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Free Study Guide-The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles-BookNotes
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Chapter 5


The chapter begins with a quote from Lord Alfred Tennysonís In Memoriam which is a reflective commentary on Victorian attitudes towards sexuality and duty and the moral conflicts Victorian men and women faced.

This chapter has Charles and Ernestina parting after their walk and focuses on Ernestinaís return to her room where she gazes in the mirror while undressing. The reader is informed that Ernestina has features appropriate for the age she lives in. She is the epitome of everything a Victorian woman stands for: beauty, purity, and modesty. Her father, Mr. Freeman, is a trader who has risen from the lower classes to be a prominent citizen in London. He is representative of the new merchant class which could buy its way into a good social standing. The narrator makes intrusive comments about the Victorian age and the roles women were expected to play. Ernestina is a lively young lady who finds Lyme Regis very dull and boring. Although quite traditional and constantly conforming to the norm, Ernestina has moments when she breaks away from the set. She has been brought up like all Victorian women to think that her duty is to her husband and children, and she is desperate to conform to this rule. Like most women she is sexually repressed. The thought of sex and what would be expected of her once she married Charles makes her wince and shudder. She looks upon her engagement to Charles as a kind of duty. She has to go through it for her fatherís sake. Her father is ambitious and wants a title for his daughter. After all Charles is heir to a small fortune and estate. Ernestina is the perfect foil to Sarah, who chooses not to conform to societal norms.


Chapter 5 is a portrait of Charles fiancee, Ernestina Freeman. Ernestina typifies the heroine one would usually find in a Victorian novel - beautiful, virtuous, ebullient and yet she is much too controlled by her social conditioning to be a true heroine. Instead she epitomizes everything the Victorians demanded out of a woman - shy, pretty, dutiful. She accepts her future role as a wife and mother. The author informs the reader that under normal circumstances, that is by Victorian standards, Ernestina would have been the Heroine of this novel. But she has to relinquish her role to the more darkly, intense Sarah who defies convention.

Ernestina, nevertheless, emulates the ideals of the Victorian woman. She is the rich, pampered daughter of her trader-father who has risen from the lower classes and is ambitious that his daughter marries into a high-ranking family. Her engagement to Charles is only done out of a sense of duty to her parents and society. An unfortunate condition of many Victorian women, whether prostitutes or the daughters of wealthy businessman, was that they were commodified. In Sarahís case, her commodity is her virginity, which was heavily prized at the time. Like most Victorian women, she is sexually repressed, curious yet ignorant about her sexuality at the same time. Her society has trained her to believe that her body is meant for the sole sexual gratification of her husband and to bear his children.

Fowles gives the reader a quote from Tennysonís In Memoriam at the beginning of the chapter that illustrates how Victorians believed that if love could not be immortalized then it ended in lust. This is in parlance with the Victorian attitude that love is transcendental and not physical.

The authorís descriptions and dialogue are rendered in a style suitable for a Victorian novel. The accuracy of detail and dialogue should be noted for its authenticity.

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