The Cobb, a stone wall encircling the harbour of Lyme Regis, enabled it to develop a thriving ship-building industry and trade harbour from the late 16th to early 19th century. One of the most important Tudor trading ports, by 1867 Lyme's importance as a harbour had dwindled due to its unsuitability for the larger ships of the time.
The Duke of Monmouth (1649-1685) was the illegitimate son of Charles II, born during his exile after the execution of Charles I, his father. In 1685, he led the unsuccessful Monmouth Rebellion, in which he attempted to depose the Catholic King James II. Monmouth was protestant, and it is speculated that he chose to land at Lyme because he anticipated the support of the strongly Protestant people of the region.
The predominant fashion of the 1850s was the crinoline, a skirt of extremely wide diameter, supported either by multiple layers of petticoat or a frame of steel hoops. It was a target for mockery even as it reached the height of its popularity, as shown by this satirical cartoon from 1857 (click for a larger image).
From the two images below can be seen the contrasting fashions described in this passage as well as the strikingly coloured dyes and colour combinations popular in the period.
This image, which recalls the chapter epigraph, was the germination of the novel:
"From his 180-year-old house high on a bluff in Lyme Regis, Dorset, John Fowles can look down to a curving stone jetty called the Cobb. Two years ago, he had a vision of a woman in a long Victorian skirt standing there with her back to him. It was the basis for the opening scene of The French Lieutenant's Woman and, says Fowles, 'the tiny seed from which the whole book started.'"
Neptune was the Roman God of the oceans.
Interactions between the sexes were highly regulated by Victorian society, even those between affianced couples. For example:
"No young lady who values her status in the eyes of society ever appears at theatres or other places of amusement alone with her [fiancé], she is either attended by her mother, sister, or some other female chaperon. Neither should she frequent promenades and other places of general resort, without the companionship of a sister or friend."
from Cassell's Household Guide (1880s).
The publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859 was still causing controversy eight years later. In this book, Darwin proposed the theory of evolution by natural selection, which contradicted the biblical dogma of creation by an omnipotent God over the course of six days. While other scientists had developed theories contradicting biblical accounts of the origin of the world (for example, Lyell's work in geology, and Wallace's contemporaneous work on evolution) it was Darwin who was vilified by opponents of the theory of evolution. The association of Darwin with monkeys or apes was a common trope of these attacks, as shown in these cartoons.
The marriage of rich young women of the middle class to less wealthy but titled men of the upper classes was a common occurance in Victorian England, although it was often considered that the groom was marrying beneath himself.
The shared plot of a man rejecting a younger and ostensibly more attractive woman for an older but more worthy one links Persuasion and this novel.
Charles' concern is not unfounded. The Cobb's position jutting out into the sea makes it very exposed to both wind and waves, as the video below shows.
Adagio is a musical term indicating the piece should be played slowly and leisurely. Examples of this tempo include Albinoni's Adagio for Strings (Spotify link) and the second movement of Schubert's Octet in F Major (Wikimedia Commons link)
1848 was a turbulent year in Europe. The French Revolution, beginning in February, was followed by civil uprisings and rebellions in parts of modern Italy and Germany, Denmark, Hungary, the Hapsburg Empire, Switzerland, Poland and Wallachia - illustrated (and satirised) in the cartoon to the right.
Britain escaped revolution, partly because of a series of voting reform acts that extended the vote to people who might otherwise have supported a revolution.
To learn more, listen to this discussion of the 1848 revolutions and how Britain avoided revolution, by Professor John Merriman of Yale University, USA.
The Chartists were campaigners for political reform in the 1840s and 50s.
Although the franchise (the group of those entitled to vote) had been extended by a series of laws in 1832, at this period only men who owned or rented land of a certain value could vote for members of Parliament. This meant, in effect, that no working class males could vote. It was this that the Chartists were attempting to change, along with measures to make it possible for non-wealthy men to stand for Parliament.
The strikes and marches of the Chartist movement caused anxiety to the middle and upper classes who benefited from the political and social status quo. Tensions eventually led to arrests and military action against the Chartists and the movement fizzled out by the 1850s, having acheived none of their aims.
Karl Marx (1818-1883), the political theorist who is often considered the founding father of Communism, lived in London from 1849 to his death in 1883. He wrote his most famous work, Das Kapital, in the public reading rooms of the British Library. Das Kapital is a highly-influential critique of the capitalist system.
Almack's was an exclusive club for high society in London in the 18th and 19th centuries. It admitted men and women and catered for guests with dancing and gambling.
There was a massive expansion of the railway system in the early Victorian period. Between 1838 and 1860, the number of miles of railtrack increased 2000%, while passengers had increased by the same ratio by 1855. More information on the growth and impact of the new railway system can be found here.
There are thirty-nine central doctrines of the Anglican faith, which outline the beliefs of Church of England adherants and highlight the difference between Anglican and Catholic dogma. Students at Cambridge were required to "sign" the articles in this period, signifying that they belonged to the Church of England.
The Oxford Movement, begun at Oxford University in the 1830s, aimed to move the Church of England back to its lost traditions. In effect, this meant making the religious services and beliefs more similar to those of the Catholic faith.
"seeing too much to deny [him], and too little to be convinced"
From the Pensées of Pascal, this phrase comes from a section where Pascal identifies the pitiableness of not being able to completely believe or disbelieve in God.
In 1848, an average family of about the same position in society as Charles is recorded as retaining 37 servants:
"a man cook and about six helpers male and female in the kitchen, a still-room maid and two helpers, six women in the laundry, eight house- maids, a housekeeper, house steward, valet, butler, four footmen and four ladies'-maids. The mother and three daughters each had her maid, and each grown-up son had a footman in special attendance upon him. There was an usher in livery who waited on the steward's room, and one of the younger housemaids waited on the housekeeper." (source)
It was a traditional custom of the 16th to 19th centuries for young men of Charles' class to undertake a journey around Europe, referred to as a "Grand Tour". This was supposed to broaden their horizons and complete their education, as well as function as a rite of passage, a last period of independence and freedom after which it was expected that they would marry and take up their social and familial responsibilities.
There was a standard route, which took in Greece and Italy, in tribute to their importance in ancient times, as well as France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal. Some travellers, like Charles, penetrated further south and east, visiting the modern Middle East and Turkey.
The Liberal Party was one of the two major parties at this period. They were socially liberal and progressive, favoured minimal government involvement in the economy and wished to reduce the power of the monarch and the Church. They were in favour of extending the right to vote beyond its contemporary scope.
William Gladstone (1809-1898) was a Liberal Party politician who would go on to be Prime Minister four times, his first term starting in 1868. At the time the novel is set, however, he had most recently been a controversial Chancellor of the Exchequer. His policies of raising income tax, abolishing other duties, supporting the independence of the USA and arguing for electoral reform would not have won him the support of the conservative country gentry, but would have gained the respect of more liberal, urban, younger upper and middle classes.
The Victorian period saw the novels of Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad, Robert Louis Stevenson, Bram Stoker, William Thackeray, Anthony Trollope, the Brontë sisters, Wilkie Collins, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde and Lewis Carroll.
Charles Lyell (1797-1875) was a geologist, whose Principles of Geology set forth the idea that the earth was formed into its current shape by powerful but slow-moving forces that were still at work in the 19th century. This, along with Darwin's theory of the evolution of species, was a major challenge to the Biblical account of the origins of the earth.
George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824), was a poet of the 18th century who was as notorious for his scandalous affairs as for his brilliant, wildly popular verse. He was the first to be described as "mad, bad and dangerous to know", by a spurned lover.
The architecture of the Regency period is characterised by Greek columns, white-painted exteriors, symmetry and an understated elegance.