The stringent distinction between sexes in Victorian England is one of this novel’s central themes which is scrutinized and deconstructed constantly. Both the patriarchy and the class system confines characters such as Sarah. Although her education moves her up the social ladder away from her father who was a farmer, it also leaves her lost between the roles of being fit for a governess or a companion. The French lieutenants woman portrays prejudice, especially against woman of the Victorian era through the overly culture conscious characters. Strong willed females in the novel are portrayed in a negative light altogether.
Sarah reputation as a ‘fallen woman’ is completely opposite of the ‘ideal’ Victorian lady. Her post in society is questionable as she has risen unusually beyond her position but is still victimized throughout the novel. She can be viewed as someone past the generation as she able to continuously ignore the rumours about her scandalous actions till the very end which is when Charles realizes how much Sarah constantly yearned for freedom (pg430). “He had not realized how much the freedom was embodied in Sarah”. Sarah is often referred to as a ‘whore’ which shows the extent of abuse she suffered through many mouths however her ability to turn a deaf ear to these statement also shows her independence as she is determined to lead an ordinary life. To some extent Sarah’s intention was to be treated in such manner as she wanted to be distinguished as a dishonoured figure, this may be to release herself of guilt she felt within before ultimately reaching her desired complete freedom. Freedom had to be ‘embodied’ within her as otherwise she would have suffered further exploitation by the harsh society however her independence and ignorance to the societies conventions isolates her completely. In comparison to Mrs Poultney who was another independent woman who has performed deeds which could be deemed sinful in many ways.
Although Mrs Poultney was an individualistic person, she was also seen as a cruel, callous woman who embodies every possible negative aspect of the Victorian age. However she was never out rightly insulted by the society unlike Sarah. Her ‘eagle eye’ missed no soul under her command suggesting the extent of which her behaviour affected them leading her to be named worthy of “a place in the Gestapo” by the narrator (Pg26). Her treatment of her employees was worsened by the conventions of her society, this is because these conventions consisted of strict class hierarchies and a significant deal of Christian values which was the prime selfish reason she ‘bought’ Sarah. This highlights another issue for women in the society. Even for a woman as strong as herself she still worried about her reputation with in her society, this could be seen as a representation of the challenges that every woman in the society at the time had to cope with