68 pages 2 hours read

John Fowles

The French Lieutenant's Woman

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1969

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The Expectations of Victorian Social Class

The characters in The French Lieutenant’s Woman are keenly aware of their social class. In broad terms, they belong to one of three classes: Charles and Sir Robert are members of the aristocratic upper class; Ernestina and her father are upwardly mobile members of the newly moneyed middle class; and Sam and Mary are working class. Victorian society demands that these characters adhere to the expectations of their social class. Sam and Mary must know their place, for example, and act demurely and respectfully to the members of the middle and upper classes. On more than one occasion, Charles rebukes Sam for taking a presumptive tone that is not suitable for a working-class man. Similarly, Charles recognizes Ernestina’s attempts to act in a manner befitting an upper-class woman though he notes that she cannot quite escape her middle-class heritage. Ideas and manners that are second nature to him seem new and unnecessary to her. His attempts to refine her manners and correct her infringements of Victorian etiquette are part of his training her to marry into a social class above her station. Ernestina recognizes this, deferring to Charles’s more refined and polished understanding of how an upper-class person should act.