Masculine Identity in The French Lieutenant's Woman
Publication date: January 2003
Digital Book format: ePub (Adobe DRM)
It is not easy to define masculinity because the character of the gender is 'historically changing and politically fraught.' Masculinities 'come into existence at particular times and places, and are always subject to change.' In Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman, the idea of masculinity in the Victorian period is presented from a modern perspective. It is also important to note that even in the Victorian period, there was not only one rigid idea of Masculinity that was accepted. To some extent, the understandings of 'the masculine' relate to issues of class; aristocrats and farm workers, for example, did not share essentially the same basic notions of masculinity . In upper classes, manliness was a 'Victorian requirement for men -just as women had to be womanly.' The idea of what is masculine in a society is in fact closely related to the definition of femininity. According to Connel, 'Semiotic approaches (...) define masculinity through a system of symbolic difference in which masculine and feminine places are contrasted. Masculinity is, in effect, defined as not-femininity.' Charles Smithson, the character this study will focus on, develops from a Victorian to a 'modern' man, or a post-Victorian man in the course of the novel. We shall see how his development is connected to the woman he has a relationship with, and how, in order to develop, he has to free himself from a relationship. It is this due to Sarah Woodruff that Charles ultimately 'frees' him from the Victorian convention.
Charles's mother dies when he is only one year old, leaving him alone with his father. In the Victorian period, the mother was considered to be 'the most pure' of 'all women in the world and the most useful as a sanction for adolescent chastity. 7' His father dies in 1856, when Charles was still very young 8. But what appears to be most influential in Charles's shaping is the Victorian age. Being raised to be a gentleman, Charles was largely unmotivated. The narrator says:
'Laziness was, I am afraid, Charles's distinguishing trait. Like many of his contemporaries he sensed that the earlier self-responsibility of the century was turning into self-importance: that what drove the new Britain was increasingly a desire to seem respectable, in the place of the desire to do good for good's sake.'