The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

by

John Fowles

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The French Lieutenant’s Woman: Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Sam draws the curtains to let in an unseasonably beautiful morning, one of those days when nature goes wild. Charles sits up and stares at the sunlight, no longer feeling gloomy. Sam prepares to shave him, and the surroundings seem to indicate that the world is happy and calm. Looking out the window, Charles sees a shepherd with a number of sheep in the street and is struck by the charm of the country. He tells Sam he could almost consider never returning to London.
Presenting a contrast to where the last chapter left off, with Sarah entering the hell of Mrs. Poulteney’s house, the weather in this scene seems to predict great things for the day ahead and separate Charles’s cheerful state of mind from Sarah’s depressed one. Charles is very much the upper-class visitor, seeing charm rather than work in a flock of sheep.
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Sam has worked for Charles for four years, and the two men know each other well. Charles accuses Sam of drinking, because it seems the only explanation for being grumpy on such a nice day. Sam tests the razor on his finger, looking like he might cut someone’s throat. He complains that Mrs. Tranter’s kitchen girl has called to him across the street to ask whether he had a bag of soot. Charles says he knows the girl, and calls her ugly. Sam retorts that she’s not ugly, and Charles teases that he’s attracted to her. Sam is humiliated that the hostlers heard her, but Charles isn’t sympathetic. He asks for his breakfast, but as Sam is going, Charles says he suspects that Sam’s been flirting.
Sam is humiliated by the kitchen girl’s boldness in asking him for soot as though he’s a lower type of servant than he is, showing his sensitivity to the nuances of class and his desire to seem as elite as possible in his position. Charles clearly treats Sam as an inferior, teasing him constantly and trying to keep him off-balance. Sam helps Charles feel superior in terms of class and intellect, which certainly benefits Charles, but debases Sam.
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Charles winks at himself in the mirror, then puts on a serious look, then smiles again. He has a wide forehead and a black moustache. His skin is pale; a tan is a mark of low rank at this time. His face is really too innocent. He begins to shave.
Fowles doesn’t hesitate to explain the significance of a tan because he’s not trying to pretend his readers are Victorians. Though Charles considers himself experienced in the world, Fowles suggests he isn’t really.
Themes
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Sam is ten years younger than Charles and is too absentminded and vain to be a good manservant. Now it’s impossible to think of a Cockney servant named Sam without thinking of Sam Weller in The Pickwick Papers. Sam likes to show off his social progress, and he knows that his generation is better than Sam Weller’s. The traditional upper-class dandies are known as “swells,” but artisans and certain servants are beginning to copy them and are known as “snobs.” Sam is one of these, and spends most of his money on fashionable clothes.
Sam Weller, a Cockney (working-class Londoner) valet, was the character who first made Charles Dickens popular, and Fowles directly acknowledges that his character Sam is a reference to Sam Weller. Sam is trying to change his outward appearance to copy men of higher classes. He entirely subscribes to the class system and wants to climb upwards from his lower-class position.
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Sam is trying to change his accent. Cockneys have long been derided for their accent, and snobs’ attempts to rid themselves of it are a sign of social revolution. To Charles, Sam provides an opportunity to express bad humor based on educational privilege. Though this might seem cruel, Charles and Sam do have an affectionate bond much better than the coldness that exists between many wealthy people and their servants at this time. The new rich are often the children of servants, and so they’re careful to mark the distance between themselves and their servants. Charles, on the other hand, sees Sam as an amusing companion more than an excellent servant. But the difference between Sam Weller and Sam Farrow, between 1836 and 1867, is that the first is happy with his job, and the second feels it something to be endured.
Sam isn’t happy with his class and he is trying to shed all traces of his origins—the Cockney accent immediately marks someone as lower-class. The narrator argues that Charles can see Sam as a companion because Charles is confident enough in his social position that he doesn’t have to be afraid that consorting with Sam will make him seem lesser. However, Charles’s sense of distance from Sam’s position also makes him think of Sam as a less valuable person and makes him unsympathetic at times. The lower classes are changing and becoming dissatisfied, suggesting that revolution might be in the cards.
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