The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The French Lieutenant’s Woman Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Charles’s carriage passes the gatehouse of Winsyatt, he calls for it to stop so that he can greet Mrs. Hawkins. When he was little, she was second-in-command to the housekeeper, and acted as a substitute mother for him whenever he visited. She asks him all about his marriage, and he about her children. She seems concerned for him in a way she used to when she had heard rumors of his father’s wickedness. It amuses Charles now. That, along with everything he sees here today, seems to come from love of him. Eventually he says he must be getting on, and the carriage continues up the drive. Confident that this property will soon be his, Charles feels that everything is right with the world.
Charles is driving blindly into disaster, too overconfident to perceive that everything might not be as he imagines it. His condescension to Mrs. Hawkins undoubtedly stems from the fact that she’s a woman and a servant, but in fact she’s much more aware of what he’s approaching than he is himself. He already feels that he has the right of proprietorship over this estate, and he can feel that it loves him and he loves it because he will own it. Charles will struggle with wanting to own things, such as Sarah.
Themes
Class Theme Icon
Sexuality and Gender Theme Icon
The carriage passes some workers, including an old man who acts as a living history of Winsyatt. They turn and wave to Charles. One of them is hammering an iron rail straight, and Charles knows that it was bent when Sir Robert’s bull charged Mrs. Tomkins’s carriage. Charles teased his uncle about why this widow would be calling on him. The peace of the countryside is wonderful as the house and stables come into view. Nothing is hurried at Winsyatt, and the sense of order seems permanent. Though rural life is not happy everywhere, the rich houses keep their peasants happy, perhaps only to keep the landscape beautiful.
Fowles’s introduction of Mrs. Tomkins has her already leaving her mark on Winsyatt in a physical way. Ironically, Charles has reason to think of her as he approaches the house, but he thinks of her more as a joke than as any sort of personal threat. The sense of order at Winsyatt is associated with the class order. There’s no complicating middle class here, but only the aristocrats and the peasants who know their respective places. It’s a relic of the past, like the man who embodies its history.
Themes
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
Sexuality and Gender Theme Icon
As the carriage drives up to the house, Charles feels that he is approaching an inheritance that explains his lack of focus up to this point. His duty will be to preserve the order of this place as his ancestors have. Duty will be his wife, and he is eager to greet her. However, he doesn’t find Sir Robert in the hall or the drawing room. He realizes there are new curtains and carpets, and he thinks this is an indication that his uncle is indeed going to give him the house. Then he realizes that the bustard he shot is gone, but he still doesn’t guess what’s happened.
At this point, Charles feels prepared to live a conventional life, not only obeying Victorian standards, but also obeying the traditions of the long line of ancestors who have run Winsyatt before him. If this house embodies happy duty for him, it makes sense that he will abandon duty when he loses the house. The bustard has represented his uncle’s fondness for Charles, and the fact that it’s gone bodes ill.
Themes
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
Charles also doesn’t guess what happened to Sarah when they parted the afternoon before. She hesitated at the fork where she usually took a high path to avoid being seen from the Dairy. She could hear voices from the Dairy. She peered down through the leaves at the cottage. Eventually she walked down the path that passed the Dairy and came out in view of the women at the door. She didn’t look at them, but walked on past. The women were the dairyman’s wife and Mrs. Fairley.
With these actions, Sarah reveals her duplicity and makes herself more mysterious than ever. She clearly wants Mrs. Fairley to report her disobedience to Mrs. Poulteney, but she’s also putting Charles in danger of being found out. It seems that nothing Charles has said has convinced her; she still wants to flaunt her shame and be known as a transgressive outcast who walks in the scandalous Ware Commons.
Themes
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Sexuality and Gender Theme Icon
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