The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The French Lieutenant’s Woman Chapter 29 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The sun is rising when Charles leaves the White Lion. The sky is clear, the air sharp. The people whom he passes seem to feel classless at this hour, and a few greet him. He doesn’t want to see them. He heads towards the Undercliff. He’s worried that he’s more desperate than noble, but the warmth caused by walking makes it hard to be gloomy. The sun seems to smell like warm stone, and the trees seem religious in an ancient way. Charles sees a fox and a deer, who seem to feel he’s intruding. There’s a painting by Pisanello of St. Hubert in a forest, surrounded by animals. He seems shocked by the equality of all existence on Earth.
The idea that people’s sense of their own class can change according to the time of day reveals class as a social construct, rather than something inherent and immutable. The allusion to the Pisanello painting reinforces this sense of an essential, almost primeval equality. Meanwhile, Charles himself is increasingly being torn down from his upper-class pedestal, first by his uncle’s marriage and now by his decreasing sense of intellectual and moral superiority.
Themes
Class Theme Icon
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
Birds sing throughout the woods, and Charles feels like he’s in a perfect world where everything is unique. He watches a wren singing like an angel of evolution that thinks nothing can surpass it. Charles is amazed that this world exists alongside everyday life. Everything ordinary seems horrible and boring now. The wren’s song seems to suggest that life is more important than death and the individual more important than the species. Everyone thinks this way in the twentieth century, but Charles sees it as the chaos that comes when order is torn away. He’s like Sarah; he can only envy the wren’s happiness in this perfect world, but he can’t feel it himself.
Fowles attempts to give the twentieth-century reader a window into Charles’s distinctly Victorian mindset that places the species—in other words, society—in such primacy over the individual person. In some sense, Fowles is implying that the twentieth century takes a more natural view of life and societal order, as Charles’s glimpse of the twentieth-century perspective is inspired by the natural world around him. Charles finally begins to empathize with Sarah in a small way.
Themes
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
Charles takes the path that’s out of sight of the Dairy. He feels like everything in the forest is watching him. He heads towards the ocean and the land levels out into meadows. He sees a tumbledown barn where the dairyman stores hay; a hundred years later, it will be gone. It seems deserted, and Charles approaches nervously. The door is closed, and he looks through a window but doesn’t see Sarah. He waits a few minutes, then finally opens the door. Hay fills three stalls, and light is slanting through the window. He sees a bonnet hanging from a nail, and he’s terrified that something awful lies below it. He almost runs away, but he hears a sound and moves forward.
Though this meeting feels intensely important for Charles and for the plot of the novel, Fowles marks its importance as fleeting by mentioning that the barn will no longer exist by the time of his writing, contributing to the presence of change throughout the story. For a moment in the barn, Sarah could very well be either alive or dead; this is a moment of crisis that might shade Charles’s subsequent actions with desperation and/or relief.
Themes
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon