The French Lieutenant's Woman Chapters 37-39 Summary
by John Fowles

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Chapters 37-39 Summary

Charles is in London and is visiting with Ernestina’s father. After telling Mr. Freeman about his current financial status, Charles waits for his future father-in-law’s response. According to the narrator, Mr. Freeman initially wonders if Charles had not suspected that his uncle might marry one day and therefore looked for a wife with money. Charles senses that Mr. Freeman might be pondering this possibility, so he says that his uncle’s upcoming marriage came as a complete shock to him.

Mr. Freeman feels satisfied with Charles’s honesty. He compliments Charles on his integrity and reinforces his satisfaction that his daughter has chosen her future husband well. With this in mind, Mr. Freeman makes Charles an offer. Because Mr. Freeman does not have a son, he suggests turning his business over to Charles when he dies. Freeman is a successful businessman, the owner of a drapery empire that is soon to expand.

At the time of the novel, there is a sharp division between the upper-class, old money aristocracy (which is Charles’s background) and the merchant (or business) class. Even though Freeman has more money than Charles does, Charles claims several titles in his heritage. Charles is referred to, therefore, as a gentleman—and gentlemen usually do not work. This is why Charles has no job or profession. For Freeman to ask Charles to run his business is in some ways an insult; he is asking Charles to take on a task that is traditionally considered beneath his station in society.

As Charles ponders Freeman’s suggestion, he feels trapped. He does not want to have a job. He most assuredly does not want to feel that Freeman is his employer while Freeman is still alive and training Charles for the position. Charles feels uncomfortable because he does not know how to politely turn down the offer without seeming ungrateful.

After meeting with Mr. Freeman, Charles walks along London’s streets. It is a foggy day; people with money are riding in horse-drawn carriages while the lesser classes of people are walking. Therefore, Charles finds himself in the midst of workers and beggars. In some ways, he concludes, these lower-class people seem happier than do those of the upper classes. He wonders why this is the case. He also finds himself in front of one of Mr. Freeman’s stores and is revolted by the thought of entering it. He considers why he dislikes the merchant class. He tells...

(The entire section is 633 words.)