About 2 weeks since the post "Poor Tragedy". Apparently it helped to skim through the novel and watch the film again, and choosing to discuss and analyse their endings in my "Fiction and film" exam a few days gave me a chance to think more deeply and organise my thoughts.
Sarah's decision to leave Charles as he goes back to Lyme and breaks the engagement with Ernestina, which puzzled me greatly for a while, now appears more understandable or at least can be interpreted in various ways. Perhaps she knows she is educated out of her class and cannot get married to a man socially above herself. Perhaps she has married shame and chooses to stick to the role she has had to play as a scarlet woman. Perhaps she feels guilty of making Charles break his vows. But perhaps she leaves out of pride, fearing that Charles may marry her not because he loves her but because he feels he has to after she gives herself to him, the same way Charles decides not to marry Ernestina when he no longer feels certain of their love and happiness and he would seem to marry trade, marry her money, not a woman he loves.
Charles is still shadowy as a character but that has another significance- he, albeit a scientist, a Darwinian, is still an ordinary man, a conventional man in some aspects, who could have been found in the Victorian society and may be found today. He blends in. He's like any other man. Karel Reisz has done an excellent job in his adaptation- unable to keep the epigraphs, the quotations from the writings by Jane Austen, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Thomas Hardy..., the author's footnotes on facts of Victorian society and comments on the differences between it and the modern society, because obviously film is a different medium, he has a brilliant solution- creating a film within a film, juxtaposing 2 love affairs, between Charles and Sarah of the 19th century and between Mike and Anna of the modern period, the actors who play them in the film. Thus, by not using words, by this juxtaposition, he's able to make one compare and see how different it is to be a woman and to have an affair in 2 different societies. It's also a good choice to keep the 2nd ending for the film within "The French lieutenant's woman" and the 3rd ending for Mike and Anna- the 2nd ending is less conventional than the 1st one and the 3rd ending, compared to the 2nd one, is even more radical and too radical for Charles and Sarah. The most interesting bit in the film is perhaps when Anna drives away without a goodbye and Mike, leaning out of the window, yells "Sarah!". "Sarah!", not "Anna!". It's not a mere slip, a mere mistake, in the film it's deliberate. In the end Anna looks into the mirror, with the Sarah-wig besides it, and realises that she and Sarah are different, that although both are women, both are passionate and both have an affair, she has freedom and the power to choose. And she chooses to leave. Mike, however, remains as Charles. He's not only affected by the role he plays but sees himself as Charles and Anna as Sarah, and becomes Charles himself. He doesn't know the difference. He doesn't know because he's a man. He doesn't know because now he doesn't have to sign any confession or lose anything when breaking an engagement like Charles and other men did in the 19th century but such a difference is minimal, and in whatever societies a man has more freedom and more rights, a man has never been oppressed and held down.