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Woman as a Postmodern Novel

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 5527 words Published: 18th Apr 2017

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Linda Hutcheon (Hutcheon 1986: 81-94) and David Lodge (Lodge 226-27) consider John Fowles as a writer, linking modernism and postmodernism and to them Fowles is a writer with a double background in both English and French literature as well as in post-structuralist critical theory. Palmer asserts that

In his essay “Notes on an Unfinished Novel,” in which he describes the initial conception and the process of writing The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles asks himself two questions: “To what extent am I being a coward by writing inside the old tradition? To what extent am I being panicked into avant-gardism?” His very act of posing these two questions in the same paragraph defines his real position and signals his quest for a middle ground between the two extremes. Just as The French Lieutenant’s Woman, written in an intentionally anachronistic style (Mrs.Poulteney is, for example, an “inhabitant of the Victorian valley of the dolls”), strives to bring together the Victorian past and the mid-twentieth-century present in order to define a moral and existential stance for the future, so also does Fowles in each novel strive to unite the traditional influences which he cannot reject with the new fictional forms of his own conception which he cannot ignore. (Palmer 4)

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The French Lieutenant’s woman of the title is Sarah Woodruff, a poor Victorian woman, an ex-governess. She begins the novel standing on the harbour breakwater at Lyme Regis, Dorset, looking out the sea in 1867, exactly before the novel was composed. The locals say that Sarah is pining for her lover. Known as “tragedy” or “French lieutenant’s whore” she has the reputation of a fallen woman, because she has supposedly lost her virginity to Varguennes, the departed sailor of the novel’s title. Charles Smithson, a minor nobleman who is engaged to Ernestina Freeman, daughter of a wealthy shop owner, sees Sarah on the breakwater. On the purpose of helping Sarah, Charles arranges a number of meetings with her. He realizes he is attracted to Sarah but decides to give her money and send her away to Exeter. Soon afterwards, unable to overcome his desire, he pursues her and they make love for the first time in a hotel room. To this shock, he discovers that Sarah was a virgin, and that although Varguennes existed, the story of previous seduction was a lie, seemingly intended to alienate herself from Lyme society whose petty moralism and narrow-mindedness she had come to hate. Charles offers to marry Sarah but she refuses and runs away. After breaking of his engagement to Ernestina, thus effectively alienating himself from Victorian society (and from Ernestina’s fortune), Charles finds Sarah in London, where she is working as a model for the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. At this point the plot of the novel bifurcates. There are two endings: in the chapter before the last, Sarah and Charles come together, and have a daughter; in the last chapter they separate apparently forever.

We first learn about Sarah in the second chapter when Ernestina and Charles see her at the road:

‘Is she young?’

‘It’s too far too far to tell.’

‘But I can guess who it is. It must be poor Tragedy.’


‘A nickname. One of her nicknames.’

‘And what are the others?’

‘The fisherman have a gross name for her.’

‘My dear Tina, you can surely – ‘

‘They call her The French Lieutenant’s…. Woman.’


‘… Who is this French Lieutenant?’

‘A man said she is said to have…’

‘Fallen in love with?’

‘Worse than that.’

‘And he abandoned her? There is a child?’

‘No. I think no child. It’s all gossip.’

‘But what is she doing there?’

‘They say she is waits for him to return.’ (French Lieutenant’s Woman 14-15)

The second scene where we learn more about Sarah is again from others’ words. It is a scene where Mrs. Poulteney and the vicar are together, talking. Mrs. Poulteney tells the vicar that she has been looking for someone to work in her house:

‘If you knew of some lady, some refined person who has come upon adverse circumstances…’

‘I am not quite clear what you intend.’

‘I wish to take a companion. I have difficulty in writing now… I should be happy to provide a home for such person.’….

[The Vicar]‘An eligible has occurred to me. Her name is Sarah Woodruff.’ (French Lieutenant’s Woman 29-30)

It should be noticed that Mrs. Poulteney is looking for “some refined person who has come upon adverse circumstances” and the vicar, who is supposed to be a man of religion, is quite prejudiced in his view of Sarah. Thus Fowles introduces the typical Victorian woman, Mrs. Poulteney along with the typical vicar of that age. The narrator states that the vicar “was a comparatively emancipated man theologically, but he also knew very well which side his pastoral bread was buttered” (FLW 26-27) and that he is taking money from the rich (FLW 27). As for Mrs. Poulteney and her ideas on religion, the narrator is highly critical:

Mrs. Poulteney was not a stupid woman; indeed, she had acuity in practical matters, and her future destination, like all matters pertaining to her comfort, was a highly practical consideration… As she lay in her bedroom, she reflected on the terrible mathematical doubt that increasingly haunted her: whether the Lord calculated charity by what one had given or by what one could have afforded to give. She had given considerable sums to the church; but she knew they fell far short of the prescribed one-tenth to be parted with by serious candidates for paradise. Certainly, she had regulated her will to ensure that the account would be handsomely balanced after her death. (FLW 27)

Not only her calculating personality but also her references to religion and God are clearly Victorian. It is the “hypocrisy” as the narrator calls it, and “the religious bigot” as J’Nan Morse Sellery states (Sellery 92). According to Tarbox, “Mrs. Poulteney demands that Sarah match the story elements and meet the narrative shape of the Christian sin-and-expiation plot” (Tarbox 90), and to Palmer, she is the “Dickensian character… who mimics the styles and attitudes of characters like the evil dwarf Quilp in The Old Curiosity Shop (Palmer 24). Fowles draws Mrs. Poulteney, and the locals as Victorian stereotypes. For example, in Chapter 12 – at the Dairy, – the dairyman becomes the target of the novelist:

[The dairyman] gave his wife a stern look. She promptly forewent her chatter and returned indoors to her copper. [Charles] had hardly taken a step when a black figure appeared… It was the girl. She looked toward the two figures below and then went on her way towards Lyme. Charles glanced back at the dairyman, who continued to give the figure above a dooming stare.

‘…..Do you know that lady?’


‘Does she come this way often?’

‘Often enough.’ The dairyman continued to stare. Then he said, ‘And she beent no lady. She be the French Loot’n’nt’s Hoer.’

Some moments passed before Charles grasped the meaning of the last word. And he threw an angry look at the bearded dairyman, who was a Methodist and therefore fond of calling a spade a spade, especially when the spade was somebody else’s sin. He seemed to Charles incarnate all the hypocritical gossip – and gossips – of Lyme. Charles could have believed many things of that sleeping face; but never that its owner was a whore.

Fowles introduces a great deal of Victorian life and fiction in this novel where the relationships and the attitudes of Victorian people are parodied. Fowles takes his readers back to the Victorian period in an ironic mode, in order to compare the nineteenth-century totalizing notions of the nature of fiction and reality, and “of self and world with those of existentialism” (Onega 39). Fowles meticulously, but also cunningly, tells us facts about the Victorian Era and Victorian fiction:

What are we faced with in the nineteenth century? An age where woman was sacred; and where you could buy a thirteen-year-old girl for a few pounds – a few shillings, if you wanted her for only an hour or two. Where more churches were built than in the whole previous history of the country; and where one in sixty houses in London was a brothel (the modern ratio would be nearer one in six thousand). Where the sanctity of marriage (and chastity before marriage) was proclaimed from every pulpit, in every newspaper… Where the female body had never been so hidden from view… Where there is not a single novel, play or poem of literary distinction that ever goes beyond the sensuality of a kiss, where Dr. Bowlder… was widely considered a public benefactor; and where the output of pornography has never been exceeded. (FLW 258)

It is thus, relevant to the Victorian traditions that while Charles is sexually experienced, and his experiences are kept secret; Ernestina follows upper-class conventions and remains a virgin. They are bound by “elaborate convention, social ritual, and legal considerations in their engagement” (Landrum 108). Furthermore, when Charles is trying to persuade Sarah to leave Lyme, and go to London, she says that “If I went to London, I know what I should become” and that “I should become what so many women who have lost their honour become in great cities… I should become what some already call me in Lyme” (FLW 138). This is obviously what Victorian novelists dealt with. Later, Sarah utters typical Victorian women’s discourse, when Charles states that he wants to become closer to her:

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‘Because you have traveled. Because you are educated. Because you are a gentleman. Because . . . because, I do not know, I live among people the world tells me are kind, pious, Christian people. And they seem to me crueler than the cruelest heathens, stupider than the stupidest animals. I cannot believe that… there are not spirits generous enough to understand what I have suffered and why I suffer . . . and that whatever sins I have committed, it is not right that I should suffer so much.’ (FLW 139)

She not only has put the class distinction between the two but also her situation as a fallen woman in the Victorian age. Sarah finally persuades Charles to meet her at the same place saying that she needs help in order not to go mad (FLW 141). Sarah’s intelligence, as the narrator tells us, “belong[s] to a rare kind” is “not in the least an analytical or problem-solving” intellect but she rather has an “uncanny” ability to classify and make “poetic judgments” about people “without being able to say how” she does so. She is simply able “to understand [others], in the fullest sense of that word” (FLW 57). She states through the end of the novel “I have learnt much of myself… I am not to be understood even by myself. And I can’t tell you why, but I believe my happiness depends on my not understanding” (FLW 354).

Although The French Lieutenant’s Woman is a fictional postmodern story, it also has in it most historical facts about Victorian times. The narrator, at the very beginning asserts the date “late March of 1867” (FLW 9), and the Victorian setting. The reader gradually encounters many elements of the Victorian period in the inner plot. The novel is placed in the Victorian era.

The bulk of Fowler’s reading, however, has been in the genre in which he writes. At one time or another in his novels he alludes to each of the prominent men and women who preceded him and established the form of British fiction: Jane Austen, Dickens, George Eliot, Conrad, and, of course, Hardy. But he does not restrict himself to British fiction. He seems particularly drawn to the major Continental philosopher and novelists: Dostoevsky, Camus, Sartre… For a novelist as knowledgeable as Fowles in the past of his genre and in the philosophical thought of his time, the definition of influences is especially important. Even more important is the definition of the complex manner in which Fowles uses and reacts to the literary and philosophical influences upon his fiction. Invariably, like the child opposing the father, he rebels against an influence, reshapes it, or redefines it in a modern context… In The French Lieutenant’s Woman, he actually parodies and satirizes his source material. (Palmer 4-5)

Charles and Ernestina’s (his fiancée) father, at the beginning of the novel argue about Darwin. As Ernestina’s father does not really support Darwin and Charles’ scientific arguments on Darwin, Ernestina tells Charles: “[My father] did say that he would not his daughter marry a man who considered his grandfather to be an ape” (FLW 13). Here she comes to realize that that is the “greatest obstacle” for their marriage (FLW 13). Neary, suggests

Charles… is to a certain degree a Victorian rebel from the beginning. Having toyed with religion and hedonism, he has become a committed Darwinist; now a fairly skilled paleontologist, he is also “a quite competent ornithologist and botanist into the bargain” (44) – a real intellectual ally of his creator. Sexually, however, Charles is as conventional as a Jane Austen hero; his courtship of Ernestina Freeman consists of the kind of repartee that witty Austen lovers engage in. (Neary 168)

While the secondary plot is about Sam Farrow and Charles Smithson and mainly about class struggle, the reader can easily notice some class issues also in the main plot: Sarah Woodruff must earn money and endure the tyrannical woman Mrs. Poulteney in order to survive. Charles Smithson is rich Victorian man who has never worked in his life and who has spent his life time with travel and hobbies, waiting for inheritance (FLW 13).

Sarah, early in the novel feels inferior to Charles (as stated before), and at one time, when they meet in Cobb, Charles tells Sarah that “I am rich by chance, you are poor by chance” (FLW 161). The narrator states here that Charles is trying to be “sympathetic” to Sarah but “this indeed was his plan”, he in fact wants to “establish a distance [in order to] remind [Sarah] of their difference of station” (FLW 161).

Sarah tells about her life in chapter 20. Her father was bankrupt and “all [their] possessions were sold” and he “had died in a lunatic asylum” and she became alone without any relatives (FLW 167). Of the so-called lieutenant, Varguennes, Sarah explains to Charles that he took her to a hotel which was “less expensive than the other[s] and often used by French seamen” as Varguennes told her (FLW 169). Then she says “I have given myself to him… So I am a doubly dishonoured woman. By circumstances. And by choice” (FLW 170). When Varguennes “could no longer hide the nature of his real intention towards [Sarah,]…. she chose to stay [with him] (FLW 170). The reasons for why Sarah gave herself to Varguennes are explained by her as “I did it so that people should point at me, should say, there walks the French Lieutenant’s Whore – oh yes, let the word be said”; she also states that she could not marry him so “[she] married shame (FLW 171). It is the first moment the story becomes shocking. The reader does not really guess Sarah, the traditional Victorian woman, to make such explanations. Michael puts forth, at this point, a feminist approach to the novel:

The feminism, which Fowles wants to attribute to Sarah, is apparent in the words she is made to speak. Sarah proudly asserts her developing independence when she states that she has “married shame” because there was “no other way to break out of what I was” and that as a result she now has “freedom” and “No insult, no blame, can touch” her (175). Fowles has Sarah create her own fictions in order to emphasize Sarah’s attempt to step outside of conventional patriarchal society and to define herself outside of male fictions about women… By the end of the novel, Sarah’s words — “I wish to be what I am” (405) — and Charles’ perception that she has gained a “new self-knowledge and self-possession” (451) indicate that Fowles wishes to portray Sarah as having realized a feminist consciousness. It is evident that, although Fowles to a certain degree romanticizes Sarah’s quest for a feminist consciousness by depicting her as an enigmatic and tragic figure, the novel does assert this theme of emancipation and of Sarah’s development into “the New Woman” (443). (Michael 226-7)

When Sarah learnt that Varguennes was a married man and realized that he would not come again, she decided to conceal her supposed past from everyone in order to become ‘an outcast’. Now, she does not want to leave Lyme since she does not want to leave her shame: the locals see her as the French Lieutenant’s Whore and she is somehow pleased with this shame. Gaggi asserts that the things that “motivate [Sarah’s] manipulative actions in relationship to Charles” are “love, retaliation against the social class that excludes her” and “[the] hatred of the male sex” (Gaggi 117), and puts forth an interesting argument saying,

Sarah is fascinating because she eludes all systems, including the four major Victorian systems featured in French Lieutenant: religious morality, social class, male supremacy, and empirical science. The first two are epitomized by the despicable Mrs. Poulteney. Charles and Emestina naively regard themselves as modern, enlightened individuals, Mrs. Poultney’s opposites in all respects. In spite of his commitment to reason, however, Charles is not at all so free of conventional, if not religious, morality as he thinks, and he is certainly not free of prejudices and presuppositions based on class and sex. And science, for him, is itself a religion, one he shares with Dr. Grogan. When Charles and Grogan confess themselves to be Darwinians, it is as if they are acknowledging membership in a secret sect. Grogan later swears secrecy to Charles, using The Origin of the Species as if it were a bible. (Gaggi 119)

Although the book seems to be about Sarah, we never learn deeply about her. Jackson states in his article that Given only a bare minimum of her history, we can make only the most vague and general sociohistorical explanations for her situation” and in order to support his view, presents Jane Eyre who “after all lived much the same life as Sarah (Jackson 233).

The narrator interestingly states “My problem is simple – what Charles wants is clear? It is indeed. But what the protagonist wants is not so clear; and I am not at all sure where she is at the moment” (FLW 389). So the inner thoughts of the protagonist are left vague. As Jackson states “{i}n all the most dramatic scenes between Charles and Sarah, descriptions of her actions are peppered with the ambiguous phrase ‘as if’ and words such as ‘seems’ and ‘almost’” (Jackson 233). While Palmer sees Charles and Sarah as protagonists (Palmer 65), Neary states that “the protagonist of The French Lieutenant’s Woman may well be not one of the story’s characters but rather its narrator, its voice (Neary 162) and according to Cooper,

[When] Sarah tells Charles ostensibly true story of her seduction in Chapter 20,… she is presented for the first time as controlling narrator – although the reader at this stage perceives her as autobiographer rather than a fictionalizer – for up to now her story has reached us only through the fragmented versions of the vicar, Dr. Grogan, and the book’s narrator… We are thus invited to see Sarah’s narratorial function as at odds with her nature, a necessary artifice sullying her innate simplicity; it seems that to be an artist is not Sarah’s vocation. The end of the novel confirms this by showing her as the contented assistant to an artist. (Cooper 120-121)

Linda Hutcheon comments on the function of these narrator(s):

The metafictionally present modern narrator… jars with and parodies the conventions of the nineteenth-century novelistic tale of Charles, Sarah, and Ernestina. The various… narrators and fiction-makers (Fowles, the narrator, his persona, Charles, and finally Sarah) enact the novel’s themes of freedom and power, of creation and control. The multiple parodies of specific Victorian novels (by Thackeray, George Eliot, Dickens, Froude, Hardy) are matched by more generic ironic play on nineteenth-century authoritative narrating voices, reader address, and narrative closure. (Hutcheon 1988: 45)

Fowles’s authorial voice asserts itself within the text, and its importance cannot be overlooked. When the narrator steps into the novel as a character in Chapter 13, a sharper distinction is created between author and narrator that emphasizes the layering of “voices” making up the text. The narrator claims that “This story I am telling is all imagination. These characters I create never existed outside my own mind” (FLW 97). Fowles puts forth the postmodern technique, the novel talking about itself. The narrator – or the author – in this chapter, is discussing the characteristics of novel as a genre along with the process in which the novelist creates his/her novel. Fowles breaks the rules of conventional writing right at the middle of a Victorian “novel”, addressing the reader:

But I am a novelist, not a man in the garden – I can follow [Sarah] where I like? … You may think novelists always have fixed plans to which they work, so that the future predicted by Chapter One is always inexorably the actuality of Chapter Thirteen. But novelists write for countless different reasons: for money, for fame, for reviewers, for parents, for friends, for loved ones; for vanity, for pride, for curiosity, for amusement… Only one same reason is shared by all of us: we wish to create worlds as real as, but other than the world that is. Or was. This is why we cannot plan… We also know that a genuinely created world is 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. (FLW 98)

In the Victorian period, novel writing was based on depicting the real as it is. However, fiction has never been as real as the world itself. The narrator’s statement “The novelist is still a god” (FLW 99) foregrounds Fowles’s role as the author. The author is a god in the sense that he still creates. The narrator states “What has changed is that we are no longer the gods of Victorian image, omniscient and decreeing; but in the new theological image, with freedom our first principle, not authority” (FLW 99). Furthermore, Fowles brings forth, in the same chapter, the traditional idea of a fictional character: normally the reader would think a character is “either ‘real’ or ‘imaginary’; however, Fowles’s narrator contradicts the reader saying, “You do not even think of your own past as quite real; you dress it up, you gild it or blacken it, censor it, tinker with it, . . . fictionalize it, in a word, and put it away on a shelf” (FLW 99). What we think real is even not real in the sense that we fictionalize all the truth in our personal life. The illusion of the fictional world is broken when Fowles emphasizes the author’s entry to the fictional world and thus enters himself to the novel.

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. He may not know all, yet he tries to pretend that he does. But I live in the age of Alan Robbe-Grillet and Roland Barthes; if this is a novel, it cannot be a novel in the modern sense of the word. (FLW 97)

The narrator in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, is one who “…periodically enters his own narrative to comment upon (among other things) the processes of story-telling itself” (Cooper 104). It is the twentieth century postmodernist author and an “intrusive and parodically omniscient narrator” (Onega 39) writes about Victorian characters. The historical Victorian and the contemporary are mingled in the same book.

By offering a contemporary perspective on nineteenth century experience, the narrator represents the hindsight made possible by history, and in this way, facilitates the illumination of the past in the optic of present. Furthermore, in an opposite but equal way, his historical double vision also allows the present to function as a mirror for the past, and the reader may contemplate the Victorian age from the paradoxical perspective of futurity… [I]t is a personified narrator who ranges knowledgeably over the intellectual landscapes of the twentieth century while appearing with disconcerting physical specificity, in the geographical landscapes of the nineteenth. (Cooper 105)

We cannot be sure whether Sarah has planned her actions – or the narrator has planned about her actions; – or Sarah has disobeyed the narrator as he has stated in Chapter 13. Sarah exposes herself to Mrs. Fairley, the woman who tells Mrs. Poultney that Sarah was seen in the Cobb Gate walking “by the sea” (FLW 67) despite her warnings. We do not know the reason why she is telling lies. “We witness her setting up the scene in Exeter. But in fact only after Exeter can we look back and suspect that she may have been planning from the very first” (Jackson 232). Sarah is an outcast. She blames both the circumstances (her fate) and other people. She is here a typical Victorian governess from the typical Victorian Literature in England.

During her absence, the reader, it is no longer the omniscient narrator who is in a god-like position and knows everything. The reader no longer knows about Sarah. After she leaves Lyme, Sarah is absent in the novel and is just present in Charles’s mind and the locals’ mouth. She does not appear in the novel again – despite the title; – Charles and Ernestina come together; the narrator explains that they “did not live happily hereafter; but they lived together, though Charles finally survived her by a decade (and earnestly mourned her throughout it). They begat what shall it be – let us say seven children” (FLW 325).

The narrator later states “What happened to Sarah I do not know – whatever it was, she never troubled Charles again in person, how – ever long she may have lingered in his memory” (FLW 325). This kind of ending would be an unhappy one as the narrator, too, suggests; and it can be considered a false ending. The reader soon realizes that the novel has not finished yet when the narrator begins Chapter 45 commenting on this kind of traditional ending:

And now, having brought this fiction to a thoroughly traditional ending, I had better explain that although all I have described in the last two chapters happened, it did not happen quite in the way you may have been led to believe. (FLW 327)

In the second ending of the novel, Charles decides to go to Endicott’s Hotel. The reader feels deceived for the second time when s/he realizes Sarah’s lie about the French lieutenant. In this second ending, Charles goes to Endicott’s Family Hotel to see Sarah again and when he does, she “seem[s] to him much smaller” (FLW 332). “Seeing her [is] the need”; he wants “to possess her, to melt into her, to burn, to burn, to burn to ashes on that body and in those eyes” (FLW 334). The narrator states that Sarah is “his slave and his equal” (FLW 334). After they make love in chapter 46, both feel estranged for they have “sinned” (FLW 340). No matter how Charles insists on marriage, Sarah rejects it and insists that “[she] is not worthy of him”, but Ernestina (FLW 339). Charles realizes that she was a virgin and he is responsible for this; “she had not given herself to Varguennes. She had lied” (FLW 341). She confesses that she has deceived him and that “the one thing in which [she has] not deceived him: [she] loved him” (FLW 342). In Chapter 50, we see Charles talk to Ernestina who is totally submissive and passive before him. She says that “I know I am not unusual. I am not a Helen of Troy or a Cleopatra” (FLW 363), and that “I bore you about domestic arrangements, I hurt you when I make fun of your fossils” (FLW 364). She states that she can become better “under [Charles’s] education” (FLW 364). She is passive enough when she “begs” (FLW 364) him and promises that she “would abandon anything to make [him] happy” (FLW 365). After he leaves Ernestina, he decides to find Sarah. While giving Charles’s hopeful search for Sarah, the narrator interferes again and addresses Charles: “What the devil am I going to do with you? He goes on saying,

I have already thought of ending Charles’s career here and now; of leaving him for eternity on his way to London. But the conventions of Victorian fiction allow, allowed no place for the open… My problem is simple – what Charles wants is clear? It is indeed. What the protagonist wants is not so clear; and I am not sure where she is at the moment. (FLW 389)

The narrator’s problem is that, because of the alphabetic nature of language, he “cannot give both versions at once” (FLW 390). Charles, at this point, is looking at the narrator as if he is “a gambler or mentally deranged” (FLW 390); after all he is the creation of the narrator – or the author.

In Chapter Forty-four Charles Smithson “felt himself coming to the end of a story; and to an end he did not like…. The book of his existence, so it seemed to him, was about to come to a distinctly shabby close” (266-67). To Charles, an omnipotent Victorian novelist is, for the sake of convention, imposing an essence upon his existence. But in Chapter Forty-five Charles takes on new life, and a different ending (or set of endings) begins. Just as Charles finds the conventional ending of a love affair with Sarah “distinctly shabby,” so also does Fowles find the traditional Victorian ending to his novel unsatisfactory. Fowles’s characters… refuse to be Victorianized (victimized, tyrannized), and the novel continues in order to fulfill itself as a lifelike work of art. (Palmer 73)

Charles’s final meeting with Sarah in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s house is another alternate ending of The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Sarah sounds contemporary at the end of the novel when we learn that she is working as a model for Dante Gabriel Rossetti. For both of the endings Charles, having given up everything for Sarah, discovers that she has left, and he has lost her. He searches for her, finally gives up, spends two years traveling as an escape, and returns when his lawyer writes informing him she has been found. At this time, she is working as a secretary for Dante Gabriel Rossetti. She has not become a prostitute as she had earlier imagined her fate to be but has become “the emancipated woman she perhaps always was” (Gaggi 124). When Charles tries to persuade her to marry him she refuses him stating that she has chosen freedom.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman is perhaps the best novel by Fowles. It is not only the story of Charles and Sarah but also of a novelist. Along with the love story, it has the postmodern narrative. Fowles makes use of both Victorian traditional issues and postmodern writing technique that is to say, footnotes, authorial intrusion and quotes from other literature. By using the materials of two different ages, he connects past and present. The different endings one being conventional and the last one being contemporary also contribute to this connection of past and present; therefore, the traditional and the postmodern.

Primary Source(s)

Fowles, John. The French Lieutenant’s Woman. London, Vintage: 1969.

Secondary Sources

Cooper, Pamela. The Fiction of John Fowles: Power, Creativity and Femininity. Canada, University of Ottawa Press: 1991.

Gaggi, Silvio


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