68 pages 2 hours read

John Fowles

The French Lieutenant's Woman

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1969

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Symbols & Motifs


Charles is a keen collector of fossils and an amateur paleontologist. While in Lyme Regis, he spends his free time scouting up and down the cliffs for the tests that fascinate him so much. Charles’s pursuit of fossils symbolizes his class status. While men like Sam must organize their interests around their employment, a gentleman like Charles has no such obligations. He can devote his energy to pursuing whatever piques his interest. Like many paleontologists, Charles is an aristocrat. In the Victorian era, only aristocrats had the time and resources to pursue such an interest.

On another level, the fossils represent the society itself. Victorian society is dependent on appearances. Characters interact with one another and, at all times, they must maintain their performance of good etiquette and manners. This performance hides the swirling chaos of sex, blackmail, and betrayal, which is happening at all times but is buried beneath the outward manners and etiquette. Fossils are hidden truths about the way in which the world once worked. They must be dug up, studied, and interpreted if the characters are to learn more about them. Through his fossils, Charles is able to explore this feeling of unease about a hidden reality which lurks behind the public appearance of the world.