The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

by

John Fowles

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The French Lieutenant’s Woman: Chapter 58 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Charles has been traveling during these twenty months. He’s gone all over Europe and even reached the Middle East, but he sees the sights as only something to keep out the emptiness of his life. If he stops traveling he becomes melancholic. He’s usually alone, and completely avoids Englishmen. He’s lost his interest in paleontology, given away his fossil collection, and rented out his house. He keeps a journal in which he records only events.
Charles has followed Sarah into the life of an outcast, but he hasn’t followed her example all the way through. Whereas Sarah felt that she had to stay in the place of her shame, Charles has escaped from the society that censured him, which seems somehow more cowardly. His freedom is bitter. His abandonment of paleontology gestures to his decision not to live according to the judgment of the past, but it also confirms his lack of any passion.
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Charles turns to poetry for expression of emotions. He especially likes Tennyson, comparing him to Darwin, and his favorite poem is Maud, though everyone else hates it. He starts to write bad poetry. One of his poems talks about his mindless travels as a way of fleeing his shame. He memorizes a poem the narrator likes much better, Matthew Arnold’s “To Marguerite,” which laments the human condition of isolation. Surprisingly, Charles never considers suicide. His vision of freedom had depended on an exile shared with Sarah, and now he feels that he’s only in a different kind of prison than before. But he’s comforted by the fact that he’s proven his uniqueness and become an outcast. He doesn’t really regret not marrying Ernestina.
Charles’s turn from science to poetry indicates a turn from a more concrete understanding of the world to uncertainty and emotion. The poem Maud focuses on forbidden love and loss, and the ending is unsatisfying, so there are clear parallels with Charles’s own story. Charles’s poetry admits that he’s fleeing his shame, rather than facing it, like Sarah did. He’s extremely alone now, having rejected his society and lost the person for whom he rejected it. However, he does seem to find some power in being an outcast, just as Sarah did.
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Related Quotes
Charles writes only to Montague, who puts advertisements in the London papers to try to find Sarah, but to no avail. Sir Robert was initially upset when Charles broke off his engagement, but he soon decided Charles would find someone better. Charles visited him once before leaving. He didn’t like Sir Robert’s fiancée, and he pretended to get sick so he didn’t have to go to the wedding. When they had a son, Charles decided never to return to Winsyatt. Charles sleeps with women abroad, but he feels no affection. Sometimes he imagines Sarah is with him, but he tries to stop himself; he’s no longer sure what’s real about her and what he’s made up. It’s possible that if he found her, he would see in her only his own foolishness. He begins to think it’s best that he can’t find her.
Although Charles has ostensibly rejected his society and his old way of life, he’s clearly still invested in the same concerns of wealth and status that caused him distress earlier in the novel—he doesn’t really manage to forgive Sir Robert for disinheriting him, even though Robert was only fulfilling his desire, and Charles has done much worse things to fulfill his own desire. He partly regrets his decision to choose Sarah above everything else; he doubts that she was worth it, even if he had been able to marry her. He seems to lack moral conviction for his actions.
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Finally Charles gets so bored that he decides to make a change. He’s traveled with two Americans whose company he really enjoyed; they seem less hypocritical than the British. One evening they talked about whether England or America was superior, and Charles agreed with the Americans’ criticisms of England. He wonders if America might one day grow more powerful than England. He doesn’t want to emigrate there like many lower-class Europeans are doing, but he imagines he can find a simpler and more honest society in the United States. He returns to London and asks for Montague’s opinion. Montague doesn’t think America can be very civilized, but he suggests that Sarah might be there. Charles says he hasn’t though of her much lately, and Montague urges him to find someone new in America. Charles has already booked his passage.
As an outcast from British society, Charles begins to think that he might still be able to find a place in American society. As a much newer country, America isn’t quite so entrenched in the past as England is, and it’s known for its idealization of freedom, which undoubtedly resonates with Charles. Montague’s criticism of America as uncivilized actually argues in favor of Charles going there, as Charles has essentially rebelled against everything that the British like to think is civilized about themselves. It seems that he might be able to start a new life and shed his own burdened past.
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