The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The French Lieutenant’s Woman Chapter 55 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On the train the next morning, Charles sits in a first-class compartment, giving people looks to keep them from joining him. Just before the train leaves, a bearded man enters and sits down. He doesn’t quite seem to be a gentleman, but perhaps a preacher who threatens damnation. Charles doesn’t like him and decides not to talk to him because he seems so typical of the times. The man catches Charles looking at him and glares. Soon Charles begins to think about how he will surely find Sarah before long, and he falls asleep.
This man is the narrator, though he introduces himself as he would any other character, in the third person. It’s ironic that Charles thinks he looks like a typically Victorian preacher, as the narrator actually belongs to the future and has been extremely critical of Victorian religion. The narrator’s presence defies normal logic, since he’s made it clear that he’s writing from a century after the story is set.
Themes
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
When Charles has been asleep for a while, the other man begins to stare at him. He seems to know what Charles is like and to disapprove. The man seems overly confident in his judgment of others. He continues to stare for much longer than is acceptable. The reader might someday be stared at in this way, and should be wary. This stare implies a desire to know a person in some improper way. Only one profession has this look of wondering how they could use a person. It’s the look of a god, though gods are not usually portrayed this way, with this immoral look. The narrator is very familiar with the face of the man in the train, and he’ll stop pretending now.
The narrator makes fun of himself and of writers in general, suggesting that they take an inappropriate interest in the people around them because they want to make them into characters in their stories. Almost any narrator has some particular attitude towards the characters whose lives they’re relating, and this scene brings that judgment to life. The reader doesn’t only hear the subtle—or not so subtle—judgments in the narration, but actually sees that the narrator disapproves of Charles.
Themes
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
As the narrator stares at Charles, he wonders what he’s going to do with him. He could end the story here, but Victorian fiction doesn’t have open endings like this. Though it’s clear what Charles wants, it’s not clear what Sarah wants. If this were real life, one person’s desire would win over the other. Fiction usually pretends to be reality, but in fact the writer rigs the fight between conflicting desires so that the one he wants to win will do so. Writers are judged by whom they let win, and this shows some message about the world.
The narrator again admits to his own fallibility, suggesting that the world of the novel is no more set or predictable than real life is. He acknowledges the fact that he’s trying to imitate Victorian fiction, but at the same time he resists the Victorian practice of letting characters’ fates at the end of a novel show the writer’s attitude towards their actions. Instead, he’s trying to simulate real life, which is never so straightforward.
Themes
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Morality Theme Icon
However, since 1867 is a century gone, there’s no reason to show an opinion about it, since the reader knows what’s happened since then. The narrator doesn’t want to fix Charles’s fight. He decides that the only way he can remain neutral is to show two ways it could turn out. But whichever version he shows second will be assumed to be more real. He takes out a coin and flips it. Charles is looking at him disapprovingly. They arrive at Paddington Station and Charles speaks to a porter. When he turns, the narrator has disappeared.
By pointing out that it’s pointless to have opinions about 1867, the narrator suggests that any judgments he’s made about the Victorians are meant to have some bearing on the present, rather than only on the past. He portrays his own decision-making process in order to prove that both endings are equally possible and true. This decision rejects the idea of absolute truth, and thus the double ending is one of the most clearly postmodern aspects of this book.
Themes
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Morality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
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