Fiction Film Non-Fiction Pictures Videos

The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969) by John Fowles

Don’t Look Now, The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Reverse psychology is a practical ploy for anyone to get an unsuspecting victim to do as he/she desires. But could this tactic work effectively in a novel?

The French Lieutenant's WomanThe French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Don’t Look Now, The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Reverse psychology is a practical ploy for anyone to get an unsuspecting victim to do as he/she desires. But could this tactic work effectively in a novel?

Can a reader be told by a novelist within the confines of the formal novel that the story is an imagination and yet the reader still believes that the characters are as real as any human being?

John Fowles, British Novelist (1926-2005)

In The French Lieutenant’s Woman John Fowles answers these types of questions and challenges the Victorian and conventional forms of the novel by doing two things really well: first, he makes it very clear he is a postmodern novelist telling a story about imagined characters living in the Victorian era; second, Fowles provides two endings for the exact same characters.

John Fowles breaks from convention in his novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman by taking a form of the Victorian novel and adapting it with twists using postmodern and unconventional techniques within the story. Regardless, the story remains beautiful and believable.

“The sense of the beautiful,” however, is derived from an awareness and understanding “accompanied by that particular feeling of release” and establishes a beauty which is “the truth of feeling” (Gardner, On Moral Fiction 144).

John Fowles, British Novelist (1926-2005)

In Chapter 13 Fowles creates this “feeling of release” by breaking from the conventional storytelling method; he ends up spending four pages advising the reader that the characters are not real but that they are alive:

This story I am telling is all imagination. These characters I create never existed outside my own mind. If I have pretended until now to know my characters’ minds and innermost thoughts, it is because I am writing in… a convention universally accepted at the time of my story:

that the novelist stands next to God… if this is a novel, it cannot be a novel in the modern sense of the word… We also know that a genuinely created world must be independent of its creator; a planned world… is a dead world. It is only when our characters and events begin to disobey us that they begin to live.

When Charles left Sarah on her cliff edge, I ordered him to walk straight back to Lyme Regis. But he did not; he gratuitously turned and went down to the Dairy…In other words, to be free myself, I must give him, and Tina, and Sarah, even the abominable Mrs. Poulteney, their freedoms as well. There is only one good definition of God: the freedom that allows other freedoms to exist. And I must conform to that definition (95-96).

E.M. Forster warned against this in Aspects of the Novel:

“May the writer take the reader into his confidence about his characters? Answer has already been indicated: better not… It is confidences about the individual people that do harm, and beckon the reader away from the people to an examination of the novelist’s mind” (81-82).

IMG_0024

Then, let us argue that if Fowles had not broken the conventional storytelling method, the narration and the tale would have continuously maintained the highest form of art in literature.

The scenes and characters are well-crafted. The time and setting in a Victorian England well studied and conveyed. The reader, however, would always have in the back of his/her mind the awareness that the novel, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, is a dead thing, a book to be read and studied but a thing not of its own accord, not alive and free from the novelist’s strings of manipulation; in basic terms, an overly sentimental novel with a fairytale ending that defies the laws of reality during a highly formal time period.

But when Fowles deliberately and skillfully cuts those strings over the characters and plot, the novel begins to become more alive and, arguably, more than simple imagination, more than sentiment. The novel and its characters become free and beautiful, not melodramatic and sentimental.

By stating the obvious, “this story I am telling is all imagination,” and by freeing the characters from the novelist’s will, Fowles is able to establish a deeper truth than what the novel could have done if it had maintained an author writing a novel with the expected conventions.

Nevertheless, Fowles is not satisfied with removing himself from the unfolding of events and granting the characters of The French Lieutenant’s Woman free will. He takes the story to a new level by providing two very distinct endings, both as real as the other. Fowles argues to himself and to the reader:

Fiction usually pretends to conform to the reality: the writer puts the conflicting wants in the ring and then describes the fight—but in fact fixes the fight, letting that want he himself favors win. And we judge writers of fiction both by the skill they show in fixing fights (in other words, in persuading us that they were not fixed) and by the kind of fighter they fix in favor of:

the good one, the tragic one, the evil one, the funny one, and so on…The only way I can take no part in the fight is to show two versions of it. That leaves me with only one problem: I cannot give both versions at once, yet whichever is the second will seem, so strong is the tyranny of the last chapter, the final, the “real” version (406).

In this writer’s and reader’s opinion, Fowles fails at this last statement; the first ending, for me, where Sarah presents Charles with his daughter who is only a toddler is far lasting and more real than the final version because Fowles foreshadows the event when Charles visits a prostitute similar in appearance and discovers the woman’s child:

“Holding the small body on his knees he dandled the watch in front of the now eager small arms. She was one of those pudgy-faced Victorian children with little black beads for eyes; an endearing little turnip with black hair” (319).

An identical scene with Charles and his daughter takes place in the first of the two endings: “He fumbled hastily for his watch, as he had once before in a similar predicament. It had the same good effect; and in a few moments he was able to lift the infant without protest and carry her to a chair by the window” (457).

It would appear that there was some fight fixing by the writer after all. Without the former scene to foreshadow the first ending with Charles and his infant daughter, the last ending might have become a more viable outcome for the novel, but concludes with being more a forethought than an afterthought of the first ending. A reader might argue that a novel simply cannot have two endings.

John Gardner in The Art of Fiction provides some relief to just such an argument: “The reality of the world of the tale, in other words, is that of a moral universe. What ought to happen, possible or not, does happen” (73).

The two alternate endings are not possible for a narration that should adhere to the laws of verisimilitude, but, as Gardner states, what should happen does happen. Both endings are as real for the reader as the possibilities they ascertain.

In The French Lieutenant’s Woman John Fowles shows his love for crafting and telling stories. The pleasure in allowing his words to break from convention by taking a Victorian themed novel and producing a postmodern work of art shows on every page, especially at the close of the book with two separate endings for Charles and Sarah.

“The true writer’s joy in the fictional process,” Gardner writes, “is his pleasure in discovering, by means he can trust, what he believes and can affirm for all time” (The Art of Fiction 81).

Fowles does exactly this. He allows himself to discover his characters by opening himself and the reader up to the characters’ possibilities—a brave but necessary act from a writer; and Fowles illustrates how breaking from convention can establish new forms of writing, new shapes of verisimilitude.

When he points to the sky and says, “Don’t look!” The tempted reader must look and, thereby, becomes satisfied because he/she knows the truth and the lie, despite what others, perhaps publishers and editors, believe to be proper.

Nevertheless, I will happily admit that Fowles is a brilliant writer and one of my all-time favourite because he dares to push the limits of writing and does not follow archaic literary traditions but braves the waters of his own talent, of his own limits, of his own possibilities. And that is also why The French Lieutenant’s Woman is one of my favourite books, despite how harsh I may have sounded in my review in its use of meta-fiction.

This book is a must read, at least once before you head off into that final sunset.

Bibliography:

Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction (1984). New York: Vintage Books, 1991. Print.

—. On Moral Fiction (1978). New York: Basic Books, 2000. Print.

Forster, E.M. Aspects of the Novel (1927). New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1985. Print.

Fowles, John. The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969). New York: Bay Back Books, 1998. Print.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

CG FEWSTON

CG FEWSTON was born in Texas in 1979 and now lives in Hong Kong. He’s been a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, and a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy).

He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Fathers Son, The New America: A Collection, Vanity of Vanities, A Time to Love in Tehran, and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.

You can read more about the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 275,000+ followers

Advertisements
 
Share the knowledge:

50 comments on “The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969) by John Fowles

  1. Hi, I do beliеve this is an excellent blog. I stumbledupon it 😉 I will revisit once ɑgain ѕince i have bookmarked
    it. Money and freedom is the best way tο change, may yоս be rich anԀ continue to guide otheгs.

     
  2. Howdy! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I really enjoy reading through your posts.
    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same topics?
    Thank you so much!

     
  3. Hello I am so delighted I found your blog, I really found
    you by accident, while I was browsing on Google for something else, Anyhow I am here now and would just like to
    say thank you for a tremendous post and a all round enjoyable blog (I also love the theme/design),
    I don’t have time to browse it all at the moment but I have saved it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have
    time I will be back to read more, Please do keep up the awesome job.

     
  4. I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme.
    Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone to do
    it for you? Plz answer back as I’m looking to design my own blog and would like to find out where u got
    this from. thanks

     
  5. That is really fascinating, You are an excessively skilled blogger.
    I have joined your feed and sit up for searching for
    more of your magnificent post. Also, I’ve shared your site
    in my social networks

     
  6. I’m not that much of a internet reader to be honest but your
    sites really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark
    your website to come back later on. Cheers

     
  7. Just want to say your article is as surprising. The clarity in your post is just cool and i could assume you are an expert on
    this subject. Fine with your permission let me to grab your feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post.
    Thanks a million and please carry on the rewarding work.

     
  8. Hello, after reading this amazing piece of writing i am also cheerful to share my know-how here
    with mates.

     
  9. Appreciation to my father who shared with me on the topic of
    this weblog, this website is actually remarkable.

     
  10. Wow, this post is good, my younger sister is analyzing such things, thus I am going to inform her.

     
  11. I always used to read article in news papers
    but now as I am a user of web thus from now I am using net
    for content, thanks to web.

     
  12. Saved as a favorite, I really like your website!

     
  13. Heya i’m for the primary time here. I found this board and I to find
    It really useful & it helped me out much. I am hoping
    to give one thing again and help others such as you aided me.

     
  14. Hey there would you mind letting me know which web host you’re using?

    I’ve loaded your blog in 3 different browsers and I must say this blog loads
    a lot faster then most. Can you suggest a good web hosting provider at
    a honest price? Kudos, I appreciate it!

     
  15. Hi there, I enjoy reading all of your article. I like to write a
    little comment to support you.

     
  16. Greetings! Very helpful advice within this post!
    It’s the little changes that produce the most important changes.
    Thanks for sharing!

     
  17. Hola! I’ve been following your weblog for some time now and finally got the bravery to go
    ahead and give you a shout out from Lubbock Texas!
    Just wanted to tell you keep up the good work!

     
  18. I seriously love your blog.. Excellent colors & theme.
    Did you create this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as I’m looking to create my very own site and would like to know
    where you got this from or exactly what the theme is called.

    Thank you!

     
  19. I all the time emailed this website post page to all my contacts, as if like to read it
    afterward my contacts will too.

     
  20. I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you make this website yourself or did you
    hire someone to do it for you? Plz reply as I’m looking to design my own blog and would like to find out where u got this from.
    cheers

     
  21. Hi, I do think this is a great blog. I stumbledupon it
    😉 I’m going to return yet again since I bookmarked it.
    Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and
    continue to guide other people.

     
  22. Wow, this paragraph is pleasant, my sister is analyzing these kinds
    of things, so I am going to inform her.

     
  23. Woah! I’m really enjoying the template/theme of this site.
    It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s
    challenging to get that “perfect balance” between superb usability and visual appearance.

    I must say that you’ve done a fantastic job with this. In addition, the blog loads
    super quick for me on Safari. Exceptional Blog!

    discount michael kors handbags

     
  24. Howdy, i read your blog from time to time and i own a similar one and i was just wondering if you get a lot of
    spam feedback? If so how do you protect against
    it, any plugin or anything you can suggest? I get so much lately it’s driving
    me insane so any support is very much appreciated.

     
  25. Excellent goods from you, man. I have understand your stuff previous to and you’re just too magnificent.
    I actually like what you’ve acquired here, really
    like what you’re stating and the way in which you say it.
    You make it enjoyable and you still take care of to keep it wise.

    I can not wait to read far more from you. This is really a great site.

     
  26. It’s very effortless to find out any topic on web as compared to books, as I found this article at this web page.

     
  27. If some one wishes expert view about blogging after that i
    advise him/her to pay a quick visit this web site, Keep up the nice work.

     
  28. This is very interesting, You are a very skilled blogger.

    I’ve joined your feed and look forward to seeking more of your wonderful post.
    Also, I’ve shared your web site in my social networks!

     
  29. I wanted to thank you for this good read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it.

    I have got you saved as a favorite to look at new things
    you post…

     
  30. I could not resist commenting. Perfectly written!

     
  31. Hi, I do believe this is a great site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I will
    return yet again since i have book marked
    it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may
    you be rich and continue to help others.

     
  32. I gotta favorite this site it seems extremely helpful extremely helpful

     
  33. I am sure this piece of writing has touched all the internet visitors, its really
    really nice article on building up new blog.

     
  34. Enjoyed examining this, very good stuff, regards . “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.” by Mother Theresa.

     
  35. It’s in point of fact a great and useful piece of information. I’m glad that you just shared this helpful information with us.
    Please stay us up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.

     
  36. I constantly spent my half an hour to read this weblog’s articles every day along with a mug of coffee.

     
  37. I’ve been browsing online more than 2 hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours.

    It is pretty worth enough for me. In my opinion, if all site owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the net will be a lot more useful than ever before.

     
  38. Great blog here! Also your website loads up fast! What host are you using?
    Can I get your affiliate link to your host? I wish
    my web site loaded up as fast as yours lol

     
  39. Pingback: The Tragedy of American Fiction (2014) by C.G. Fewston | C.G. Fewston

  40. Hey! Someone in my Facebook group shared this website with us so I came to look it over.
    I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my followers!

    Terrific blog and amazing style and design.

     
  41. It is not my first time to visit this web page, i am visiting this site dailly and
    obtain good facts from here every day.

     
  42. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on reviews. Regards

     
  43. This is really fascinating, You’re a very skilled
    blogger. I have joined your feed and ook ahead to in quest of extra of your magnificent post.
    Also, I have shared your web site in my sochial networks

     
  44. You must join in a contest for just one of the most effective weblogs on the web. I’m going suggest this site!

     
  45. I am always thought about this, regards for putting up.

     
  46. Please let me know if you’re looking for a article author for your blog. You have some really good articles and I think I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d absolutely love to write some content for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine. Please send me an email if interested. Thanks!

     

Leave a Comment Below: