The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

by

John Fowles

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The French Lieutenant’s Woman: Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Once Charles and Ernestina return to Aunt Tranter’s and are left alone, Ernestina bursts into tears and throws herself into Charles’s arms. They’ve never had a disagreement before, and she can’t stand that it’s her fault. Charles easily forgives her and points out that since they themselves have fallen in love, they can’t be angry with Sam and Mary for doing the same. She says she can’t bear to wait until their wedding, and Charles jokes that they could elope. He kisses her, and she blushes, her heart pounding. They imagine Mrs. Poulteney’s reaction if she could see them, and Ernestina has a fit of giggles. They think of how wonderful it is to be modern and living in this time.
Under Charles’s influence, Ernestina easily sheds the judgmental, power-hungry side of her character that Mrs. Poulteney brought out. Though Ernestina is more eager to be married than Charles is, she would never actually consider eloping because it would be far too rebellious. A modern reader will probably find it ironic that Charles and Ernestina are so thrilled with the daring of their intimacy and the progressiveness of their time, considering how repressed they really are—it all depends on perspective.
Themes
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Sexuality and Gender Theme Icon
Mrs. Tranter has been waiting outside, fearing that they’re quarrelling, but when she enters the room Ernestina is laughing and asks whether she can give one of her dresses to Mary. After Mary includes Ernestina in her prayers that night, she tries on the dress again. Her reflection, lit by candlelight, could tempt God himself.
Ernestina uses her wealth to assuage her conscience, and Mary has no qualms about accepting gifts from her oppressor. Fowles doesn’t just scoff at repressive Victorian interpretations of religion; he even suggests that God himself has sexual urges, which is undoubtedly blasphemous.
Themes
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Sexuality and Gender Theme Icon
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
The next morning while Sam shaves Charles, Charles says that he doesn’t need Sam here, so he can return to London. Sam is silent, then says he’d rather stay. Charles retorts that Sam is up to no good here, which Sam denies. Charles says he doesn’t want Sam to have to interact with Mary anymore. Sam explains that he’s reconciled with her. When Charles insists that he should leave, Sam begins to sulk. Charles teases him about the complete change of heart he has had in the last twenty-four hours, and Sam trembles with indignation, saying that he and Mary are humans, not horses. Charles apologizes and says that he doesn’t want Sam to break Mary’s heart, and he must not see her again until Charles has discovered whether Mary and Mrs. Tranter are all right with it. Sam grins and says he’s a Derby duck, which is one that’s already cooked.
Charles again acts in a very teasing and condescending manner towards Sam, which is clearly a direct result of their class difference—Charles doesn’t really take Sam’s life seriously or believe that’s it’s of consequence in any way. Sam’s insistence that he and Mary are humans shows the entire problem of the Victorian class system. The lower class gets treated as less than human, often as property, and even if Charles generally treats his servants well, he needs this reminder that Sam can love or be hurt as much as Charles himself can. The fact that Sam needs Mrs. Tranter’s permission to pursue Mary reinforces the idea that servants are property.
Themes
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