The French Lieutenant's Woman

The French Lieutenant's Woman Summary and Analysis of Chapter 61


Chapter 61:

This is the beginning of the second ending of the novel that the narrator offers us. A man - who we find out is actually the narrator again - has been standing outside the house where Charles and Sarah are being reunited with each other. He takes out his watch and sets it back by fifteen minutes. He gets in a carriage and is driven away.

The narrative jumps back into the room where Charles and Sarah are talking, picking up at the part where Charles accuses Sarah of intentionally tried to cause him pain. The rest of the scene unravels differently to the way it did in Chapter 60. Charles turns to leave, angry with Sarah for her deception; she claims that it would have been "selfish" of her to allow him to marry her if she knew she could never "love [him] as a wife must" (363). Sarah touches his arm, seemingly suggesting that they can still have a relationship of sorts, even if it isn't the marriage he wanted. But Charles believes she will continue manipulating him and possessing him, and he leaves the room feeling frenzied and despairing. On the way out of the house, he sees the baby in the woman's arms, but he keeps walking down the stairs and out the gate.

Charles walks blindly across the street, and Sarah looks down from her window at a mother and child playing in the garden. Charles will not kill himself, the narrator tells us: he has come to the important realization that life is not a one-time riddle to be solved but a sequence of events to be endured. It seems as though he resolves himself to endure it.


Chapter 61:

The author intrudes into the story again as a physical character in the plot, and Fowles describes himself in a highly ironic and self-deprecatory way. He doesn't let on immediately that he is talking about himself, merely saying that an "extremely important-looking person" has been standing outside the house during the last scene (361). Then he pokes fun at his own lack of control over the world he has created, claiming that he "did not want to introduce" himself as a character, but he is such an overbearing and pushy person that he made his way into the story anyway (361). The narrator reassures his readers that he is really "a very minor figure," and uses hyperbole to emphasize this claim: he is as " a gamma-ray particle" (361). This is heavily ironic, since gamma ray particles are highly powerful, despite their small size, and can cause significant damage when they are emitted from radioactive sources. The rest of the description of himself is negative: he is "not pleasant" at heart, and too "flashy" to be more than a "tycoon" or a "successful impresario" compared to a true artist like Rossetti (362). He is powerful, though: he has the power to manipulate the time of the narrative, and he sets back his watch in order to allow us to see the second possible ending of the story.

The conclusion of the second ending is melancholic and yet bizarrely hopeful, it is bittersweet. The love story that we have been following and hoping for doesn't end happily, although it does come to some sort of a resolution. The most important thing is that Charles comes to a realization about what life is: not a simple riddle that he can answer by marrying Sarah or traveling the world, but a "river" that he must walk along and endure as best he can, even if he lives life "inadequately, emptily, hopelessly" (366). We see a widening of scope at the very end of the novel from the stories of Sarah and Charles to the more general human condition. The last sentence seems to have nothing to do with the specific characters and their feelings, and it takes us out of the London setting and throws us "out again, upon the unplumb'd, salt, estranging sea" (366). This is a quote from a poem of the era titled "To Marguerite," which Fowles has quoted before, in Chapter 58. Charles knows and loves the poem, and so it seems as though he is adopting it as a way of looking at the world. The second ending of the novel is thus not totally hopeless, because Charles seems to have matured significantly from a fairly bland gentleman collecting fossils and marrying without love into an existentialist with a more profound way of looking at life. He is inspired to go on and forge his own path in a strange and "estranging" world (366).