The French Lieutenant's Woman Chapters 12-14 Summary

John Fowles

Chapters 12-14 Summary

The narrator intrudes to give readers his insights into how his characters have developed. He questions himself about how he knows them. He asks if they are representatives of himself. If this is so, he asks if the story is autobiographical. He informs his readers that contrary to what they might think, he does not control his characters. They do what they want to do and do not necessarily act in the ways he had imagined. He then says that the worlds he creates are not so unlike the reality in which he and his readers live. No one has control, he contends, over their children, their friends, or even themselves—just as he has no control over Sarah or Charles. He then asks readers to consider their own histories. He claims that everyone makes up stories about their past because they do not remember exact details but want to impress others. In that regard, he asks what the difference is between reality and fiction.

The narrator then returns to his story. He tells how Sarah, despite the admonitions of Mrs. Poulteney, returns to the Ware Commons for her walks. She does not go there as often as she used to, but nonetheless she does return to the forbidden woods. She merely finds other ways of getting there that are not so obvious. She walks down open streets through the town but then sneaks along more obscure paths and finds her way back to the paths that cut through the woods. Sarah goes there because in the woods she finds the solitude to think her own thoughts and not be concerned about others.

The next time Charles encounters Sarah is at Mrs. Poulteney’s house. Charles and Ernestina have gone with Mrs. Tranter to visit the woman. Mrs. Poulteney insists that Sarah also be present. Charles watches Sarah throughout much of the conversation. He inspects her facial expressions to detect any signs that she might produce suggesting that he and she have had a previous encounter. As he observes her, he realizes that Sarah is very good at playing out a role; she disallows anyone to read her true emotions.

When the conversation turns to Sam and his pursuit of Mrs. Traner’s kitchen maid, Mary, Charles is surprised by Ernestina’s quick judgment of the situation. Ernestina is critical of Mary and suggests that the girl might be inappropriately involved with Sam. Mrs. Traner is also taken by surprise. She quite enjoys Mary’s lively nature, which she believes is innocent. Mrs. Poulteney attempts to warn Mrs. Traner that Mary might not be as good a servant as she hopes. Charles reassures Mrs. Traner that what he knows of Mary is all very positive.