The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

by

John Fowles

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The French Lieutenant’s Woman: Chapter 53 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Dr. Grogan tells Charles that Ernestina is sleeping. He demands that Charles explain himself, and he does. He says he deceived Grogan because he couldn’t see Sarah put in an asylum. Grogan listens silently, then turns to the window. He says he wants to find some terrible punishment for Charles. Charles says he thought much before going against Grogan’s advice, but Grogan says lying is unacceptable. He thinks Charles just wanted to satisfy his lust, which is also what everyone else will think. Charles asks whether Grogan would prefer he live a life of falsity, but Grogan can’t forgive the hurt he’s done to Ernestina. Charles asks whether it’s possible to ignore self-knowledge once it’s gained.
Charles continues to tell half-truths; it’s honorable for him not to want Sarah to be put in an asylum, but he omits the fact that his attraction to her also influenced his decision to deceive Grogan. However, Grogan is schooled in the ways of men and sees right through him. This discussion sets out the central moral conflict that the story now focuses on: Is it better to live disingenuously for the sake of convention or hurt those around you in the name of freedom?
Themes
Storytelling and Morality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Sexuality and Gender Theme Icon
Grogan can’t figure out how to deal with Charles’s breach of convention. He’s an experienced man, but he’s lived in Lyme for a long time now. He likes Charles and thinks Ernestina shallow, and he, too, has been lustful in the past. He says that suffering is always evil. Charles replies that good must come out of evil. It’s better for Ernestina to suffer now than marry him. Grogan says he will live with his guilt and only be forgiven in death.
Grogan can sympathize with Charles, but he still thinks he’s done wrong by hurting those around him. This is the judgment of a moderate—someone who doesn’t love convention but still respects society. He’s also not a religious man, so he thinks that Charles’s punishment will occur in his life, rather than after his death.
Themes
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Sexuality and Gender Theme Icon
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
Grogan asks if Charles will marry Sarah. Charles is glad to hear his tone change, because he actually cares a lot about Grogan’s opinion of him. He confirms that he intends to marry her, and he believes she’s accepted his proposal. Grogan urges him to doubt Sarah’s honesty. Charles retorts that men expect women to act like objects to be evaluated and claimed, and they’re judged immoral if they refuse to do this. He points out that plenty of upper-class women are allowed to have affairs. Besides, he was the one who chose to go to Sarah’s hotel.
Charles makes a pretty modern, feminist analysis (which probably wouldn’t exist in an actual Victorian novel) of Sarah’s situation, but he fails to see that he himself is perpetuating the exact treatment of women that he seems to be condemning. He’s trying to claim Sarah as his own by marrying her even when she has said she doesn’t want to marry him.
Themes
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Sexuality and Gender Theme Icon
Grogan says he won’t judge Charles based on law or religion, but Charles wants to be admirably rational and scientific, as Grogan himself does. People have always wanted to be more special than others, but in the end, the elect group are those who have improved the morality of the world. If they don’t do that, they’re only power-grabbers. Only if Charles becomes morally improved, rather than selfish, can he be forgiven. Charles says he has already realized this. Grogan makes to go, wishing him luck. They shake hands. As Grogan leaves, he says he’ll return to whip Charles if he doesn’t leave in an hour. Charles can only agree to this.
Charles and Grogan first came together over issues of science and evolution, and it is on this level that Grogan now tries to reason with Charles. He says that moral people are the “fittest,” yet he doesn’t grapple with the fact that morality is entirely based on perspective, especially if law and religion are taken out of the equation. He sets Charles the task to make the rest of his life justify this morally questionable decision he’s made.
Themes
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
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