Charles and Ernestina have planned a surprise party for Aunt Tranter that evening. They’re all going to dine in Charles’s rooms, and Dr. Grogan is going to join them. The doctor is considered a good catch for marriage, and Ernestina teases her aunt about him. However, he’s a confirmed bachelor. He’s also Irish. He doesn’t put up with any foolishness, but he’s witty and doesn’t meddle. There’s something dark about him because he was born a Catholic, though he’s converted to Anglicanism. No one in Lyme can imagine that someone would go to church without caring about it. He’s also an excellent doctor. Grogan is so satisfied with the food Charles provides that he takes over the role of host. He’s very worldly and has lots of good stories, even if they’re not entirely true. Aunt Tranter laughs at them more than anyone.
Dr. Grogan is presented in part as a foil, or character opposite, to Mrs. Poulteney. He’s not religious, though he puts on enough of a show of religion to keep from scandalizing the town. Instead, his very profession automatically connects him to science. As an Irishman and a former Catholic in a country that dislikes Irish people and Catholics, Grogan is a bit of an outsider to society himself, though he navigates his position so well that everyone seems to like him. He’s also one of the few characters who’s considered to have broad experience of the world.
Normally, Charles would have enjoyed the evening very much, particularly since Dr. Grogan makes some comments that aren’t quiet proper. Though Ernestina seems a little shocked, Aunt Tranter doesn’t, and Charles thinks that the older generation was less repressed and ruled by society in its youth than his is. He’s aware that this sentiment is inconsistent with his own conventionality towards Sarah earlier. He tells himself that he’s taken her too seriously. He’s particularly attentive to Ernestina, but he notices again that she’s rather shallow and robotic. He reminds himself that she’s just a child.
After visiting Mrs. Poulteney, Charles and Ernestina thought how glad they were to be living in their modern, relatively liberal time, but now Charles thinks of the past as less restrained than the present. This gives a sense that history is not objective, but based on individual interpretation and the state of the present. Charles continues to excuse Ernestina’s attitude as being due to her youth, but he doesn’t consider that if this is true, perhaps her age makes them ill-matched.
Charles and Dr. Grogan escort the ladies back home, and the doctor invites Charles to his house for a drink. They sit in Dr. Grogan’s study, which looks out over a bay. Grogan likes to watch the ladies swimming, and he even has a telescope at the window. Charles looks out and hears the waves and the gulls. Behind him, Grogan pours them drinks, and Charles feels caught between civilization in the room and mystery outside.
Since Grogan will later be one of the most impartial judges of Charles’s actions towards Sarah, it’s important to note that his own sense of sexual morality allows him to observe women swimming without their knowledge. In his life, Charles is caught between civilization in the form of Ernestina and mystery in the form of Sarah.
In this age, even though Charles and Dr. Grogan have different occupations, everyone who’s educated still knows enough to converse about common intellectual subjects. No one is too specialized. Charles is curious about the doctor’s political views, and he asks about two busts on the bookshelf. They prove to be Bentham and Voltaire, from which Charles understands that he and Dr. Grogan are both Liberals. Charles says that Gladstone recognizes something bad in their society’s ethics. Grogan teases him about practically being a socialist.
Used to being the odd one out in terms of his politics, Charles wants to know what he’s facing before he starts a political discussion. Jeremy Bentham founded utilitarianism, arguing that creating happiness for the greatest number of people should be the guide of right and wrong. Voltaire fought for freedom of speech and of religion. These, then, can be regarded as Grogan’s guiding principles in the struggle ahead.
Grogan says that Voltaire made him leave the Catholic Church, and Bentham made him leave the Tories. But he doesn’t agree with the current fight for extending the right to vote. If the government fears its people, it fears itself. He tells a joke, pointing out that everyone thinks they’re better than everyone else, and it will ruin the country. Charles points out that Bentham argued for making the most people happy as possible, but Grogan says no one will be happy if made to run before they can walk.
Grogan’s arguments don’t entirely make sense—he thinks that the government is made up of the people, but he doesn’t want lower-class people to be able to vote. Besides, he thinks people’s self-importance will ruin the country, but he clearly thinks he’s better than those people who he doesn’t think should vote. Perhaps in many situations he’s not as liberal as he seems.
Charles has had a similar argument with his uncle. Many people who fought for the Reform Bills of the 1930s do not agree with the current one, because they think people are too jealous and rebellious now. Maybe Grogan depends too much on order and sameness. However, people of his opinion are not entirely wrong to be suspicious of the politicians of this time, since Disraeli and Gladstone aren’t entirely honest or straightforward.
People who supported earlier laws giving poorer people the vote now seem to think that the lower classes have become too confident that they deserve more—even liberal middle- and upper-class people want to preserve their power over the masses. Fowles generally disapproves of Grogan’s underlying conventionality.
Charles asks whether Dr. Grogan is interested in paleontology, and he admits that he thinks it’s more important to study the living than the dead. Charles brings up Sarah, saying that Dr. Grogan must know more about her than he does. Dr. Grogan says he can’t let anything bad be said about Mrs. Poulteney, who is his patient. No one can fathom what goes on in Sarah’s mind, but he brings up a German doctor who has studied melancholia. Melancholia can occur naturally or in reaction to an event, or it can occur for entirely unexplained reasons. Charles says there was an event that caused Sarah’s melancholia, but Grogan argues that plenty of jilted women recover just fine.
Dr. Grogan’s perspective on paleontology adds to the sense, more important later, that Charles is too dedicated to the past. At the same time, it suggests that Fowles wants his book to be seen as a study of his twentieth-century present, not just the past. While other characters interpret Sarah in terms of society, religion, or emotion, Grogan interprets her in terms of science. The modern-day term for melancholia is depression.
Grogan says he went to see Sarah ten months earlier. He could easily tell that she had melancholia, and he believed it was from living with Mrs. Poulteney. He wants to burn her house to the ground with her in it, and the whole town would join him. He thought the only cure for Sarah was to get her away. He tried to convince her to leave and even told her about an opening for a governess, but she refused. Mrs. Talbot would have had her back, but Sarah instead took the awful job with Mrs. Poulteney. Grogan believes she would refuse anything good offered her.
Once again, both Charles’s and the reader’s perception of Sarah is shaped by stories that other characters tell about her. In urging Sarah to leave Lyme, Charles has unconsciously echoed Grogan’s advice, and it’s clear that Sarah must have some reason she insists on staying. Grogan suggests that she’s masochistic, purposely staying because Mrs. Poulteney makes her miserable.
Dr. Grogan brings up the case of a woman whose husband died. She went into deep mourning for years and wouldn’t allow anything belonging to her husband to be touched. It was as though she was addicted to melancholia and found satisfaction in it. Grogan thinks that Sarah similarly wants to be a victim. Charles asks whether Sarah has confided in anyone, but Grogan says she hasn’t. He confirms that she would be cured if she did so, but she doesn’t want to be cured. He can’t force her, and medicine can’t help her. He says she can’t reason clearly and examine herself like a man could. They can only wait.
Dr. Grogan essentially blames Sarah’s melancholia on herself, a hypothesis that slips easily into a trend of male doctors dismissing women’s ailments. However, Sarah has begged Charles to let her confide in him, contradicting Grogan’s argument that she doesn’t want to be cured. Interestingly, Grogan positions storytelling as a healing ritual—if Sarah would only tell her story, she would almost magically be cured.
At this moment, Sarah is asleep in bed. Her face looks peaceful, and her arm is resting over the body of a nineteen-year-old girl. They’re lying close together, as the bed is small. The reader might make an assumption about this pair, but it must be remembered that it’s 1867. If Mrs. Poulteney had seen them lying there, the reader might imagine that she would be enraged and throw them out. In fact, she probably would have simply walked away and not even woken them. At this time, some vices aren’t even believed to exist. The idea of a lesbian would be incomprehensible to Mrs. Poulteney, particularly because she believes women don’t feel sexual pleasure. Prostitutes are so greedy for money that they conquer their disgust of sex in order to get it. After she saw a stableboy kiss Mary and Mary seem to enjoy it, Mrs. Poulteney thought Mary would become a prostitute.
This is not the only time that Fowles raises the specter of lesbianism in relation to Sarah. The effect is to place her even farther outside t of society, as well as to suggest that Sarah is an inherently sexual character. At the same time, the narrator’s commentary reminds the reader that the Victorian mindset was in many ways entirely different from the modern one. Mrs. Poulteney is scandalized by many things that readers in 1969 wouldn’t blink an eye at; but Fowles’s readers might be scandalized by women sleeping together, whereas Mrs. Poulteney wouldn’t. It’s often inaccurate to interpret history using modern frames of reference.
Sarah knows nothing about lesbianism, either, but she believes sex can bring pleasure. She began sleeping with Millie after the girl had her breakdown. Millie was moved to a room near Sarah’s on Dr. Grogan’s orders. Millie grew up in poverty as a plowman’s daughter. In the twentieth century, a famous architect now owns the cottage where she grew up and goes there for its wildness. Victorian artists have romanticized visions of country laborers; if they had seen Millie’s family, they couldn’t have done what they did. The narrator hates it when literature and art are used to conceal grim realities.
Whereas Ernestina is terrified of the cruelty of sex, Sarah sees it as something that can be enjoyed. Fowles comments here on how the stories portrayed in art and literature can obscure or falsely ornament the truth of history. Furthermore, the work of Victorian artists seems to share Charles’s tendency to trivialize the lives of working class people, or at least to ignore their pain and use their lives for the pleasure of the wealthy.
One night, Sarah heard Millie weeping and went to comfort her. It was cold, and Sarah got into bed and held Millie, who was like one of the sickly lambs on her father’s farm. After that, Millie would come sleep in Sarah’s bed a few times a week. They rarely talk. The reader might think there must have been something sexual in their relationship, but they never did anything that sisters wouldn’t do. Surely among the urban poor and the emancipated aristocracy lesbianism does exist at this time, but many Victorian women sleep together completely innocently, and this union in loneliness can only be seen as humanity.
Sarah’s comforting of Millie is probably the most compassionate and selfless image of her presented throughout the book. The narrator anticipates the reader’s sexual interpretation and heads it off, though his very insistence might make his claim seem a little more questionable. He also argues that lesbianism is a result of social and intellectual circumstances, which shows that he’s a product of 1969 as much as the characters are a product of 1867.
Meanwhile, Charles and Dr. Grogan have begun talking about paleontology. Charles says that the clergy have a battle on their hands with Lyell’s findings. Lyell is the father of modern geology. Other scientists have already argued that the earth is at least 75,000 years old, as opposed to what the church says. But Lyell argued that the earth was millions of years old. However, at this time few people know about him or believe what he wrote. Charles is curious whether Dr. Grogan is on the side of the clergy, but he doesn’t take up the argument.
Here, Charles and Grogan directly face the issue of the clash between science and religion. If Lyell’s findings are true, they contradict the age of the Earth as given in the Bible, and people who believe in both science and God will have to find some way to reconcile the two. Also, the past is often a tangible presence in this book, and Lyell’s theory of such an ancient Earth makes that past seem much larger and more unknown.
Charles casually asks whether Dr. Grogan has read Darwin. Grogan goes to his bookshelf and brings On the Origin of Species back to Charles. He says that if Charles has read it, he should know not to speak of Darwin so flippantly; the book is about the living, not the dead. Charles apologizes. Dr. Grogan says that Gosse came to Lyme a few years ago and asks whether Charles has read his book, which argues that God created all fossils at the same time he created man. Charles calls it absurd, and Dr. Grogan says he told Gosse the same thing. Upon confirming that they’re both Darwinians, Grogan grasps Charles’s hand and they feel that they’re different from everyone around them. They enter into a long discussion of Darwin, feeling superior to all other people. Walking home, Charles feels naturally selected to understand the common mass of people—except for Sarah.
On the Origin of Species was published only eight years before this conversation, so Darwin’s theories aren’t yet generally accepted, and Charles and Grogan clearly feel that it’s something special to find a fellow Darwinist. Grogan’s argument that evolution is about the present highlights the fact that Charles often gets too bogged down in the past. Grogan’s words also act as a reminder that all history, and this very novel, should be studied as a commentary on the present. Charles foolishly believes that just because he’s intelligent, he’s one of the “fittest” of the human race, though he has no conception of how the species is evolving.