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
[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.
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.