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MonkeyNotes-The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles
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CHAPTER 8

The chapter starts out with Charles’ visit to Ernestina’s house only
to find her indisposed. Out of a sense of duty, he asks if he should
summon the doctor but is dissuaded by Aunt Tranter. He decides to
spend the day indulging in his hobby and goes to the seashore to
look for fossils. The narrator then interrupts the narrative to give
the reader scientific data on the geographical strata that is available
in Lyme Regis. It is a haven for anybody who is scientifically
inclined towards fossils.

The narration returns back to Charles. He is highly overdressed by
twentieth century standards. For instance, he wears hob-nailed
boots to walk on a beach strewn with boulders. The narrator
hastens to warn the reader from laughing at Charles’ attire as
Victorians tended to be a little bit overzealous in their efforts. They
were guided by their driven sense of duty. The narrator digresses
again stating that modern man was not interested in the past, only
the present. The narrator states that Charles had a sentimental
attitude towards science than any deep rooted realistic interest in it.
He claimed to be a Darwinist, but the truth was that he did not
understand the great theorist. Paleontology eased his boredom.

When Charles finds a fossil specimen, he remembers Ernestina and
his duty to her. He decides to give the fossil to her and reluctantly
turns back from his search. He realizes that he has lost a lot of time
and decides to take a shortcut through the undercliff.

Notes

Chapter 8 is a discussion of Victorian attitudes towards scientific
inquiry. The Victorian Age was heralded as the age of rationality.
The Victorians were questioning religious dogmas and conventions
of the past and were now encouraging factual scientific research.
Science and its findings fascinated the Victorians, but they rarely
understood it. They realized that very little efforts were channeled
toward this purpose and so encouraged it, but the scientific method
of inquiry was not popular at the time. The scientific method
required the scientist to arrive at a hypotheses and then to prove or
disprove it with factual data using empirical methods of research.
The Victorians were ignorant of this method. They instead
proposed theories to explain the existence of natural phenomenon
that had no scientific backing.

Like the majority of the Victorian public, Charles did not
understand Darwin’s theory on the origin of species. He prefers to
call himself a Darwinist as this makes him feel contemporary as
well as driven by larger ideas about the world and its origins.
Charles has very little direction and practically no expectations out
of life. He prefers to play the role of an upper class gentleman and
dilettante naturalist. Also, his sense of duty is very strong like most
Victorians. The author digresses to inform the reader that his
switch from paleontology to his duty to Ernestina was easily done.
According to the narrator, Charles interest in science was more a
way to deflect boredom and avoid making decisions rather than a
deeply driven need to discover. Victorians believed that all
knowledge was already discovered and that it just had to be
catalogued. Therefore, Charles’ purpose in finding fossils is not to
discover anything new but to focus on minutiae and avoid the
larger picture of his life.

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