The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

by

John Fowles

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Fossils Symbol Icon

As an amateur paleontologist, Charles spends much of his free time in Lyme searching for fossils. On a basic level, fossils represent the past and the experiences of living creatures throughout time. They act as a record of every being’s struggle to survive and thrive in spite of the forces stacked against them, which is just what Charles deals with in this story. Fossils also constitute much of the proof for Darwin’s theory of evolution, which Charles often applies to his own life, feeling that he is part of a select, “fit” group that contributes positively to the evolution of the human race. In some sense, he sees himself as a superior, almost ideal product of the fossils he seeks out. However, as the story goes on, Charles begins to identify more with the fossils themselves, feeling that he’s a victim of the machine of society and history, a helpless being who might as well already be dead considering how little control he has over his destiny.

Fossils Quotes in The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The The French Lieutenant’s Woman quotes below all refer to the symbol of Fossils. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Back Bay Books edition of The French Lieutenant’s Woman published in 1998.
Chapter 8 Quotes

[H]e saw in the strata an immensely reassuring orderliness in existence. He might perhaps have seen a very contemporary social symbolism in the way these gray-blue ledges were crumbling; but what he did see was a kind of edificiality of time, in which inexorable laws... very conveniently arranged themselves for the survival of the fittest and best, exemplia gratia Charles Smithson, this fine spring day, alone, eager and inquiring, understanding, accepting, noting and grateful. What was lacking, of course, was the corollary of the collapse of the ladder of nature: that if new species can come into being, old species very often have to make way for them.

Related Characters: Charles Smithson
Related Symbols: Fossils
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 25 Quotes

The master went back into his room; and there entered his mind a brief image of that ancient disaster he had found recorded in the blue lias and brought back to Ernestina—the ammonites caught in some recession of water, a micro-catastrophe of ninety million years ago. In a vivid insight, a flash of black lightning, he saw that all life was parallel: that evolution was not vertical, ascending to a perfection, but horizontal. Time was the great fallacy; existence was without history, was always now, was always this being caught in the same fiendish machine. All those painted screens erected by man to shut out reality—history, religion, duty, social position, all were illusions, mere opium fantasies.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Charles Smithson, Ernestina Freeman
Related Symbols: Fossils
Page Number: 206
Explanation and Analysis:
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Fossils Symbol Timeline in The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The timeline below shows where the symbol Fossils appears in The French Lieutenant’s Woman. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
...disagreement with Mr. Freeman doesn’t matter. She points out that he hasn’t even noticed the fossils they’ve been walking over. He kneels to exclaim over them, but Ernestina commands him to... (full context)
Chapter 8
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Sexuality and Gender Theme Icon
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
...is in an area of stone called blue lias, which, despite its unattractiveness, holds many fossils. Charles has already visited the Old Fossil Shop in Lyme, which was founded by a... (full context)
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
However, Charles specializes in petrified sea urchins, of which the shop has few specimens. These fossils are called tests or sand dollars. They helped to confirm the theory of evolution, but... (full context)
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
Charles finds a large piece of rock with clear fossil impressions on it. He decides to give it to Ernestina that afternoon, feeling that he’ll... (full context)
Chapter 12
Storytelling and Morality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
...Tranter, when the woman told Charles Sarah’s story. Charles gives Ernestina the rock full of fossils that he found, and she forgives him everything because it’s so heavy. He remarks on... (full context)
Chapter 16
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Sexuality and Gender Theme Icon
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
...doesn’t really want to leave his current house in London. Finally Ernestina lets him go fossil hunting for the afternoon. He returns to the bluff where he saw Sarah, because he’d... (full context)
Chapter 19
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
...ago and asks whether Charles has read his book, which argues that God created all fossils at the same time he created man. Charles calls it absurd, and Dr. Grogan says... (full context)
Chapter 20
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
...him another test. He says he should pay her what he would pay at the fossil shop. She’s offended, and Charles feels he has failed her, but it prompts him to... (full context)
Chapter 25
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
...the note and have them come up. Charles thinks of the catastrophe that caused his fossils to form. He realizes that life is parallel. Time is false, and existence is always... (full context)
Chapter 38
Class Theme Icon
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
...He’s unhappy. He feels like his rank is weighing him down. He stops, a living fossil, as fitter humans bustle around him. (full context)
Chapter 43
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
...Sarah as a symbol of all of his lost freedoms. He knows he’s just a fossil caught in the drift of history. Finally he falls asleep. (full context)
Chapter 58
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
...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... (full context)