Charles has certainly decided to go through with his marriage to Ernestina at the beginning of Chapter Forty Three and his visit to the brothel and encounter with the prostitute have confirmed this.
On his return to Lyme Regis, he thinks of Sarah a lot, but when they arrive in Exeter, Sam asks if they are staying the night (feeling sure they would) and Charles says no, and says they should carry on to Lyme. With this decision, all now seems ‘inexorably fixed’. He does think, though, that he will never have solitude again, as he has chosen to please Ernestina and her father. He thinks of Sarah as a symbol, because, of course, he does not think of her as an alternative to Ernestina. She symbolizes his ‘extinct freedoms’ and so he becomes ‘one of life’s victims’ caught up in history.
In Chapter Forty Four, Sam and Charles arrive at the White Lion just before 10:00 pm. The lights are on at Aunt Tranter’s home and Charles goes to see Ernestina. He tells her he did not buy her flowers in Exeter as he was in such haste to see her before she went to bed. As he talks, she embroiders a pouch for him to place his watch in at night.
This section ends with Charles beginning to tell her about ‘Tragedy’ (Sarah), but then says the ‘more vulgar appellation is better suited’. The narrator breaks in and says ‘and so ends the story’. The narrator does not know what happened to Sarah except she never troubled Charles in person again. Charles and Ernestina did not live happily ever after, but did live together and had, ‘let us say seven children’. Sir Robert Smithson sired twins ten months after marrying Mrs Tomkins and this finally drove Charles into commerce. His sons were given no choice and their sons still control the business.
The narrator begins to tell the readers about the fate of Sam and Mary, but then says, ‘but who can be bothered with the biography of servants?’ Dr Grogan and Aunt Tranter lived into their 90s and Mrs Poulteney died within two months of Charles’s return to Lyme Regis. The narrator relates that he can ‘summon up enough interest to look into the future’ for this character and says that Heaven’s Gates were slammed in her face and she was left with nothing but space. She fell down to where ‘her real master waited’.
In Chapter Forty Five, the narrator informs us that the last two chapters have been ‘a thoroughly traditional ending’, but ‘it did not happen quite in the way you may have been led to believe’. The last two chapters have been what Charles imagined would happen as he travelled from London to Exeter. Secretly, Charles has been feeling excited about the thought of a choice and this has been inspired by Sarah sending him her address.
The narrative returns again to Sam asking Charles if they are to stay the night at Exeter and this time Charles answers yes. Charles goes for a walk whilst Sam unpacks their belongings and finds Sarah’s hotel. The ‘embryo detective’ (Sam) hides nearby; he sees Charles enter and Sam leaves after 15 minutes.
Analysis – Chapters Forty Three, Forty Four and Forty Five
The realist’s ‘thoroughly traditional ending’ is given to the readers, via Charles’ imaginings, and is disrupted by the intervention of the narrator (and novelist). This proffered ending is not as traditional as the narrator claims as he makes it candidly clear (rather than subtly) that servants’ lives are not of interest to be considered in this tying up of events. It is, on hindsight, the ending that Charles would offer from his lofty position as gentleman. By disrupting this tradition of neat closure, Fowles reminds the reader once more that this is a work of fiction and not a realistic portrayal of life. The realist ‘rules’ are broken further when the novel begins again in Exeter and Charles says this time that yes, they will stay over.