The French Lieutenant's Woman: Chapters 37-39

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Chapter Thirty Seven begins with Charles meeting Mr. Freeman (Ernestina’s father). Mr. Freeman is described as a forerunner of ‘the modern rich commuter’, but he goes in for earnestness rather than golf, roses, gin or adultery. After Charles explains about his uncle’s marriage, Mr. Freeman says his main concern is for his daughter’s happiness. Charles gives him a letter written by Ernestina and after reading it Mr. Freeman places his hand on ‘the scrupulous one’s shoulder’ and says he finds him even more admirable in adversity than in good fortune. He tells him to return to Lyme Regis.
Mr. Freeman then turns the conversation to how he does not have a male heir and asks if commerce is abhorrent to Charles (as this is not considered worthy of a gentleman). Charles looks shocked at the idea of working in commerce, but assures Mr. Freeman his hesitation has nothing to with ‘social considerations’. This hesitation allows Mr. Freeman to seize his chance and refers Charles to theories of evolution and the need to adapt to survive. Charles agrees to give the idea some thought, but feels overwhelmed and has a poignant flash of love for Winsyatt. He also notes the difference between the theory of evolution and the practice.
When Charles leaves Mr. Freeman’s town mansion in Chapter Thirty Eight, he walks through Mayfair to go to his club. He is compared to a ‘poor living fossil’ as the ‘brisker and fitter forms of life’ of the lower classes jostled by: aristocrats and the wealthy generally caught cabs. As he walks, he remembers the sensation that all could be hidden in London, whereas Lyme is a town of ‘sharp eyes’. He thinks of Paris and wishes to escape there. He passes a mews and has the revelation that ‘the lower orders were secretly happier than the upper’.
He thinks of Mr. Freeman’s offer again and now sees it as an insult; he feels like a ‘bought husband’. By coincidence, he realizes he has walked towards Freeman’s great store in Oxford Street and believes he would rather be the beggar outside than pass through the doors. Snobbism and fear are two reasons for this, but also the pursuit of money ‘was an insufficient purpose in life’ for him.
The narrator intercedes and argues that the Victorian gentleman’s best qualities may be traced back to the ‘parfit knights’ of the Middle Ages and forward to scientists: ‘They all rejected the notion of possession as the purpose of life.’ A parallel is also drawn with the New Testament and the myth of the Temptation in the Wilderness, which we have all come across. Charles catches a hansom cab to go to his club and consoles himself with the thought of bowl of milk punch and a pint of champagne.
In Chapter Thirty Nine, Charles’s club is described as being like many English gentlemen’s clubs as it pandered to the adolescent in man. He sees two former fellow-students when he enters. One of these, Sir Thomas Burgh, sins without shame ‘but also without hypocrisy’. Charles gets drunk with them and chooses to go with them to a brothel as a ‘last debauch’.
As they are driven around the area of brothels, Charles finds the streets ‘delicious, gay, animated, and above all, unFreemanish’. They go into a brothel, but Charles leaves before selecting a prostitute. He catches another cab alone, and stops it when they pass a prostitute who reminds him of Sarah. She gets in and they go to her home.
Analysis – Chapters Thirty Seven, Thirty Eight and Thirty Nine
Mr. Freeman offers Charles the future control of his business (as he is his future son-in-law), but Charles baulks at the thought of being involved in commerce and being bought by his wife’s father. Snobbery is inherent in his attitude as he considers this ‘pursuit of money’ to be grubby and does not consider that he has been fortunate to not have to follow such a path. He claims that ‘social considerations’, of class distinctions, have not affected him, but his decision to then go on to the gentleman’s club symbolize his preference for those of his class.
His awkwardness with Mr. Freeman is defended a little by the narrator as gentlemen are described as having similarities with knights and scientists, but his flight to the club (where men are treated like adolescents) offers a subtle critique of the status of gentlemen. These men are arrested in their development as they refuse to grow up and engage with the world below them.

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