Chapter Forty Six begins with Charles hesitating then knocking on the hotel proprietors’ door. He is taken to see Miss Woodruff and is told she has sprained her ankle. He has felt an ‘intolerable thirst’ to see her again and when Sarah sees him and cries he has a need to possess her. They kiss and embrace; he throws her on the bed and undresses wildly. He penetrates her and ejaculates, and ‘precisely ninety seconds had passed since he first looked in her bedroom’,
They lie in silence in Chapter Forty Seven and he is at first frozen with delight and then starts to feel guilty. He says he is ‘worse than Varguennes’. She says she knows he cannot marry her, but he says he must (as a duty). She responds by saying she is wicked and is not fit to be his wife and he counters by saying he no longer loves Ernestina. Sarah repeats that she is not worthy and he begins to take her at her word and that she could be his last fling (before marriage). He is also like many Victorian men in that he cannot believe women enjoy having sex and thinks it must not happen again. He remembers the time and asks her to give him a day or two of grace as he cannot think what to do now.
When he dresses, a figurative thunderbolt strikes him. He notices blood on his shirt tails and realizes that she must have been a virgin. He wonders why she lied about giving herself to Varguennes and worries momentarily that she might want to blackmail him. She says again that she is not worthy of him and this time he believes her. He whispers, ‘Varguennes?’, and she explains that she went to see him in Weymouth, but saw him come out of a door with another woman.
Charles notices that as Sarah moves about she is no longer limping. She admits that she has deceived him, but says she will not trouble him again. She says he has given her the consolation ‘of believing that in another world, another age, another life, I might have been your wife’. She continues and tells him she has not deceived him with the fact she loves him from, she thinks, the moment she saw him.
He describes himself as a ‘dupe’ of her imaginings and she says there can be no happiness between them and, ‘you cannot marry me, Mr Smithson’. This formality cuts him, but finally he leaves.
As he leaves the hotel in Chapter Forty Eight, Charles puts on ‘his most formal self’. He walks blindly in the rain and enters a church. He asks the curate if he may pray for a few minutes and as the curate notices he is a gentleman he gives him the keys to lock up and tells him where to bring them when he has finished. Alone, he prays and then begins to cry. He does not wish to be agnostic and is crying because the ‘wires were down’ and no communication was possible. A dialogue between his better and worse self ensues and then feels empathy for Christ on the Cross, or, not on the Cross but on Sarah. However, it also occurs to him, if there is no after life, he cannot be judged. He thinks of marriage to Sarah and leaves the church.
Analysis – Chapters Forty Six, Forty Seven and Forty Eight
Charles’s discovery of Sarah’s virginity demonstrates all the more that her desire to be seen as an outcast in Lyme Regis society needed nothing more than rumor and fear of difference to support it. It also follows that her position as spiritual and moral exile is both self-imposed and yet easily believed.
Charles attempts to take recourse in religion after having sex with her and this perhaps may be seen as him trying to find comfort in his former beliefs. It is not until he appreciates that he will not be judged by God for his actions that he thinks again of marrying Sarah. By recognizing the full implications of agnosticism, he is liberated from at least some of his fears.