The French Lieutenant's Woman: Chapters 34-36

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Charles and Ernestina are talking in Chapter Thirty Four and she is inwardly seething that he is to leave that day. She is also annoyed that when he arrives he talks to Aunt Tranter at length in the hall and their conversation is inaudible. Furthermore, when he comes into see her, he does not compliment her attire.
He insists he has to go to London to sign papers and to let her father know that his prospects have changed. He says this is his duty, and so has to do it, but she will not be mollified. The readers are told that he does not like it when she is wilful, especially as this contrasts so sharply ‘with her elaborate clothes’. She relents and thinks to herself that a time will come when Charles will be made to pay for his cruelty. He kisses her, but feels a ‘sense of pollution’ having kissed another woman’s lips earlier that day.
On his way out of the house, Charles speaks to Mary and asks if Sam has explained the circumstances of that morning. He gives her a small gold coin even though she says she does not want it.
Chapter Thirty Five begins by pointing out the double standards inherent in the nineteenth century. It is an age, for example, where women are seen as sacred, yet it is also the time when a 13-year-old girl can be bought for a few pounds.
Following this, a defence of sorts is offered for sublimation as the narrator considers how the twentieth century may be regarded as more ‘Victorian’ as sex has entered the public imagination and thus much of the pleasure has been destroyed.
The narrative shifts to Mary and how she is not an ‘innocent country virgin’ as the two adjectives are not compatible in this period. Pre-marital intercourse is the rule and not the exception in Victorian rural England and the narrator quotes the daughter of Thomas Hardy’s doctor (in 1883) in support of this.
Hardy and his family are then discussed as an example of this rule rather than exception as it is thought that he broke off the engagement to his cousin when he discovered that she was the illegitimate daughter of his illegitimate half-sister. It is possible to guess why Sam and Mary where visiting the barn and, because it was not the first time, we are told it is possible to understand Mary’s tears. (The suggestion is that she is pregnant, although in keeping with the era that the novel is set, this is not stated clearly).
In Chapter Thirty Six, it is revealed that Exeter 100 years ago was seen notoriously as a place to hide. It offers safe sanctuaries from ‘the stern moral tide’, like all larger provincial towns, for ‘this unfortunate army of females wounded in the battle for universal masculine purity’.
Sarah is staying in Exeter at Endicott’s Family Hotel. In her room, she takes off her bonnet, shakes out her hair and unwraps the purchases she has just acquired. These include a Toby jug, a dark green shawl and a roll of bandage. Charles has given her 10 sovereigns and this was enough ‘to transform Sarah’s approach to the external world’. For the first time in her adult life, she is having a holiday. Because she appears so ‘equanimous’, we are told we may presume she has heard from Charles, but this is not so and the narrator says he does not intend on finding out what is going through her mind.
Analysis – Chapters Thirty Four, Thirty Five and Thirty Six
In Chapter Thirty Six, Sarah has arrived in Exeter, that sanctuary from the moral tide, and she is seen to be at peace on her first adult holiday. Her happiness does not appear to rest on Charles’s presence, as does Ernestina’s in Chapter Thirty Four.
The narrator’s reluctance to relate what she is thinking means that she is given a sense of individuality from other characters (such as Ernestina), but it is also a device that allows her to remain as enigmatic to the readers as she is to Charles. By not intruding into her thoughts, her actions become mysterious and are, therefore, a means for maintaining tension.

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