MY CHARACTER THIS WEEK: Charles Smithson
Charles Smithson is the male protagonist of John Fowles’s novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman. The reason I chose this character for today’s Character Connection is that I felt sympathy for a man who perhaps doesn't deserve so much attention from my part.
Charles is a handsome young gentleman with a great interest in palaeontology, to describe him in short. I liked Charles immediately, because at first sight he seemed like a typical patrician of the Victorian era, and yet, he was so different from his contemporaries in a new, fresh way. He is very intelligent and witty, and quite a humorous man. In Chapter 2, there is one such witty humorous remark uttered by Charles:
“He did say he would not let his daughter marry a man who considered his grandfather to be an ape. But I think on reflection he will recall that in my case it was a titled ape.”
He doesn't seek pleasure in hunting, like many of his contemporaries did, but rather in science and knowledge, namely palaeontology. I found that appealing. He tries to appear independent, self-confident, indifferent and is often arrogant. But deep inside, I believe he is a gentle, caring man, which I saw in his dealings with Ernestina (though he hid his caring, gentle feelings behind the mask of mockery and indifference) and when he soothed the baby of a prostitute while she was out to find him a cab. Not to mention his writing poetry in America!
He has a sense of duty and can distinguish between right and wrong. But in the novel, he is often divided between his sense of duty and what is acceptable, and between his inner need to see deeper. That becomes evident in his relationship with Sarah. He knows when he is away from Sarah that he should be careful and let her be, but in the last moment, he sees something more in Sarah and succumbs to it. This battle between reason and feelings in a respectable gentleman of the Victorian period fascinated me. Charles is somewhat weak. He is confused and even naive, though I am sure he would not agree with me. He is also a bit of an idealist in my eyes, especially concerning Sarah, and all that makes him perfectly imperfect. I like perfectly imperfect characters.
I condemned Charles when he was meeting Sarah in secret, behind Ernestina's back. His deceitfulness made me feel very angry with Charles, as I have deceitfulness and no one deserves to be betrayed. But I could tell he cared for Ernestina and that he was, in the end, just a lost boy who did not know what to do. He did not wish to be in trade and destroy his ''gentleman-ness'' like this, which would be completely humiliating for him. He had lived like a gentleman all his life, so I can hardly blame him for ''losing it'' when Ernestina's father offered him a position in his firm. I felt sorry for Charles. Despite what he did to Ernestina, I just wanted to hug him and sing him a comforting song.
I had a feeling that all his life he followed some rules, but Sarah liberated him. She taught him to trust himself and when he reached that stage, I was proud of him. He is also very stubborn, but stubborn in defending his dignity, which I saw in the last chapter. I appreciated that about him. Most people who have read this novel remember the cryptic and elusive Sarah, but Charles was the one who got stuck in my mind. I repeat, I don’t think he deserves my sympathy, but he is so likeable nonetheless.