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FOWLES, John

The French lieutenant’s woman

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The girl lay in the complete abandonment of deep sleep, on her back. Her coat had fallen open over her indigo dress, unrelieved in its calico severity except by a small white collar at the throat. The sleeper’s face was turned away from him, her right arm thrown back, bent in a childlike way. A scattered handful of anemones lay on the grass around it. There was something intensely tender and yet sexual in the way she lay; it awakened a dim echo of Charles of a moment from his time in Paris. Another girl, whose name now he could not even remember, perhaps had never known, seen sleeping so, one dawn, in a bedroom overlooking the Seine. He moved round the curving lip of the plateau, to where he could see the sleeper’s face better, and it was only then that he realized whom he had intruded upon. It was the French Lieutenant’s Woman. Part of her hair had become loose and half covered her cheek. On the Cobb it had seemed to him a dark brown; now he saw that it had red tints, a rich warmth, and without the then indispensable gloss of feminine hair oil. The skin below seemed very brown, almost ruddy, in that light, as if the girl cared more for health than a fashionably pale and languid-cheeked complexion. A strong nose, heavy eyebrows ... the mouth he could not see. It irked him strangely that he had to see her upside down, since the land would not allow him to pass round for the proper angle. He stood unable to do anything but stare down, tranced by this unexpected encounter, and overcome by an equally strange feeling—not sexual, but fraternal, perhaps paternal, a certainty of the innocence of this creature, of her being unfairly outcast, and which was in turn a factor of his intuition of her appalling loneliness. He could not imagine what, besides despair, could drive her, in an age where women were semistatic, timid, incapable of sustained physical effort, to this wild place.

He came at last to the very edge of the rampart above her, directly over her face, and there he saw that all the sadness he had so remarked before was gone; in sleep the face was gentle, it might even have had the ghost of a smile. It was precisely then, as he craned sideways down, that she awoke.

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