarah’s act of defiance is unfathomable to Charles who feels he cannot understand her bizarre desire for societal attention or rejection, as is the case. However, the story mystifies him further and adds to the aura of mystery and romanticism surrounding her. Fowles has quoted a passage from William Manchester’s The Death of President Kennedy that is a twentieth century work but is reflective of Sarah’s attitude to her ‘sin.’ She wants the world to know that she has “sinned.”

PLOT (Style & Structure)

By recreating a nineteenth century literary genre, John Fowles is doing much more than simply parodying it. In its capacity to recreate and redefine an older fictional life, The French Lieutenant’s Women acts as a key to understanding the best of contemporary British novelists whose relations with Victorian fiction and culture, although less conspicuous than here, are often equally intimate and complex. The novel recreates an older sort of realism to serve the old purpose of studying society. Fowles is interested in cultural continuity, in how our social conditions evolved. He deliberately works within the tradition of the Victorian novel and consciously uses its conventions to suit his own purpose. At the same time, the reader is made aware of Fowles’ intentions through his authorial intrusions. When the reader is first introduced to Charles and Ernestina, their relationship is typical of those found in Victorian romantic novels. Being Victorian and at least middle class, they both are bound to each other by their sense of duty and propriety. Their engagement is more or less contractual in nature. Ernestina will gain the title of Baroness through her marriage with Charles, and he in turn will get her money. Charles is bored with his age’s repressive conventions. Paleontology is merely a hobby to keep himself occupied. He reads scientific thesis, as he prefers to think of himself as a scientifically aware individual who is quite unlike his Victorian contemporaries. Charles, though, does not realize that he is no different from other Victorian men. He often desires to shrug of his age’s burdensome conventions but rarely motivates himself to break the norm. Both Ernestina and Charles are bound to the conventions of their age. Ernestina, despite being educated and smart, is desperate to conform to the norm. She wants to be a good wife to Charles as this is what society expects of her. She has been socially conditioned, like most Victorians, to act in a proper manner. Charles is indulgent and patronizing of her. Charles treats his fiancée the way most Victorian men usually did. Their women, like their children, were supposed to be seen not heard. When Charles meets Sarah, he feels uncomfortable with her direct and honest manner. She is quite unlike other Victorian women. To Charles this is a novelty, and he becomes obsessed with her. Sarah refuses to let him accept his unquestioning view of life. While trying to respond to her, he is aware of the hollowness of his own conventional responses. Sarah acts as his mentor. She makes him view life from a different perspective. It is because of her that he realizes he has the strength to give up his earlier stable conventional life and to look within himself for direction. Towards the end of the novel, Charles has emerged stronger. He does feel alienate and bitter as he no longer has any illusions to keep him going but he is a changed man. He realizes what every human being at some point in his or her life realizes, that one has to go through certain circumstances in life in order to be able to grow.

Minor Characters

Mary and Millie They are domestic servants. Mary works at Aunt Tranter’s and Millie at Mrs. Poulteney’s. Mary is a bright, vivacious young girl who is treated very well by her mistress. While in Mrs. Poulteney’s service, she is given a hard time and then dismissed for a petty reason. Aunt Tranter, on the other hand, treats her like a human being. Mary is in love with Sam Farrow. She is impressed by his urban ways and dreams of being rich someday. Coming from the lower classes, she is very down-to-earth in her approach to life. Millie, who is in Mrs. Poulteney’s service, is treated badly. She is overworked by Mrs. Fairley and paid very low wages. Coming from the lower classes, she has had a very hard life. Her family is large, and poverty-stricken. Sarah sympathizes with the young child as she too has had a hard life. She befriends Millie and comforts her. The lives of the two domestics are strikingly different. Mrs. Poulteney is harsh and cruel with her staff, whereas Aunt Tranter is adored and respected for her kindness by her staff. Gabriel and Christina Rossetti They are the founders of a school of art popularly known today as the pre-Raphaelite school. Charles finally manages to find Sarah in their employ. She is Mr. Rossetti’s assistant and model. She is comfortable in their home because for the first time in her life, she is surrounded by like-minded people who are her intellectual equal. Charles is shocked by her unconventional image and realizes the influence behind the change. The Rossetti’s had shaken the conventional foundations of English society with their unconventional works. They paved the way for a new breed of writers and artists, who changed the cultural scene of England with their revolutionary works.


Sarah Woodruff From the very beginning, she has been introduced as the French Lieutenant’s Woman. Being the scarlet woman of Lyme, she has been ostracized by the entire community. Charles learns of her through the rumors that abound about her. To him, she presents a picture of dark intrigue and mystery. In fact, her portrayal is supposed to match the mold of the dark, mysterious woman of the typical Victorian romantic novel. Such a character type either played the heroine or the villain but always stood as a symbol of all that was forbidden. Charles paints his own idealistic picture of her and his attraction for Sarah stems mainly from the aura of strangeness that the local rumors have built around her as well as his own imaginings. Sarah’s “strangeness” should be considered in the light of the Victorian era. She is very different from her Victorian counterparts in dress, behavior and attitude. Her unconventional attitude makes her stand out from the conventional community of Lyme. She deliberately chooses to defy convention as she dares to do the forbidden. She is ostracized for having had an affair with a French sailor and is an object of interest to Dr. Grogan who passes off her condition as melancholia. He believes that Sarah deliberately craves attention. To Charles she is an object of desire and obsession. He is too much in love with the idealistic Sarah than the real Sarah. It is for this reason that he finds it difficult to accept Sarah as being a person who is independent of other people’s perception of her as she is at the end. While in Lyme, Sarah had been condemned for what was perceived as her strange attitude. But in London, where economic and social change is occurring, Sarah is welcomed for the person she is. She is more comfortable in London with the Rossettis as she now meets like-minded intellectuals and artists. Her life has undergone a thorough change. She may be seen as one of the few women who consider herself to be liberated. As has been observed in the novel, Sarah does not go through any major change in the novel as she has already reached an awareness that she must go beyond the definition of her individuality that society has imposed upon her. Having been forced to go through an intolerable situation, she was better able to see through it and beyond it in order to find meaning and some sort of happiness in her life. Her choice in that role of the outcast may be seen as a desperate attempt on her part to establish a life within the norms of Victorian society. She falls in love with Charles and through his interaction with her, he learns how to begin to disentangle himself from the conventions that hold him a prisoner. Fowles has ingeniously taken her traditional romantic character of a mysterious woman and transformed her into a human being.

THEMES Major Theme

The Victorian world was not as stable and solid as it seemed. It was a period of transition and change. Old social norms were no longer applicable to the changing order. Thomas Hardy, the novelist, and poets like Matthew Arnold and Alfred Lord Tennyson were sensitive enough to feel this change and raise their doubts about the so-called ‘stability’ proclaimed by prominent leaders of the era. Fowles has picked up this theme and used it in the novel. The French Lieutenant’s Woman is deliberately written in the literary genre of the nineteenth century as it enables Fowles to explore this theme further. Also, it enables Fowles to test the conditions of fiction but within the world of the Victorian novel, with its solid narrative comforts. This novel allows one to understand the best of contemporary British novelists, whose relations with Victorian fiction and culture are often equally intimate and complex. Thus, Fowles is able to explore the relationship between life and art. An artist is expected to be aloof from his creation. T. S. Eliot insisted on non-personal involvement between the writer and his creation. Fowles is attempting to understand this relationship, as he himself is an artist. Also, the theme of an individual desiring his selfhood is explored. Charles has to give up an entire way of life in order to achieve selfhood. With all his illusions shattered he has to learn to cope with his isolation. He is left feeling bitter and alienated, but he is a more aware human being. It is this awareness that will help him to survive in the world alone. By rejecting conventional attitudes and loving Sarah, regardless of the social consequences, he has discovered a strength that he did not possess before. Minor Theme Fowles shrewdly focuses his attention on the unknown aspects of the Victorian period, aspects that would surprise the modern day reader, as they are quite contrary to what is known about the Golden Age. Fowles is a sensitive man as can be seen in his handling of sensitive topics like the treatment of women, for instance. Women were supposed to be seen, not heard. The patriarchal society expected her to act like a proper Victorian lady. She was expected to be loyal to her husband and stay with the children at home. Any woman who deviated from this norm was termed as “mad” or insane. Premarital sex was taboo. The only occupations open to women were those of a governess or a prostitute. Prostitution was a trade which flourished during Victorian era but was rarely talked about. The servant classes and the working classes were an economically and socially oppressed group who were exploited for their labor. However, the rise of industry loosened up the social hierarchy and allowed those from the lower classes to strike out on their own and achieve some financial comfort. The growing middle classes now occupied the middle rungs of the social hierarchical ladder. Industrialization was setting in. Nobility was being replaced by the capitalist class. The laborers continued to be exploited. Hence Fowles chose to use extracts from Karl Marx’s Kapital (1867) to illustrate his concern for these people. The existence of God was a debatable issue in the Age of Reason and Rationality. Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1859) created an uproar within conventional society and greatly influenced people’s thinking as it called into question the assumption that God created the world and promulgated an evolutionary theory of the physical properties of the universe.


The study of literature is not like the study of math or science, or even history. While those disciplines are based largely upon fact, the study of literature is based upon interpretation and analysis. There are no clear-cut answers in literature, outside of the factual information about an author’s life and the basic information about setting and characterization in a piece of literature. The rest is a highly subjective reading of what an author has written; each person brings a different set of values and a different background to the reading. As a result, no two people see the piece of literature in exactly the same light, and few critics agree on everything about a book or an author. In this set of PinkMonkey® Literature Notes for a well-known piece of literature, we at PinkMonkey.com have tried to give an objective literary analysis based upon the information actually found in the novel, book, or play. In the end, however, it is an individual interpretation, but one that we feel can be readily supported by the information that is presented in the guide. In your course of literature study, you or your professor/teacher may come up with a different interpretation of the mood or the theme or the conflict. Your interpretation, if it can be logically supported with information contained within the piece of literature, is just as correct as ours. So is the interpretation of your teacher or professor. Literature is simply not a black or white situation; instead, there are many gray areas that are open to varying analyses. Your task is to come up with your own analysis that you can logically defend. Hopefully, these PinkMonkey® Literature Notes will help you to accomplish that goal.


1. Compare the characters of Sarah and Ernestina and the roles they play within Victorian society. How are their actions and behaviors influenced or affected by Victorian attitudes towards women? How do their varied social and economic status affect their experiences? Explain.

2. Compare several members of the working class with those of their employers. What are their differences in social attitudes towards courting, work or professions, success, and marriage?

3. Discuss Charles as a Victorian gentleman trying to conform to Victorian norms yet aiming to break free from them. Discuss how he avoids realizing who he is. What function do Sarah and paleontology play in his life?

4. Examine Charles’ attitude towards women. Does he idealize some women while exploiting others? Explain.

5. Fowles gives the novel two conclusions. Why? Analysis what each of the endings signifies in terms of the genre of the romance and Fowles’ recreation of it.

6. How does Charles change by his romance with Sarah? Is this change for the better or for the worse? Explain.

7. Sarah allows herself to be ostracized as the French Lieutenant’s Woman despite the rumor not being true. Why is this? What grounds did she have for doing so?

8. How is this novel similar to a popular romance or a gothic novel, either of the nineteenth century or the present. Explain how Fowles uses the convention inherent in these novels and yet also changes them to suit the present age?
9. Do the many quotations from poems and allusions to literary works throw any light on your understanding of either the novel or Victorian attitudes towards life?

10. Fowles tries to explicate about the novel as an art form. What relationship does he draw between the creation and the creator?

11. What objections does Fowles, the narrator, have towards the Victorians and the values they privileged?

12. Can this novel be compared to any other works of the nineteenth century written by someone like Thomas Hardy, a George Eliot, or a Charles Dickens?