The French Lieutenant's Woman By John Fowles Summary and Analysis Chapters 28-32

Here, Fowles inserts a recounting of Lieutenant de La Roncière, based on the evidence of Marie de Morell, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Roncière's commanding officer. Marie, it seems, provided false evidence in the form of "poison-pen threats" allegedly written by Roncière. Although numerous contemporary observers of the trial protested the verdict, Roncière was found guilty and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Later discussions of the case note the personality disturbances of young Marie, and present evidence indicates that Roncière was innocent of her accusations.

Dr. Grogan gives this information to Charles, hoping he will find some similarities between the story of this woman and her French lieutenant, and the situation Sarah appears to find herself in. The doctor quite honestly believes that Sarah is emotionally unbalanced and suffers from the same melancholia that was thought to plague many young women. His diagnosis indicates an interesting example of the Victorian attitude towards women. While women were often idealized as being pure, loving, kind, and nurturing, they were also seen as being weak, childlike, and subject to all manner of illnesses. Often a woman's perfectly normal expressions of strong will or emotion were taken to indicate that she was unbalanced or even insane.

The author of the article about Lieutenant de La Roncière discusses ways in which hysterical young women attempted to attract attention to themselves. However, in a footnote, Fowles indicates that although this particular Victorian physician was zealous in placing all the blame on Marie, Roncière did in fact have some part in the case, though not nearly the role Marie implied. Thus he casts a doubt that even the enlightened discoveries of psychology and medicine can claim to answer human problems or fully describe human situations.

Charles finishes reading the account, but remains unconvinced. His memory of Sarah does not resemble the portrait which he has just examined of Marie de Morell. He changes his clothes and decides that he will go to see Sarah himself. He is apprehensive about Grogan's judgment of Sarah and does not wish to see her incarcerated. He also cannot resist the temptation to see her again. He is singularly unaware of his true motives, knowing little about what he really desires. What is interesting, as we shall see, is that Sarah does not fathom her own motives, in spite of the apparent singleness of her vision.

Thus, early in the morning, Charles goes to the derelict cottage used by the man from the dairy for storing hay, the building that Sarah described in her note. The place appears deserted, but Charles looks over a stall, half-fearing to find her dead and sees her, sleeping.

Chapter 30 is a flashback to Sarah's earlier confrontation with Mrs. Poulteney, which led to her dismissal and sudden disappearance. Mrs. Poulteney, as usual, is self-righteous and vindictive. She gives Sarah an envelope and tells her to leave. Sarah asks to know why she is being dismissed, although she is aware that Mrs. Fairly saw her on Ware Commons, possibly with Charles although it is unlikely that he was seen. Mrs. Poulteney calls Sarah a "public scandal," an accusation about which Sarah says absolutely nothing except that she will leave. She even refuses her wages, suggesting that Mrs. Poulteney take the money to buy an instrument of torture to use on those who are unfortunate enough to come into association with her. This retort upsets Mrs. Poulteney so thoroughly that she dramatically falls into a faint. Sarah then goes to her room and cries herself to sleep. She decides that she will leave the next morning.

Fowles returns his narrative to Charles. Looking over the partition, our hero sees Sarah asleep. His desire to protect her overwhelms him and, as he talks to her, he tries to convince her to leave Lyme. Then the real reason that he has sought her out yet one more time overtakes him, and they embrace. This scene occurs several times in the book; Charles, at one point, agrees to meet Sarah one more time, only to succumb to feelings of passionate physical attraction rather than the altruistic "duty" he thinks he is feeling.

Back at Aunt Tranter's house, Ernestina is tense, with good cause; she is disturbed about her minor argument with Charles, but has vowed in her diary to be more loving and dutiful, a note that strikes falsely with her normally wry attitude. Fowles explains that she is a victim of her environment and her upbringing. In spite of a valuable sense of irony, she is still a proper young lady and she tries to conform. We also discover that Sam has decided to leave Charles, which upsets Mary considerably. But we should realize by now that Sam is exploitative in his relationship with Charles and that he feels justified in getting what he can from him.

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