The French Lieutenant's Woman: Chapters 6-7

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The narrative returns to Mrs. Poulteney in Chapter Six and to the time when she decides whether or not to employ Sarah Woodruff. The vicar (Mr. Forsythe) explains she is from Charmouth. He is not sure of her age, but knows she has trained to be a governess and is now unemployed. Her father was a farmer and she had worked for Captain Talbot’s family in Charmouth. He took in a French officer of a barque that was driven ashore. Sarah was called upon to be his interpreter and to ‘look after his needs’. Mr. Forsythe assures Mrs. Poulteney that no misconduct took place between Sarah and the officer at the Talbot home, but the Frenchman did engage her affections. Two days after he left, Sarah asked Mrs Talbot if she could leave her post. She allowed Sarah to leave without notice and without knowing why.
Mr. Forsythe explains that Sarah joined the Frenchman in Weymouth, but lodged with a female cousin at this time. Mrs. Poulteney says this does not excuse her, but he reminds her she is of the lower classes that are ‘not so scrupulous about appearances as ourselves’; furthermore, Sarah went to Weymouth believing that he wanted to marry her. After some days, the Frenchman left for France and promised to return in a new ship (as a captain) and said he would then marry her and take her away. Mr. Forsythe says she was told lies, but she has waited for him since. He thinks Sarah suffers from melancholia and is ‘slightly crazed’ as she insists on looking out to sea.
In her interview with Mrs. Poulteney, Sarah is asked to write a letter and read from the Bible. She is impressed by her performance and by her apparent sorrow. Sarah accepts the job when it is offered because Mrs. Poulteney’s home (Marlborough House) has a good view of Lyme Bay and because she has only sevenpence left.
In Chapter Seven, Charles is woken by his manservant, Sam. With sunlight pouring into the room, Charles feels ‘all was supremely well’.
He and Sam have been together for four years and know each other better than many couples. Sam is 10 years younger than Charles and the narrator then compares him to Sam Weller (of Pickwick Papers). They have a similar background, as both are Cockney servants, but Pickwick Papers came out 30 years previously. This Sam is aware of Sam Weller through stage versions of the novel and thinks his generation of Cockneys are ‘a cut above all that’. He is one of the ‘new young prosperous artisans and would-be superior domestics’ who go into ‘competition sartorially’. Sam and his ilk are known as ‘snobs’ and he spends most of his wages on clothes. He also shows ‘another mark of this new class in his struggle to command the language’.
The relationship between Charles and Sam has some affection even though Charles’s humor is based on his privileged education. Charles has been born into many generations of ‘servant-handlers’, but the new rich, who were often children of servants, are more exacting employers. The difference between Sam Weller and Sam Farrow (Charles’s servant) is that the first was happy with his role, whereas ‘the second suffered it’.
Analysis – Chapters Six and Seven
The class divides in Victorian England are focussed upon in these two chapters as the readers are given a little background to Sarah and Sam. Mr. Forsythe is the filter by which we and Mrs Poulteney learn more about Sarah and her supposed indiscretions. He makes the point that those of the lower classes care less about appearances, as though to excuse Sarah’s behavior to her future employer. This is, however, an effective argument as she is then deemed less accountable for her actions as much as a child may be excused for not conforming to society’s rules.
Sam is described as epitomizing the new breed of class that is less prepared to be subservient in the role of servant. By giving an insight into his perspective, the ‘lower classes’ are also allowed to be individuals within the novel if not in the society they exist in. In addition, because the narrator informs the readers of his discontent, it is possible to see why he becomes even more disaffected with Charles in later chapters.

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