The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

by

John Fowles

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The French Lieutenant’s Woman: Chapter 26 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Sam loves Mary both because of who she is and because of her role in his dreams. He imagines her behind the counter of a gentleman’s shop, where customers come from all over London to buy clothes. He’s particularly fixated on collars. Mary emphasizes the fact that Sam doesn’t have nearly enough money to make this a reality. He’s thinking about it while eating Charles’s dinner in the sitting room after Charles has left.
Though Charles underestimates Sam, Sam actually is a full person with dreams that are more fleshed-out than Charles’s own. His lower-class status doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have ambition, but only that he doesn’t have the money to make his dreams come true. Charles, however, does.
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Mal is an Old English word that came from the Vikings. It originally meant “speech,” but came to mean “tax.” By the time the Vikings were attacking Scotland, it was spelled mail, and because people had much to fear if they didn’t pay mail, it came to be called black mail. Sam is thinking about the word because he has guessed who Charles is supposedly trying to help. Mary has mentioned Sarah to him, and Charles is acting strangely. Sam taps his nose. He’s like a rat who senses a sinking ship.
Though Sam doesn’t think about it, his impulse to blackmail Charles gestures to a long and bloody history of extortion. Though the word has evolved, the fundamental action behind it hasn’t changed much, contributing to Fowles’s argument that progress is a false construction of a vain society. Rats flee a sinking ship, and Sam is ready to abandon Charles.
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Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
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Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
The Winsyatt servants know that Sir Robert is ruining Charles. They think Charles should have worked harder to stay in his uncle’s good graces. They’ve overheard plenty of heated discussions between the two men, and they think Charles is being punished for laziness. Mrs. Tomkins has been sure to get the servants on her side. The housekeeper knows she means to get pregnant again. Sam heard about all this while Charles was with his uncle. Sam has had another dream of being the butler of Winsyatt, and he’s unhappy to see it crushed. Charles hasn’t officially told Sam what happened. Sam eats his dinner and looks ahead.
The servants are used to having to work for personal and financial gain, so it seems to them like Charles has unwisely taken the security of his future for granted—which he clearly has. Unlike Charles, Mrs. Tomkins appreciates the power of servants within an upper-class household, and because of this power, Sam knows more about Charles’s prospects for inheriting Winsyatt than even Charles does. If Mrs. Tomkins gets pregnant, her child will inherit instead of Charles.
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Charles and his uncle had been polite to each other because both felt guilty. Charles stiffly congratulated Sir Robert, who briefly told him the story of his engagement. Mrs. Tomkins rejected him at first, but when he asked her again, she eventually relented. Sir Robert said that Charles was the first to know, but Charles could tell that all of Winsyatt knew. He felt humiliated but had to act calm. His uncle praised Mrs. Tomkins’s straightforwardness, and Charles played the part of a respectful nephew.
Fowles now returns to the conversation that he skipped over before, allowing the reader to compare Charles’s account of it to the more detailed truth. After having felt so superior to all the servants he passed on his way to the house, Charles now realizes that they all must have known he wasn’t going to get his inheritance.
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Sir Robert finally said they must acknowledge that the marriage would change Charles’s prospects for the future, but no matter what happened, his uncle would help him. He wanted Charles and Ernestina to live in the Little House. Charles said they had decided to live in the Belgravia house. Sir Robert insisted he didn’t want the marriage to come between them, and Charles insisted it wouldn’t. Charles felt foolish for feeling that he already owned Winsyatt as he drove up. Sir Robert said that he gets terribly lonely and bored. He secretly blamed Charles for not being as dutiful to him as he imagined a son would be.
Though Charles and Ernestina were just discussing whether they’d prefer the Little House to Winsyatt itself, Charles feels he has to save face by acting as though he had no expectations for this visit, so he pretends they already had other plans anyway. It seems the servants’ perspective on Charles’s failings is, in part, right—if he had devoted more time to his uncle, Sir Robert might not have felt the need to seek companionship with a wife.
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Sir Robert said that a woman changes one’s view of the world; Mrs. Tomkins has already made him see how gloomy his decorations were. Charles found it funny to hear his uncle worrying about such things. He asked when he would meet Mrs. Tomkins, and his uncle said she’s eager to know Charles and very understanding of her effect on his life. In fact, she refused Sir Robert at first precisely because of it. Finally he explained that she was in Yorkshire at the moment. Shyly, he brought out a locket that Mrs. Tomkins gave him. Charles looked at the picture of her and saw a slight resemblance to Sarah. Both Sarah and Mrs. Tomkins are separate from general womankind. Charles could tell that Mrs. Tomkins would easily overshadow Ernestina. He congratulated his uncle, who said Charles would be jealous and made him come see his new brood mare.
Sir Robert’s infatuation with Mrs. Tomkins and his apologetic approach to Charles make it difficult for Charles or the reader to be angry with him. However, there’s a slight whiff of disingenuousness about Mrs. Tomkins that suggests that she might not be quite the angel that Sir Robert thinks her to be. Charles thinks Sarah and Mrs. Tomkins look alike, and both women lead him to ruin in different ways. Furthermore, if Charles thinks Mrs. Tomkins would triumph over Ernestina, it suggests he might think the same of Sarah. A brood mare is one meant to have foals, and this one seems to stand in for Mrs. Tomkins in her absence.
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Because they were English gentlemen, they avoided discussing the marriage further. But when Charles insisted on returning to Lyme that night, Sir Robert didn’t make a fuss. Charles could tell that his uncle was glad to see him go. Driving away, Charles felt like he never wanted to return. The first clouds of the thunderstorm were coming in.
The British aristocracy is known for simply avoiding unpleasant topics. The presence of the storm that’s already been mentioned in relation to Sarah connects Charles’s disinheritance with Sarah’s dramatic actions, since their combination will shatter Charles’s life.
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Charles knew that Sir Robert didn’t like Ernestina’s London habits or her family origins. Perhaps Sir Robert got the idea of marrying because Charles was doing it, and he felt that he could excuse the effect on Charles because Ernestina was so wealthy. Now Charles felt inferior to her. He was equal to her as long as he was going to inherit Winsyatt, but now he would be dependent on her money. Many young men around him shamelessly sought out wealthy wives, so Charles knew that people wouldn’t sympathize with him. He almost wishes his uncle had been even less fair to him.
Particularly in this time, marriage is a financial union as much as a personal one. Before this change in Charles’s prospects, he was bringing an aristocratic title to the marriage, and Ernestina was bringing the bulk of the money. Now, though, Charles has little to offer but himself. He’s almost like Sarah in wanting people to recognize his misery and understand how he’s been cheated by circumstance.
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