The French Lieutenant's Woman

The French Lieutenant's Woman Metaphors and Similes

Sarah as fire and water (Metaphor)

Sarah is frequently linked to imagery related to fire and water. Both types of imagery represent how dangerous she is to Charles. The fire hints at her passionate intensity: Dr. Grogan warns Charles that he is "playing with fire" by continuing to meet Sarah, and Charles himself feels like "a moth infatuated by a candle" (152). The fire imagery also seems to have sexual connotations: in Chapter 31, Sarah throws a "passionate look" at Charles and the narrator describes her as "all flame" (198). The metaphors related to water seem to suggest immeasurable and uncharted depths of her character, and the ease with which she overwhelms Charles. He cannot be strong and act like the gentleman that he thinks he is when he is around Sarah; her intense sadness makes him weak. In Chapter 31, Charles stands over Sarah as she cries but feels "like a man beneath a breaking dam," overwhelmed by the depth and force of her emotion (199). Dr. Grogan also refers to the danger of interacting with Sarah with water metaphors and similes when he notes that "she had eyes a man could drown in" (180). Charles echoes this sentiment when he claims that he is sailing on "dangerous waters" by continuing to see Sarah (153). Fire and water may be opposite elements, but the inclusion of imagery relating to both shows how mysterious and strong Sarah is - her emotional intensity is a force of nature.

Sarah Woodruff as a wild animal, Chapter 16 (Simile)

When Charles calls out to Sarah on Wares Common, Sarah is described as "totally like a wild animal" (98). She is nervous and suspicious of him, just as an animal reacts toward another animal who may be a predator. Sarah is not thought of as a wild animal by any of the other characters in the novel - just Charles - and this is because he is the only one who elicits such behavior in her (with other people, she is calm and reserved) by importuning her with questions and his presence, like a predator. Later in the same chapter, Charles teases Sarah, and she looks at him "as if he were torturing some animal at bay" (101). Sarah is confused about Charles' intentions, and she feels as though he is following her and upsetting her on purpose. It is interesting to note that the power dynamics occasionally shift - in Chapter 18, Charles is described as "a good deal more like a startled roebuck than a worldly English gentleman" (119).

Charles engulfed by Sarah's landslide, Chapter 18 (Simile)

Another simile that hints at the danger Charles feels when interacting with Sarah is one that compares him to "a man about to be engulfed by a landslide" (119). He is clearly not supposed to be interacting with such frequency with Sarah, and he feels the urge to "run," but cannot leave, because she holds a fascination for him: just as someone looking at a landslide may be torn between fear and fascination - and may be too petrified to run at all.

Gentlemen as dinosaurs, Chapter 38 (Simile)

Charles believes in Darwinism, and one of the main tenets of Darwinism is that species have to adapt in order to survive and reproduce. Unfortunately, Charles and his fellow gentlemen are so entrenched in their way of life that they are unable to keep up with the changing times. Because they refuse to change their behavior - say, by going into commerce - they become "victim[s] of evolution" (228). They are compared in Chapter 38 to an "ancient saurian species" of dinosaur, now gone extinct because their spikes became too unwieldy and they could not adapt in time (230).

Post-coital Charles as a bombed city (Simile)

The imagery that describes Charles' reaction to having had sex with Sarah is almost entirely negative, as he becomes aware of the huge consequences and repercussions of the sexual encounter he initiated so spontaneously. Charles is compared to the last man alive in a city blasted by an "atom bomb," who is poisoned by radioactive shame and guilt (275).