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


The French Lieutenant's Woman: Chapters 49-51

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In Chapter Forty Nine, Charles returns the key to the curate and refuses the offer of confession. He is ‘striven from established religion for the rest of his life’. His old sense of ‘Duty and Propriety’ still prevail, though, and does not return to Sarah (to tell her he wants her), but takes up his first task of cleansing himself of his obligations as only then could he offer her his hand.
A claim is made by the narrator that every Victorian had two minds. It is described as a schizophrenia and can be seen in work by Tennyson and Hardy and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is considered to be possibly the best guide to the age. Charles, we are told, has at least two minds.
Back at his hotel, he asks Sam to fill him a tub and he then proceeds to wash his shirt clean of blood. He writes a letter to Sarah informing her that he will terminate his engagement to Ernestina and his intentions are honourable. It takes several drafts to complete it and it is so late that he decides not to send it to her immediately. He imagines Sarah will have wept herself to sleep by now.
The next day, he gives Sam the letter and packet (giving her a brooch), and address, and tells him to wait 10 minutes for a reply. After that, he is to come straight back as they are going to Lyme Regis and returning to Exeter that night. On his return, Sam says there is no reply and Charles is pleased as he said she could give the contents back if she wished.
The narrative shifts to Lyme Regis as Sam tells Mary about Charles and, it is implied, about Sarah. Sam says he will leave his job and Charles has no money to give. The chapter ends with Sam saying he will tell her someone who has, though, if they play their cards right.
Chapter Fifty describes Charles and Sam’s arrival in Lyme Regis just before 2:00 pm. Charles visits Ernestina and says he must tell her the truth. He proceeds to explain that he is not worthy of her. She does not faint (as he expects), but asks him to explain. She does not believe him when he claims he saw in her a ‘brilliant opportunity’, which he thought would turn to love. He goes on to deny he has difficulties with marrying into trade.
As she talks, listing her own faults, intuition strikes her and she accuses him of lying and thinks something must have happened. He then admits something has happened, but she does not know the woman. After crying, she threatens to bring action against him; she also presumes his mistress is titled and goes on to criticize the nobility.
He starts to depart, but stops when she slumps to the floor. His first instinct is to go to her, but thinks she fell too carefully. He recognizes the ‘catatonia of convention’ and leaves her with Mary.

Charles calls for Doctor Grogan in Chapter Fifty One and asks him to visit Ernestina. He explains what has happened, but asks him not to mention Sarah’s name. When Charles is back in his rooms, Sam comes to ask if it is true, and wants to know what will happen now. Charles tries to be dismissive and Sam resigns in anger. We are told Sam regrets this somewhat, but mutiny is not his only crime. This chapter ends with the arrival of Doctor Grogan.
Analysis – Chapters Forty Nine, Fifty and Fifty One
Chapter Forty Nine marks Charles’s decision to confront his desires and to repudiate Ernestina. It is telling that despite his choice to marry Sarah and to go against all he has been raised by, he is still concerned to act on Duty and Propriety first before he is able to be honorable when he asks her to marry him. It is also revealing that although he wishes to act in such a way, he is extremely reluctant to admit the full truth to Ernestina. As it is also explained in this chapter, his mind is typical of his era as he demonstrates a capacity for the ‘schizophrenia’ of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.


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