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


The French Lieutenant's Woman: Chapters 55-57

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On the train the next morning, in Chapter Fifty Five, a bearded man gets into Charles’s compartment. As Charles falls asleep, the ‘prophet-bearded man’ appraises him. He gives him a look of an ‘omnipotent god’ and the narrator (and novelist) admits this man is he. As he stares at Charles, he wonders what he will do with him. The conventions of Victorian literature allow no place ‘for the open, the inconclusive ending’ and the narrator compares a writer to one that fixes fights. He decides the only way he can avoid taking part in this fight fixing is to show two different endings. There is a dilemma that the second version will seem like that the final, ‘real’ one so he tosses a coin to decide the order. Both Charles and the narrator alight at Paddington Station and the bearded man disappears into the throng.
Chapter Fifty Six explains that Charles has been looking for Sarah for three weeks and has hired detectives for assistance. Slowly, Charles begins to understand Sarah’s feelings of resentment towards the bias in society (which is against her sex and class). One morning he fears she may have turned to prostitution and visits the Haymarket area, but still does not find her.
He receives a letter from Mr Freeman’s solicitors and is requested to come to this solicitor on Friday at 3 pm. His own solicitor, Montague, thinks he will be asked to sign a statement of guilt. They both attend the meeting and Charles is informed that they know the name of the woman involved. Charles is relieved there is to be no court action taken against him, but he has to sign the statement that names Sarah and exonerates Ernestina. Montague discovers later that Mr Freeman intends to show this statement to Charles’s next father-in-law and he wants him to remain a bachelor all of his life.
Charles continues to search for Sarah, but stops by June. Montague advises him to go abroad and also advises he checks the Record of Deaths to see if Sarah is named there. Sarah is not recorded and the next week Charles abruptly decides to go abroad.
In Chapter Fifty Seven, the narrative jumps forward by 20 months to early February 1869. A young woman is walking in Chelsea; her child is at home and she holds herself like an expectant mother. Her face is without envy as she looks at the new houses and her mouth falls open when she sees a woman alight from a cab and enter one of them. The young woman is Mary and she later tells Sam ‘it was ‘er’.
Sam had thrown himself on Aunt Tranter’s mercy after leaving Charles’s employ. He told her Charles had promised to lend him £400 to set up in business and after he is helped to find work he tells her about Sarah. When Aunt Tranter visits her brother-in-law (Mr. Freeman) she tells him how honorably Sam has behaved. Sam is given a job in his Oxford Street store and impresses Mr. Freeman with an imaginative window display. He is given a pay rise and bonus, but feels guilty (as though he has made a pact with the devil). Mary wears the brooch Charles had intended to give Sarah (in the packet that Sam did not deliver) and Sam knows he will finally have to pay for it.
Analysis – Chapters Fifty Five, Fifty Six and Fifty Seven
The appearance of the novelist in Chapter Fifty Five, as well as his decision to decide the order of ‘endings’, emphasises again how this novel is strongly influenced by postmodern thinking. The arbitrariness of truth and the uncertainty of meaning are being played with as the fictional Fowles is seen to toss his coin in order to decide the fate of his main characters. This use of metafiction (when fiction talks about the fiction-making process) is also elemental to postmodern concerns as it highlights the fictionality of this novel and the reality we live in.


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