*Lyme Regis. Old Dorset town on the English Channel. Its manners are old-fashioned, just the place for a conventional and traditional courtship. The novel opens on the Cobb, an ancient breakwater along the shoreline. There Charles Smithson and his intended bride, Ernestina Freeman, see the French lieutenant’s woman, Sarah Woodruff, staring longingly out to sea, evidently trying to find something more than Lyme can provide. Charles lives at the White Lion Hotel (now the Royal Lion Hotel) on Broad Street. Ernestina stays with her aunt a few yards to the north on the west side of that same street. Sarah is a servant in a house located on higher ground not far away. In 1867, at the base of Broad Street on the sea’s edge stand the Assembly Rooms where Charles and Ernestina attend a concert. Dr. Grogan’s rooms are also close to the sea, but farther west near the Cobb.
*Ware Cliffs. Also known as the Undercliff, a mile-long slope caused by the erosion of the ancient vertical cliff face, located at Lyme’s boundary, stretching west from where the Cobb juts out into the sea. Because the slope tilts toward the Sun, its vegetation is lush and exotic, appropriate to the values that challenge Lyme’s (and Charles’s) conservatism. Here, in stone outcrops, Charles hunts for fossils. Here, too, Sarah walks. In this romantic and erotic place, several miles from conservative Lyme, they meet. Walking back from their first encounter, Charles stops at a farm. That farm, which still exists, is where John Fowles himself lived when he began writing this novel.
*Wiltshire. County in England between Dorset and London where Charles’s uncle has his estate, Wynsyatt,...
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