Sex And Marriage Dictated By Class Restrictions In John Fowles, The French Lieutenant’s Woman

1636 words - 7 pages

There have always been class divisions in England’s social groups, but it was not until the nineteenth century that they were labeled. The lower class was often uneducated and overlooked and mostly servants and prostitutes, the middle class generally had steady jobs and members of the higher classes were born to old money and did not have to work. The French Lieutenant’s Woman written by John Fowles is a complex “Victorian novel filled with enchanting mysteries and magically erotic possibilities” (Canby) in which, Fowles describes a Victorian society in 1867 that is still largely separated by class, which creates strong restrictions with respect to sex and marriage. Notably, conflict in the novel involves scandals where these restrictions are disregarded. Fowles shows that sex and marriage were still largely dictated by whether a person belonged to the lower, middle or upper class in order to highlight that there were more restrictions for higher-class men and women.
Firstly, the Victorian lower class had fewer restrictions with regard to sex and marriage. The novel defines a member of the lower class Victorian society as an uneducated individual who had an insubstantial income, lived in the house of his or her employer, or on the street (Booker, 4). Unlike the upper class that had a strict code of conduct, the lower class had more freedom. Two of the lower class characters include Sam Farrow, Charles’ manservant, and Mary, Aunt Tranter’s servant who fall in love. Early in the novel, Sam confesses to Charles that he is “a bloomin’ Derby duck” (Fowles 110) as he has strong feelings for Mary. Although, the two servants are not married, the narrator explains that they have had pre-marital sex. It was much easier for two members of the lower class to be having pre-marital sex because it was not unusual for members of lower class like Sam and Mary to “taste before you buy… [since it] was the rule, not the exception” (270). In addition, Sarah Woodruff, also a servant and member of the lower class like Mary, has a scandalous relationship with Charles, of the upper class, choosing to disobey class restrictions. However, in contrast to Mary who chooses to keep her relationship with Sam out of the public eye, Sarah deliberately chooses to be seen in Ware Commons, a place commonly known as where lovers meet. Specifically, during a visit to Ware, Sarah confesses to Charles that’s she “made sure Mrs. Fairley saw her. Sarah knew she would tell Mrs. Poulteney” (250). Since Sarah is held to a higher standard than Mary because of her education, she is judged by her behavior more than Mary and her previous record with a French Lieutenant. As well, Bonnie Zare, in agreeance with Fowles, argues that “she [Sarah] is unwilling to play by society’s rules because they arbitrarily restrict her freedom” (183). Although Sarah’s motif does not matter, this quotation proves that Sarah has the choice, and has chosen to ‘not play’ by the rules the Victorian society had...

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