Fowles Social

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John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman examines the social conventions in the 19th century by exploring ideas of sexual repression, class structures and the moral responsibilities that accompany it. Women of the middle and upper classes were sexually ignorant before marriage. In the novel, we learn from Grogan that at least one couple he knew thought that the navel was the point of entry for sex. Ernestina, who is typical of the time, will not even allow herself to look at her own naked body, or permit Charles to touch her except for the chastest of kisses on the cheek, forehead or hand. The comparison between the women: Mary, Sarah and Ernestina, exemplifies the accepted behaviour of women according to their social class. The women of the middle to upper class like Ernestina; would not be allowed any contact before the engagement was announced with a man, without the presence of a female chaperone. Aunt Tranter is always near at hand even after Tina and Charles are engaged. There would not be any real education about what to expect after marriage, either. Women would most likely be counselled to "endure the inevitable" and regard it as their "duty" to submit to the husband's carnal desires. In a society where a wife became, literally, a chattel of the husband, her property becoming his automatically upon marriage, we can not expect any real assertive behaviour on the part of the wife. Women were subordinate to their husbands - the marriage service still contained the words "to obey". “He did not like her when she was wilful; it contrasted too strongly with her elaborate clothes, all designed to show a total inadequacy outside the domestic interior.” Charles’s view of how his wife-to-be should behave is exemplified here. It is evident that he subscribes at least partially to the values of the age where women were expected to be obedient and acquiescent. According to Victorian social norms, Enjoyment of sex was an indication of a loose moral character,...
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