The French Lieutenant's Woman: Chapters 28-30

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Summary – Chapters Twenty Eight, Twenty Nine and Thirty

Chapter Twenty Eight begins with references to the trial that is discussed in the book Grogan has given to Charles. This is the 1835 trial of Lieutenant Emile de La Roncière. He was accused of writing poison pen letters to his commanding officer, Baron de Morell, and was further accused of sexually assaulting his 16-year-old daughter, Marie. Despite the lack of evidence, he was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. The narrator argues he was condemned by other factors, such as ‘social prestige’ and ‘the myth of the pure-minded virgin’
The passages marked by Grogan are written by Dr. Karl Matthaei for an abortive appeal against the guilty verdict. The date of most of the obscene letters fell into a ‘menstrual pattern’ and the doctor’s evidence also explained the meaning of hysteria as such: ‘The symptoms of disease or disability in order to gain the attention and sympathy of others’. He argues this is caused by sexual repression and then gives various examples of this in cases of female self-harm and violence.
Charles has no idea such ‘perversions’ existed in the ‘pure and sacred sex’. He identifies with La Roncière and shivers at the knowledge that he was born on the date La Roncière was convicted. ‘Reason and science’ dissolve for a moment and Charles has never felt less free. By 4:00 am, he is no longer sleepy. He feels extreme guilt and worries that he has exaggerated Sarah’s ‘strangeness’ when talking to Grogan in order to shift his own guilt on to her. Charles compares himself to Pontius Pilate and feels that he has encouraged a crucifixion. The chapter ends two hours later with Charles changing his clothes.
In Chapter Twenty Nine, Charles leaves the White Lion at dawn and walks to where Sarah will be (on Ware Commons). He notes the wildlife around him, but feels excommunicated and cannot enjoy this Eden. He enters a barn and sees a black bonnet hanging on a nail. This fills him with dread and he almost turns and runs, but he hears a ‘ghost of a sound’ and looks over a partition.
Chapter Thirty shifts to Sarah and goes back to the time when she returned ‘home’ to Mrs. Poulteney after she last saw Charles. Sarah is called to Mrs. Poulteney, is given a month’s wages and is asked to leave the house by the next morning. This is because Mrs. Fairley has reported seeing her on the Commons, but this is not mentioned. When Sarah asks why she has been dismissed, Mrs. Poulteney replies that she will write to the vicar and see she is locked away. She then calls her a ‘public scandal’.
After being ordered to leave the room, Sarah says she will with pleasure as she has only ever experienced hypocrisy in it, but does not take her wages. She tells Mrs. Poulteney to buy an instrument of torture with them. She then questions the idea that Mrs. Poulteney will have the ear of God in the world to come.
Analysis – Chapters Twenty Eight, Twenty Nine and Thirty
As Charles reads about the La Roncière case, he at first feels empathy for this wronged man who is the victim of class snobbery and hysteria. Charles demonstrates some form of awakening, though, when he experiences guilt for damning Sarah in front of Grogan. He unconsciously challenges the misogyny of the definitions of hysteria, which are as marginalizing as the stereotyped belief in the pure-minded virgin. Both the virgin and hysteric are myths that have been used to wrongly classify (and stereotype) women as inferior to men and Charles’s guilt demonstrates that he is uncomfortable with Sarah being given such unfair labelling.

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