The French Lieutenant's Woman Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The French Lieutenant's Woman: Chapters 31-33

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Chapter Thirty One returns to Charles looking over a partition and we are informed that he has seen Sarah asleep. He says her name, Miss Woodruff, although he had not intended to. He informs her that a search party has been out looking for her and that it is clear she must now leave Lyme. He tells her to control herself when she takes his hand and raises it to his lips. She says she cannot and then falls to her knees saying she has lied to him: she made sure that Mrs Fairley saw her on the Commons. ‘The moment overcame the age’ as he then takes her in his arms and kisses her. He then pushes her violently away and turns and rushes through the door. Unfortunately, he rushes into ‘yet another horror’ and it was not Doctor Grogan.
In Chapter Thirty Two, the readers are told that Ernestina has not been able to sleep that night either and she has seen that the light has been on in Charles’s room (in the White Lion) long after her aunt went to sleep. She thinks this is a sign that Charles is displeased with her. The narrator considers how the middle-class ‘habitually despises itself’ and Ernestina is no exception (for thinking she is not good enough in terms of class distinctions). She gets up and writes in her diary. She asks God to forgive her for being angry at the news of Charles’s uncle getting married and promises to honor and obey Charles. She then falls asleep and is still asleep when Sam comes to Aunt Tranter’s having being told he and Charles are leaving at noon. Aunt Tranter finds Mary in tears and lets her off duty until Ernestina needs her later in the morning.
Chapter Thirty Three returns to the barn and it is difficult to say who is more shocked, the master or the servants. Sam and Mary both see Sarah in the barn and Mary retreats whilst Charles tells Sam that he is here on the request of the doctor and nobody must know. When they leave, Charles gives Sarah his purse of money and tells her he must go to London and advises her to leave for Exeter. She proclaims, ‘seeing you is all I live for!’, but this makes him feel threatened. She then tells him that if she had wished to kill herself, she would have done so before now and accepts his loan with gratitude. He lets her know about the talk in the town of having her committed to an institution and repeats that she should go to Exeter and Mrs. Talbot and Mrs. Tranter will give her references. He walks up the path with her and before they part he tells her he will never forget her.  Ten minutes later, Charles sees a short figure in the distance (which could be Doctor Grogan); Charles hesitates and then continues walking.
Analysis – Chapters Thirty One, Thirty Two and Thirty Three
Class distinctions are a strong theme in this novel and Chapter Thirty One offers a useful insight into explaining how the middle classes are, to some extent, controlled by an internalized form of control: by self-hatred. Ernestina is representative of how the members of the bourgeoisie unconsciously use this self-loathing as a form of self-punishment and how this, in turn, maintains the status quo. This is because those higher in the hierarchy continue to be envied and revered and the class differences remain in place.


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