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Free Study Guide-The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles-BookNotes
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Chapter 2

Summary

Fowles gives a quotation from E. Royston Pikeís "Human Documents of the Victorian Golden Age" which is a commentary on the role of Victorian women.

The chapter introduces the reader to Ernestina Freeman and Charles Smithson, the two people walking along the Cobb. The couple are engaged to be married. Their conversation is largely small talk and rather trite. Ernestina appears to be lively, romantic and coy, typical of Victorian women. Her fiancée, Charles is interested in the theories of Darwin. He likes to think of himself as rational and scientific. His aim is to be different from other Victorian gentlemen.

The wind is blowing rather hard and a gale is coming in when Charles sees the women in black standing at the far end of the Cobb. He is concerned for her safety. Ernestina tells him that the woman is nicknamed "Tragedy" and that she is awaiting the return of her lover who has abandoned her. Charles is intrigued by the story and curious to meet the woman. He attempts to warn her about the storm but the woman simply turns around and stares at him. The look has a strong impact on Charles. He finds her face is unforgettable and tragic. When she turns away from them, Charles and Ernestina leave.


Notes

Chapter 2 starts out with a quotation from E. Royston Pikeís "Human Documents of the Victorian Golden Age" which comments on the population of women being higher than that of men. Pikes implies that because of these statistics the set role of Victorian women is that of a wife and mother. Yet because there are more women than men, not all women can fulfil their role as wives and mothers; therefore, the quote becomes ironic in the context of The French Lieutenantís Woman. Although Sarahís epithet appears to attach her to a man, he is in fact not present so far in the novel and she is free of the conventional role society attempts to impose on her.

The reader is introduced to Charles Smithson and his fiancée, Ernestina Freeman. Their conversation is banal. Ernestina typifies a Victorian woman in that all of her energy is expended on captivating a manís attention yet what she says is insubstantial. Much of this has to do with her socialization and she cannot be judged too harshly. Yet the differences between her and Charles is significant here. Whereas she has no interest in Sara other than the story of misfortune, Charles finds her odd and disconcertingly attractive because she is outside the norm. He has a predilection for scientific inquiries and theories such as Darwinism yet Ernestina shares none of this. He believes himself to be rational and analytical as he is scientifically inclined, but in reality, he is like any other Victorian gentleman: romantic, idealistic and conventional. When Ernestina informs him about Sarah, he is attracted by her unconventionality yet repelled by her strangeness. It is as though he is looking at some exotic specimen.

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