The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The French Lieutenant’s Woman Chapter 31 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Charles finds Sarah sleeping in the barn, curled up with her head on a scarf. For a moment this seems like a crime to Charles, but he feels an urge to protect her. This desire confirms Dr. Grogan’s argument that he loves her, and it’s worse because the scene is reminiscent of a bedroom. He moves to leave, but he accidentally says her name. She sits up, seeming dismayed. Charles goes outside, worried that the dairyman might appear. Sarah calls his name and he finds her in the doorway. She seems wild in an innocent and eager way. Seeing her face makes him feel both more and less worried by the medical accounts he’s been reading. The Victorians don’t like paradoxes, but rather theories that explain things; they spent their time building, and modern people spend their time destroying. Thus, Charles can’t understand himself.
Charles is overcome by paradoxes in this scene: Sarah’s peacefulness seems like a crime, but he wants to protect her; he leaves and calls to her simultaneously; the sight of her face makes him both more and less convinced of her insanity. Fowles positions paradoxes as something only the modern mind can really accept because of the prevalence of existentialism in the twentieth century. The Victorian mindset can’t handle paradoxes because they seem to destroy themselves rather than building to a sound and logical conclusion. However, this doesn’t mean the characters don’t experience paradox, but only that they struggle to understand it.
Themes
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Sexuality and Gender Theme Icon
Charles is worried they might be seen, so they go into the barn. Sarah confirms that she spent the night here. Charles tells her that Mrs. Poulteney is better, and comments that Sarah shouldn’t have been working for her in the first place. Sarah says she’ll never belong anywhere. Charles tells her about the search party, and, surprised, she says she didn’t mean to cause trouble. Charles says she must leave Lyme now, and he will help her. He puts a hand on her shoulder.
Although Sarah has pretty much burnt all of her bridges by now, Charles is still worried about his reputation. Sarah is so used to being an outcast that she doesn’t seem to have considered that people might actually worry about her. Though leaving Lyme would be for Sarah’s own good, it would also undeniably help Charles control himself and his reputation.
Themes
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Sarah looks at Charles passionately, and she kisses his hand. He snatches it back, telling her to control herself, but she says she can’t. Charles tries to believe she’s just grateful for his help, but he thinks of a description of passion by Sappho. He and Sarah are feeling the same emotions, but Charles won’t admit it. Finally Sarah falls to her knees and confesses that she deliberately let Mrs. Fairley see her. Charles feels lost; none of the girls in the medical accounts confessed. Sarah begins to cry, and Charles feels like a dam is breaking on him. He asks why, and she gives a clear declaration of love. Charles helps her up, their eyes locked. Her eyes are beautiful, and the moment triumphs over the era. Charles kisses her and then, feeling her body, pushes her away. He rushes out the door and right into something equally awful.
This is the first time that Sarah and Charles have actually expressed their desire for each other, and Charles’s sense of a dam breaking comes from both this explosion of feeling and from the fact that, by confessing to her self-sabotaging wrongdoing, Sarah seems to burst outside of the insanity narrative that Grogan has constructed around her. She no longer fits in with the stories of the girls Charles has been reading about, and so she becomes once again unknowable. The society of this era dictates that Charles and Sarah must not be together, so in kissing her, Charles escapes his own time period.
Themes
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Morality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Sexuality and Gender Theme Icon