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


The French Lieutenant's Woman: Chapters 40-42

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Chapters 40-42

Charles and the prostitute get out of the cab in Chapter Forty and go to her rooms. She has a child, which sleeps in the other room, and Charles asks about her father. He also wonders if she could find other means to make money.
After she undresses, he continues to drink the alcohol she has given him and then also undresses. He feels nauseous, though, and vomits into the pillow when she tells him her name is Sarah.
In Chapter Forty One, Charles has a hangover the next day. He remembers the previous night and how he was sick several times. Whilst Sarah caught him a cab to leave, he heard the child cry and went into her room. She was only quieted when he gave her his watch to play with. This restores his sense of irony, which he had lost after talking to ‘Freeman’. He then had the opposite of the ‘Sartrean experience’; for Charles, the ultimate hell was ‘infinite and empty space’. He left Sarah five sovereigns and this brings tears to her eyes and he calls her ‘a brave, kind girl’.
His hangover begins to recede in Chapter Forty Two and his optimism returns. Sam then brings him two letters. The first is from Doctor Grogan saying he believes Sarah is now in Exeter, but fears she may try to follow Charles to London. After reading it, Charles feels a guilty relief that his secret has not been discovered (that is, that he knows Sarah). The second letter was posted in Exeter and contains just three words. It is an address and is not the flood of words and pages that he expected; he then throws it on the fire.
Sam tells Charles that he wants to marry Mary, but if so he would have to live out. He then explains that he would like to go into business and run a little shop. Charles asks how much the outlay would be and Sam tells him he needs £280 altogether at first. Charles is described as making his first ‘fatal mistake’ as he warns Sam not to have ideas above his station.
He then tells Sam he has not much money to spare as his uncle is to marry and wants Sam not to tell people about this. Sam replies that he knows how to keep a secret and Charles looks round sharply at this, but Sam’s are looking modestly down.
Charles makes his second fatal mistake and says he does not want to dash Sam’s hopes and finances will be easier once he is married. Sam is hyperbolic in his thanks and when he leaves, Charles wonders if there is not something of Uriah Heep coming through in Sam’s personality.
Sam reads the telegrams Charles has written and has already read one of the letters that Charles received that morning. Sam does not think of himself as dishonest. It is rather that the thought of marriage ‘does strange things’ and he sees his action as ‘playing your cards right’.
Analysis – Chapters Forty, Forty One and Forty Two
Charles is described as making two fatal mistakes when dealing with Sam and it is strongly suggested that the tension between this master and servant is going to increase. It is also implied that Charles will suffer for his supposed sins and for his arrogance and ineptitude when dealing with the lower classes.
Sam has decided to play his cards right and now that he is to marry Mary he has familial concerns. Charles’s misreading of his servant’s situation is intrinsic to his position as gentleman. As a gentleman, he traditionally holds the power and decides Sam’s fate (such as where they will live). However, now Sam has power in the form of knowledge, Charles’s position is becoming weaker.


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