The French Lieutenant's Woman By John Fowles Summary and Analysis Chapters 33-37

Returning to the hay-shed where Charles and Sarah are discovered by Sam and Mary, we witness Charles and Sam confronting one another. Sam now knows for certain, though he had suspected before, that Charles is involved with Sarah. Sam's desire that Charles marry Ernestina is threatened by this relationship, but he hopes at this point that his tacit agreement with Charles to be silent about Sarah will place him in a position to influence Charles. Sam realizes that he may have to blackmail Charles to prod him to marry Ernestina, but as of yet, he has made no definite plans. Charles, by contrast, naively assumes that Sam is absolutely loyal. There is much irony in the two men's perception of each other.

Sam and Mary leave, and Charles warns Sarah that Dr. Grogan has mentioned committing her to any asylum. Both are appalled at this idea, and Sarah is convinced she must leave. She plans to go to Exeter. Later, Charles talks to Ernestina and tries to explain that he must leave for a time. She is upset, but not surprised, for she has suspected that he has been having a relationship with Sarah. The exchange is stiff and false, and Charles also meets Mary, a witness of the morning's events, but she, too, will say nothing, so long as her beloved Sam tells her not to.

Just at the time that Charles and Ernestina's relationship becomes more and more of a charade, and Charles hides his true feelings and Ernestina hides her fears and suspicions, Sam and Mary grow even more strongly devoted to each other. Sam will stop at nothing to gain some measure of security for himself and his future wife, and he is a prototype of the ambitious and struggling young businessman who will dominate much of the twentieth century. There are more similarities between Sam and Ernestina's father, Mr. Freeman, than the latter would guess, or care to admit if he did consider them.

Chapter 35 consists of a long digression discussing the role of women in relation to Victorian ideas of sexuality. From this general discussion we return to the courtship of Sam and Mary, one that follows the customs of their period and their class.

One might note that most of the ideas about women's sexuality or lack of it were generated by and for the middle classes. The great number of rural and working classes paid a minimum amount of attention to such repressive notions and lived and married much as they always did. Many of the Victorian conceptions of sexuality dealt with their ideals of the romantic marriage, an ideal which often contradicted the economic realities of marriage and courtship.

Women were treated as "special creatures," things to be admired and cherished. But this admiration carried with it a view that women were helpless and childlike, which, for the majority, resulted in a narrow and restricted life. They may have been cherished and pampered, but women of the middle classes were often just plain bored. Even continuous childbearing didn't serve to keep them occupied, since their servants contributed most of the work involved in caring for children. For the poor, the ideals of Victoria made little change in their lives; they worked long and hard and received no emotional or financial remuneration.

After Sarah goes to Exeter, she takes up residence at Endicott's Family Hotel, a rather disreputable place in the poorer section of town. With a portion of the money which Charles has given her to live on, she buys a few things-a dark green merino shawl and a Toby jug. She is excited that she is actually purchasing and owning something. Finally she has done what has always been denied her. We see the contrast of her natural dignity and simplicity against the utter poverty of her surroundings.

One might compare the apparent serenity of Sarah's quiet life at the hotel with the quotation from Tennyson's In Memoriam in which he alludes to the passion underlying many of Sarah's seemingly innocent acts. This suggests that there is more going on in Sarah's mind at this moment than is apparent in this chapter.

The last sentence in the chapter, "Then she began to eat, and without any delicacy whatsoever," brings us back to the implication that Sarah is a more earthy and passionate creature than either she appears at this moment, or than her society would have us believe of women in general.

Sarah, unlike Ernestina, does not have to be a lady, which in Victorian terms, meant denying that she had a body, or was capable of feeling passion or desire. Women were, as we have noted, believed to be delicate creatures: If they thought too much or studied too hard or exerted themselves physically, they became ill. Many people even believed that a lady was not capable of enjoying sexual intercourse with her husband. There was a joke to that effect, in which the husband advised his wife on performing her wifely duty. "Just lie back, Dear, and think of England." However, if a woman was poor, she must have been much healthier, from society's point of view, for the poor (men, women, and children) worked long hours doing difficult jobs in factories and mines, and only the hardy survived.

The feminist movement was beginning in England at this time, along with other reform movements. Although women were barely beginning to question their circumscribed lives, some slow progress was being made towards a measure of social and economic freedom.

Returning to Charles' problems, we listen as he meets with Mr. Freeman to inform him of his changed prospects. While the latter is somewhat surprised at what he hears, this change does not alter Charles' marrying Ernestina, in Mr. Freeman's opinion. In addition, the two discuss a topic that they previously were reluctant to discuss — that is, the possibility of Charles' future employment in Mr. Freeman's company. Charles, Mr. Freeman says, would be an executive of course, and we should be aware that in this period there was a sharp distinction drawn between those who worked in trade for a living, even when they owned the company, and those who inherited their wealth.

The interview is eventually concluded, evidently to the satisfaction of both parties, and Charles is led in to meet Mrs. Freeman. We see his discomfort with these people, which stems partly from his background of old wealth and from his doubts, still largely unadmitted, about his marriage to Ernestina. Charles later admits that he hoped Mr. Freeman would cancel the wedding when he told the gentleman of the probable loss of both his inheritance and his title. He is, of course, feeling disappointed and trapped. Mr. Freeman still approves of the marriage. Charles also feels guilty because he should feel grateful for Mr. Freeman's generous offers of employment and future help for the couple, but he does not.

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