The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

by

John Fowles

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The French Lieutenant’s Woman: Chapter 27 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Dr. Grogan’s housekeeper shows Charles up to the same room where they spoke before. Before long Grogan appears and welcomes him with a glass of brandy. Charles says he needs advice. Dr. Grogan has often had men come to him before their marriages, either because of sexually transmitted diseases or ignorance about how intercourse works. He says he’s already given a lot of advice that day about what to do to Mrs. Poulteney as punishment. When Charles says that’s what he wants to talk about, Dr. Grogan assumes Mrs. Tranter is worried and says that he’s sent out a search party.
Dr. Grogan clearly doesn’t suspect that anything untoward has happened between Charles and Sarah, though Charles has spoken more about her to him than to anyone. The contrast between Charles’s reason for coming to Grogan and other men’s reasons for coming before their marriages suggests how far Charles has already strayed from the path laid out for him with Ernestina. Grogan’s dislike of Mrs. Poulteney represents the clash between science and religion.
Themes
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Charles reveals that he’s received a note from Sarah. He tells Dr. Grogan the truth about his meetings with her, leaving out his attraction to her. He tries to act like he had a scientific interest in her, but Dr. Grogan can tell he’s stretching the truth. He lets Charles finish without revealing his suspicion. The thunderstorm is approaching, and Dr. Grogan says they need to get the search party back. He writes a note and reads it aloud. It says that Sarah is safe, but doesn’t want her location known. Charles gives him some coins to enclose as payment.
Charles becomes one of the many storytellers of this novel, trying to reshape his own actions to make them seem less reprehensible. The way he tells Grogan this story is actually the same way he’s also tried to tell himself this story—he originally convinced himself that he was only interested in Sarah for scientific reasons and for the good he could do her. However, the fact that he’s lying ultimately makes him seem less moral.
Themes
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Dr. Grogan goes to send the letter, then asks whether Charles has any idea where Sarah is now. He doesn’t, and Dr. Grogan says Charles can’t risk meeting her the next morning. Charles says he’ll do whatever the doctor advises. He doesn’t know this has been a test, and it has confirmed Dr. Grogan’s suspicions. Dr. Grogan brings over The Origin of Species and lays his hand on it as though swearing on a Bible. He says that he won’t repeat anything that Charles tells him. Charles says swearing isn’t necessary. Dr. Grogan begins to pace, seeming ready to fight.
Dr. Grogan has a very perceptive mind, and his success at seeing through Charles might make his perspective on Sarah’s inner workings seem more believable. Also, Grogan replaces the Bible with Darwin’s book, a symbolic act that represents the displacement of religion with science in the Victorian era. Swearing on the book also implies that science has just as many moral implications as religion does.
Themes
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Dr. Grogan imagines himself in Sarah’s shoes and reviews her case, saying she’s a smart, emotional woman who resents the world and acts foolishly. She likes being a victim and acts very melancholy. When she meets Charles, she admires him and acts sadder to make him more interested in her. He treats her well, and she uses his pity for her to lure him in. She has to make him pity not only her past, but also her present, so she gets herself fired on purpose and then disappears so that everyone assumes she’s going to kill herself. Finally, she begs Charles for help.
Grogan tackles one of the main questions of the book: What motivates Sarah? His hypothesis grows out of sexist assumptions that women are irrational and manipulative and seek little other than the attention of men. Although certain parts of his story about her may seem true, he fails to consider that Sarah could have any logical reasons for acting as she does, and assumes that she’s just emotionally imbalanced.
Themes
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Charles asks about Dr. Grogan’s accusation that Sarah meant to be fired. The doctor says that he was called to Mrs. Poulteney’s house that morning, and Mrs. Fairley told him what had happened. Sarah clearly walked out of the woods into Mrs. Fairley’s view. He believes that Sarah wanted Mrs. Fairley to report her. At first, Charles refuses to believe it, thinking that only someone insane would do that. He goes to the window, then says he has been fooled. Dr. Grogan says he must understand that Sarah’s despair is a disease; she’s not cruel. Charles asks what her goal could be, but Dr. Grogan doesn’t think she knows. He says many prostitutes sleep with husbands and fathers as a sort of revenge for being outcasts.
Sarah’s purposeful revelation to Mrs. Fairley of her disobedience changes Charles’s interpretation of everything that has happened up until now. He’s been operating under the assumption that Sarah is honest and doesn’t want to hurt him, but now her actions seem calculated to hurt both herself and him. Dr. Grogan’s comparison of her to a prostitute hits upon more truth than perhaps he realizes—she’s using society’s perceptions of sexuality to claim unconventional power.
Themes
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Charles can’t believe Sarah would act this way. Dr. Grogan says that’s because he’s almost in love with her. Charles gets angry that he would insult Ernestina that way, but Dr. Grogan points out that Charles is the one insulting her. Charles tries to leave, but Grogan grabs him. He points out that as they both live by science, they believe that truth is the most important thing, and Charles is hiding the truth from himself. Charles returns to the fire and is silent. Finally he says that he has realized too late that he isn’t meant to marry. Dr. Grogan points out that Malthus says the least fit humans reproduce the most. Furthermore, Charles shouldn’t blame himself for falling in love with Sarah.
Grogan again uses science as an argument in a moment when most of his contemporaries would use religion. Rather than hitting Charles with some religious maxim about faith to his betrothed, Grogan insists on the importance of truth. Charles in a sense questions the entire institution of marriage, which is supposed to be universally applicable, by doubting that he can fit into it. Grogan reinforces Charles’s assumption that he’s one of the fittest, apparently not fazed by the fact of his infidelity.
Themes
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Charles swears that nothing improper has happened between himself and Sarah. Dr. Grogan believes him, but asks whether he wants to hear, see, or touch her. Charles buries his head in his hands. He laments that his life is a waste because he has no purpose. Ernestina doesn’t really understand him. Grogan points out that she’s much younger and has hardly known him for six months. Charles can’t tell him that he believes Ernestina will never understand him. He feels his intelligence has betrayed him in letting him choose her. He can tell he’ll always be bothered by the fact that there are better women than Ernestina. He says nothing is her fault, and he’ll marry her as he’s promised.
It hardly matters that Charles hasn’t acted on his feelings, because this fact doesn’t make his desire any less real. More importantly, desiring Sarah has made him see Ernestina more clearly, where he had previously been blinding himself to the problems in their relationship. Perhaps this is the beginning of his doubt in his status as one of the fittest; if he can fail so badly in his choice of a partner, how worthy is he really to pass on his traits to successive generations?
Themes
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Charles asks Grogan to tell him what to do, and Grogan says he needs to hear his real feelings about Sarah. Charles says he can’t understand them. He doesn’t love her, but he feels possessed by her. Grogan tells Charles to let him deal with everything; he’ll meet Sarah and tell her Charles has gone away. Charles says he has business in London, and Grogan advises him to go once he has told Ernestina everything. Charles agrees. Grogan says that his nonappearance might make Sarah’s melancholia worse, but it’s not Charles’s fault. He will arrange for her to go to an asylum. Charles is willing to pay for it, as long as she isn’t hurt. Grogan says he knows of a well-run place in Exeter. Charles feels guilty, but Grogan assures him that it will help her heal in peace.
Sarah is once again envisioned as almost a supernatural being, as Charles says he’s possessed by her. The relationship between Sarah and Charles thus seems more unnatural, though perhaps Charles just can’t admit that he loves her. And suddenly these men are arranging for the institutionalization of a woman to whom neither of them is related, and who knows nothing of their plans. Women of this period were often judged mad as a result of sexist medical practices, and besides, putting Sarah away in an asylum would make Charles’s life much easier.
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Charles shakes Grogan’s hand, feeling better now that he’s been told what to do. He says he’ll always be in debt to Grogan, but Grogan only wants him to treat Ernestina well. Charles promises to do. Grogan says she’ll improve over time. He marks a passage in a French book and gives it to Charles to read. It’s medical evidence in a trial.
Despite his supposedly radical outlook in certain areas, Grogan ultimately just wants to protect those around him by bolstering conventional institutions such as marriage. He doesn’t care that Charles doesn’t love Ernestina, but only that Charles goes through with the marriage.
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