“The French Lieutenant's Woman” by John Fowles John Fowles “Writing is the most difficult thing in the world and takes great courage.” John Fowles was born on March 31, 1926, to middle-class parents living in a small London suburb—died November 5, 2005, Lyme Regis, Dorset. O Following the World War II , Fowles studied French and German at New College, Oxford. O He served as a lieutenant in the Royal Marines for two years, but World War II ended before he could go into combat. O He taught English at the University of Poiters and then to Spetsai, a Greek island, where he taught at Anorgyrios College. O His first published work, The Collector (1965), allowed him to retire with his wife and her daughter to Lyme Regis in Dorset. O In 1969 John wrote and published The French Lieutenant’s Woman followed by The Ebony Tower. O O O In 1978 and 1982, Fowles wrote some books that he came to release later on. Some of the notable ones include The Tree, Island, The Enigma of Stonehenge and Mantissa. Fowles had a keen interest in natural history, art, gardening, and local history. The Book •The French Lieutenant's Woman is a 1969 postmodern historical fiction novel by John Fowles. It was his third published novel, after The Collector (1963) and The Magus (1965). Of all John Fowles' novels The French Lieutenant's Woman received the most universal acclaim and today holds a very special place in the canon of post-war English literature. From the god-like stance of the nineteenth-century novelist that he both assumes and gently mocks, to the last detail of dress, idiom and manners, his book is an immaculate recreation of Victorian England. Not only is it the epic love story of two people of insight and imagination seeking escape from the cant and tyranny of their age, 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' is also a brilliantly sustained allegory of the decline of the twentieth-century passion for freedom. Plot Set in the mid-nineteenth century, the narrator identifies the novel's protagonist as Sarah Woodruff, the Woman of the title, also known as "Tragedy" and as "The French Lieutenant's Whore". She lives in the coastal town of Lyme Regis as a disgraced woman, supposedly abandoned by a French ship's officer named Varguennes who had returned to France and married. She spends some of her limited free time on The Cobb, a stone jetty where she stares out to sea. One day, Charles Smithson, an orphaned gentleman, and Ernestina Freeman, his fiancée and a daughter of a wealthy tradesman, see Sarah walking along the cliffside. Ernestina tells Charles something of Sarah's story, and he becomes curious about her. Though continuing to court Ernestina, Charles has several more encounters with Sarah, meeting her clandestinely three times. During these meetings, Sarah tells Charles of her history, and asks for his emotional and social support. During the same period, he learns of the possible loss of place as heir to his elderly uncle, who has become engaged to a woman young enough to bear a child. Meanwhile, Charles's servant Sam falls in love with Mary, the maid of Ernestina's aunt. In fact, Charles has fallen in love with Sarah and advises her to leave Lyme for Exeter. Returning from a journey to warn Ernestina's father about his uncertain inheritance, Charles stops in Exeter as if to visit Sarah. From there, the narrator, who intervenes throughout the novel and later becomes a character in it, offers three different ways in which the novel could end. Characters Sarah Woodruff – the main protagonist according to the narrator. Formerly a governess, she becomes disgraced after an illicit, but unconsummated, liaison with an injured French naval merchant. Charles Smithson – the main male character. Though born into a family with close ties to nobility, Smithson does not possess a title but has a sizable income and considerable education. Early in the novel he is described both as a casual naturalist and a Darwinist. Ernestina Freeman – Smithson's fiancee and daughter to a London-based owner of department stores. Unlike Sarah, Ernestina's temperament is much less complex, and much more simple-minded. Sam Farrow – Charles's Hackney servant with aspirations to become a haberdasher. Throughout the novel, Sam becomes the narrator's model for the working class peoples of Victorian Britain, comparing Sam's identity with Charles's ignorance of that culture. Dr Grogan – an Irish doctor in the town of Lyme Regis who both advises the various upperclass families in the town, and becomes an adviser to Charles. Mr Freeman – the father of Ernestina, he earned his wealth as an owner of a drapery and clothes sales chain of stores. He "represents the rising entrepreneurial class in England" which stands in stark contrast to the old money which Smithson comes from. Mrs Tranter – a prominent member of Lyme Regis society who is friends with Grogan and, as her maternal aunt, hosts Ernestina during her stay. Mrs Poulteney – a wealthy widow and, at the beginning of the novel, the employer of Sarah Woodruff. Mary – stereotypical lower-class servant to Mrs Tranter and future wife to Sam Farrow. Montague - Charles Smithson's family lawyer of a firm which has been around since the eighteenth century. 2–3 years older than Charles, he helps his client in search of Sarah towards the end of the novel. Central Conflict The major conflict of the novel could be categorized as man versus himself, or man versus society. Charles, although he is engaged to the pretty and rich Ernestina, finds himself fascinated by Sarah, the "French Lieutenant's Whore." Several things are preventing him from being with Sarah. For one, society would frown upon such a match, and Charles is very acutely aware of his 'Duty' to his family name and to his social class. Secondly, Charles is already engaged, and he feels a strong sense of duty toward the young woman whom he has promised to marry. Thirdly, Charles will not admit to himself for the majority of the novel that he is actually in love with Sarah, and it isn't until they consummate their relationship in Chapters 46-47 that Charles realizes the depth of his feeling for her. Style The novel is written in the first person, although it attempts to make us believe that it is written in the omniscient third. The narrator is not really a character in the action for the majority of the novel, which allows him an objective third-person view - but he is a minor character, as we see later in the story. Throughout the first fifty chapters or so, the narrator makes himself a part of the story - the dramatic narratorial of Chapter 13 is an example of this, when he admits that "this story [he is] telling is all imagination" (80). Our author admits to being the narrator, and continually reminds us that he is not only narrating the story, he is also imagining it: he definitely doesn't try to hide the fact that, as he says, "I am a novelist" (81). The narrator playfully inserts himself into the text in other ways, as when testifies that he has bought the same jug that Sarah purchases in Exeter, "a year or two ago for a good deal more than the three pennies Sarah was charged" (220). In Chapter 55 and Chapter 61, the narrator appears as a physical character in Charles' and Sarah's world - he is a minor character who plays the important role of winding back his pocket watch by 15 minutes, to allow the second ending to occur. This, of course, is a physical representation of what he is doing as the author outside the bounds of the story, which is manipulating the narrative. The narratorial voice is present throughout the novel, bursting through in certain places to remind us that the narrator is the author, and that the story is a fiction. Genre Postmodern literature, romance novel, historical fiction, historiographic metafiction, pastiche. Part of the novel's reputation is based on its expression of postmodern literary concerns through thematic focus on metafiction, historiography, metahistory, Marxist criticism and feminism. Stylistically and thematically, Linda Hutcheon describes the novel as an exemplar of a particular postmodern genre: "historiographic metafiction." Because of the contrast between the independent Sarah Woodruff and the more stereotypical male characters, the novel often receives attention for its treatment of gender issues. However, despite claims by Fowles that it is a feminist novel, critics have debated whether it offers a sufficiently transformative perspective on women. Symbolism Fossils As an amateur paleontologist, Charles spends much of his free time in Lyme searching for fossils. On a basic level, fossils represent the past and the experiences of living creatures throughout time. They act as a record of every being’s struggle to survive and thrive in spite of the forces stacked against them, which is just what Charles deals with in this story. Fossils also constitute much of the proof for Darwin’s theory of evolution, which Charles often applies to his own life, feeling that he is part of a select, “fit” group that contributes positively to the evolution of the human race. In some sense, he sees himself as a superior, almost ideal product of the fossils he seeks out. However, as the story goes on, Charles begins to identify more with the fossils themselves, feeling that he’s a victim of the machine of society and history, a helpless being who might as well already be dead considering how little control he has over his destiny. The Brooch When Charles goes to London to speak to Mr. Freeman, he buys a brooch that he intends to give to Ernestina. In the first ending, he does just this, and the brooch acts as a symbol of their enduring relationship. However, this ending is false. In reality, Charles sends the brooch to Sarah with his letter telling her he’s going to break off his engagement to Ernestina. Thus, it symbolizes his infidelity to Ernestina, as he’s giving a gift meant for her to someone else. However, Sarah never receives the brooch. Instead, Sam keeps it and gives it to Mary. In this context, the brooch represents the fact that their prosperity is based on deception that has hurt others. In all of its appearances, then, the brooch acts as a symbol of deceit: Charles’s deceit of himself, his deceit of Ernestina, and Sam’s deceit of Charles. The crumbling cliffs of Lyme Bay What the cliffs symbolize to Charles is the stately and monumental nature of time, in which nature builds on top of what exists to create huge edifices. He also sees the cliffs as symbolizing "the survival of the fittest and best," a subset of humans to which he feels he belongs. Ware Commons Much of Charles and Sarah's initial interactions take place on the wild Ware Commons, which is used as a symbol of a world outside of the Victorian sphere of harsh morality and prudery. Typically conservative characters like Mrs. Poulteney are aware of Ware Commons' significance. Ware Commons symbolizes all the things that she would prefer not to think about, like sex and crime and immorality. There is no supervision of Ware Commons, and so it is one of the only places in the novel that is free from society's rules - it is likened to "Sodom and Gomorrah" at one point, which underscores the seedy sexual connotations the place has for Lyme residents. Major themes of Fowles’s writing There are four major themes: The contrast between the masculine and the feminine 2. The problem of the Few and the Many 3. The importance of freedom 4. Links to the existentialist philosophy 5. The domain The first two themes are obviously of primary importance in any work of fiction, while the later three themes belong to the personal style of Fowles (and some other existentialist fictions) and not to fiction in general. More important is the fact that the male-female relationship lies at the very core of the other primary themes in Fowles's fiction. 1. Major themes of the novel Darwinism One of the novel’s central themes is Darwin’s theory of evolution, in several ways: firstly, it links Victorian era and modern times, being still valid today. Secondly, it profoundly influences the novel’s characters, particularly Sarah and Charles. Finally, it gives a deeper meaning to the novel, as Fowles establishes Darwin’s ideas as correct and acceptable. Charles firmly believes in Darwin’s ideas, and should thus be expected to be able to recognize the challenges imposed on him in the course of the novel, but the narrator informs the reader of Charles’ incapability to fully understand Darwin Victorian England in „The French Lieutenant’s Woman“ Fowles often informs the reader about facts that only a narrator of the twentieth century could have known, e.g. when the narrator states that Ernestina died on the day that the Nazis invaded Poland, or when he pardons the Victorians for not obeying the rules of existentialism, since that school of philosophy had not yet come into existence. Convention vs. Freedom The Victorian era was a particularly socially restrictive period, and one of the main conflicts of this novel involves the characters struggling against the social conventions that keep them bound to certain pathways in life. Charles and Sarah share the goal of finding a way to live as they wish in their society, and they constantly fight against the restrictions they find imposed on their free will.