Though Ernestina’s father, Mr. Freeman, secretly despises the aristocracy, he’s so careful to act like a gentleman that it might seem to reveal some lack of confidence. The Freemans are socially new to the upper middle class, but they’re powerful in the business world. Some in their place try to imitate country gentlemen, but Mr. Freeman tries to be a new kind of gentleman. He only spends weekends in the country. He’s dedicated to profit and earnestness. He’s benefited from the economic change of the last couple of decades, and to make up for his prosperity he has contributed much to Christian charities. By the standards of his time, he treats his workers well.
Mr. Freeman is the ultimate bourgeois figure of this book. The bourgeoisie, or middle class, are characterized by their recent rise to wealth through business or trade, and they usually strive to rise even higher in the world. Mr. Freeman, however, tries to maintain an illusion that he’s perfectly happy in his social position and doesn’t want to be an aristocrat. Marx positioned the bourgeoisie as the enemies of the lower class, but Fowles portrays Mr. Freeman as a generally good person.
Mr. Freeman listens to Charles solemnly and is silent when he finishes. They’re in Mr. Freeman’s study filled with books, a bust, and a few vague engravings. Finally he says that this news is very surprising. In the following silence, Charles is somewhat annoyed, but also amused. Mr. Freeman is thinking that Charles might want in increase in Ernestina’s dowry, which isn’t so bad, but he’s worried that Charles might have known all along that his uncle would marry. He treats Ernestina’s marriage much like a business deal. Charles says he’s very surprised by his uncle’s decision, and felt that Mr. Freeman should know. He says he’s already told Ernestina, and gives Mr. Freeman a letter from her.
Mr. Freeman doesn’t really trust Charles, and he examines the news of Charles’s changed fortunes under the assumption that Charles is probably trying to take financial advantage of him in some way. This also shows how much Mr. Freeman’s own life is centered around money, which is a typically bourgeois characteristic. Fowles’s willingness to let the reader hear the thoughts of characters like Mr. Freeman makes his frequent refusal to narrate Sarah’s thoughts even more striking.
Mr. Freeman confirms that Charles still has a decent income of his own, and points out that Sir Robert might not have an heir. Besides, Ernestina is bringing a large dowry, and one day Mr. Freeman himself will die. He admits that he partly allowed Ernestina to become engaged to Charles because they would be bringing equal value to the marriage, but he believes that Charles has been honest all along about his prospects. Charles knows he really means that people will gossip that Charles fooled Ernestina into marriage with the false prospect of a title.
Mr. Freeman engages in the kind of veiled conversation that is quite typical of polite Victorians—although he seems to be setting out all the reasons that it doesn’t really matter that Charles has lost his inheritance, Charles knows that he’s really pointing out that Charles could be seen as a fortune-hunter. Even though the aristocracy is socially superior to the bourgeoisie, these dynamics show that money is still power.
Mr. Freeman opens Ernestina’s letter. Charles stares out a window into Hyde Park. He sees a girl sitting on a bench. A soldier comes up to her, and it’s clear that they’re lovers. They walk off. Mr. Freeman reads Ernestina’s postscript, where she threatens to elope to Paris if Mr. Freeman tries to stop their marriage. He’s convinced to let it go on, but Charles offers him more time to think about it. Mr. Freeman says he’s impressed with Charles, and he should go back to Lyme. Ernestina is clearly in love. He’ll help them out financially if necessary.
The scene in Hyde Park presents such a simple vision of love, which contrasts with Charles’s anguished and conflicted love life, seeming to taunt him. His emotions also conflict with Ernestina’s love, which is determined to leap any barriers. Charles’s true intentions in coming here become clearer when he urges Mr. Freeman to reconsider letting Ernestina marry him—he wants the marriage to be stopped.
Charles suddenly feels like he’s become an employee. Mr. Freeman asks for permission to discuss another matter, though he seems unsure how to begin. Finally, he points out that he doesn’t have a son. He knows that Charles must hate commerce, as it isn’t meant for gentlemen. Charles protests that Mr. Freeman shows that there’s nothing wrong with commerce, and it’s very useful to the country. But Mr. Freeman asks how Charles would feel if people said he was in trade. Eventually Charles realizes what he means, and is shocked. Mr. Freeman clarifies that Charles certainly wouldn’t deal with day-to-day matters, but he’s likely to inherit a business empire. Now that Charles might not be occupied with Winsyatt, he can put his energy elsewhere.
Now that Charles is essentially dependent on Mr. Freeman’s money and goodwill, he is no longer entirely free—in contrast to Mr. Freeman, whose name suggests the freedom his money has enabled. Mr. Freeman wants Charles to join his business, even though he knows that someone of Charles’s social status isn’t supposed to work in business, as it would be a step down the class ladder. By making this offer, Mr. Freeman gets some strange revenge on the upper class that excludes him, asserting instead the nobility of his own role in society.
Charles protests that he doesn’t know anything about business, but Mr. Freeman says he has the necessary qualities. He isn’t suggesting any immediate changes, but eventually he could teach Charles about running the business. Charles feels that it wouldn’t be a good fit for his natural talents. Mr. Freeman says he would only need to observe, at first, and the men who work for him are very respectable. Charles assures him that he’s not worried about the social aspect. Mr. Freeman says that when he dies, his business will need a strong leader to succeed. Charles feels like he’s being tempted by Satan—gentleman can’t work in trade. But he can’t tell Mr. Freeman this.
Charles is automatically repulsed by Mr. Freeman’s offer because of its class implications, but he denies that this is the reason because admitting it would clearly be an insult to Mr. Freeman, even though Mr. Freeman is just as aware of the class implications as Charles is. But Mr. Freeman has him in a corner; he’s just offered to provide money that Charles doesn’t have, and Charles more or less owes him now. Class awareness is so inherent in Charles that his reaction is quite visceral.
Mr. Freeman says he will never believe that humans are descended from monkeys, but he can understand that a species must change in order to survive. He’s always had to change with the times. There’s certainly nothing wrong with being a gentleman, but this is a time of action, and Charles should consider whether perhaps he should take an interest in commerce. He just wants him to think about it. Now Charles feels useless, and guesses that Mr. Freeman thinks he’s lazy. He essentially wants Charles to earn Ernestina’s dowry. Charles feels like he’s emerged onto a view of the rest of his boring life and sees only duty and humiliation. He says he’s overwhelmed, but agrees to think about it. They go to see Mrs. Freeman, and Charles feels trapped. Though this house is all in the most current fashion, he suddenly misses Winsyatt’s old shabbiness. Evolution in practice seems vulgar.
Charles and Mr. Freeman have quarreled before about evolution, and now Mr. Freeman is using Charles’s own ideologies against him. His implication that the aristocracy will have to turn more to the occupations of the bourgeoisie is prescient of the aristocracy’s twentieth-century demise. The fashionableness of the Freemans’ house in contrast to Winsyatt suggests that Mr. Freeman’s way of life is the future, and the aristocratic way of life belongs to a dying past. Once again, Charles struggles to maintain his vision of himself as one of the “fittest,” as Mr. Freeman is essentially suggesting that in his natural state, he isn’t.