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Free Study Guide-The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles-BookNotes
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Chapter 6


Fowles gives the reader a detailed account of Sarah’s tragic circumstances. At the vicar’s recommendation, Mrs. Poultenay agrees to interview Sarah for the post of a lady’s companion. Her conditions are that Sarah should be god fearing, respectable and above reproach. From the vicar Mrs. Poulteney learns that Sarah was at one time an appointed governess to the Talbot children. Sarah’s family came from the lower classes of society but she had been educated.

While working for the Talbots, she met a French Lieutenant, Monsieur Varguennes. His ship had sunk and he was recuperating at the Talbot residence. The Talbots had kindly given him shelter. Since Sarah was versed in French, she was given the task of tending to the injured Frenchman. Through this contact their relationship blossomed. Two days after he had left, Sarah gave up her job and followed him to Weymouth. He falsely promised her that he would return from France and marry her. Since then she has been awaiting his return.

Mrs. Poulteney takes a vicarious pleasure when she hears of Sarah’s tragic circumstances. Sarah seems like the perfect charity case, and she agrees to meet this "fallen" woman. At the interview, Mrs. Poulteney mistakenly assumed Sarah’s reserved posture to be that of someone who is remorseful and full of shame. She thinks that Sarah wants to redeem herself. Sarah is made to read a passage from the Bible and successfully passes the test. Mrs. Poulteney exults in Sarah’s melancholic demeanor as she mistakenly interprets her to be mourning her loss of moral values.

Sarah has received better offers of staying but she has her own reasons for accepting Mrs. Poultney’s offer. Firstly, she is close to destitution and needs some security and secondly, Malborough House is conveniently near to the sea. This way she can continue her watch for the Frenchman.


In this chapter, the reader gains a more detailed history of Sarah’s past as well as Mrs. Poulteney’s sanctimoniousness as she feigns compassion for a destitute woman. To her, Sarah is the perfect candidate for charity and she is determined to make sure that her charity-case redeems her fallen status. Sarah is the scourge on which she could lay to rest her own sins in order to reach Heaven.

In fact, during the interview, she takes great delight in taunting Sarah. She is satisfied that Sarah appears remorseful of her present status. In fact, Sarah’s reserved melancholic demeanor is a habitual one but Mrs. Poulteney prefers to think that she is morning her loss of moral virtue. Mrs. Fairley realizes that Sarah is slowly taking over the position that she originally has. To keep in Mrs. Poulteney’s good favors, she deliberately gives unfavorable reports on Sarah to Mrs. Poulteney. In fact, both women had already made up their minds to personally see to it that this young sinner underwent redemption. The author intrudes to inform the reader that if Sarah’s countenance did not bear that visible repentant look then Mrs. Poulteney would never have taken her in. It is important to note Sarah’s reasons for accepting the post despite receiving better offers from less harsher employers is that she is close to destitution, and most importantly, Malborough House’s location near the sea allows Sarah to continue her vigilance of the sea for her French lover. If Mrs. Poulteney had known her reasons, she would have been incensed.

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