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Search tags: The-French-Lieutenant\'s-Woman
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review 2016-02-01 06:19
The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles
The French Lieutenant's Woman - John Fowles

Let’s call it 3.25 stars. This novel is basically one big gimmick. Fowles writes well and has done his research, so he pulls off the gimmick fairly well. But it is still a gimmick, and the story itself isn’t strong enough to stand on its own. This review will contain some SPOILERS.

The story consists of a simple love triangle involving Charles (the gentleman), Ernestina (his proper young fiancée) and Sarah (the mysterious “fallen” woman). It makes a thin plot for a 467-page book; what sets the book apart is the intrusive narrator. The book is set in the 1860s, but Fowles writes it explicitly from a 1960s perspective, commenting on aspects of life at the time, and then veers off to talk about the writing of the story itself and the different ways it could possibly end.

It is an unusual choice, and in that sense it’s interesting, though in this day of author blogs, a “behind the scenes” look at the author’s process isn’t the novelty it may have been in pre-Internet days. As a reader who is interested in history, I did enjoy the author’s stepping in with asides like, “the Victorians talked a good game about chastity, but actually the number of brothels per capita was enormous,” or “let me tell you how this landscape has changed in the last 100 years” or “here are some weird household implements from the 1860s.” Historical fiction is generally expected to wear its research lightly, with the result that readers are often too busy identifying with the characters to learn much about the setting. This book doesn’t have those constraints, so the tidbits about the era are interesting, and Fowles writes well enough to get away with the occasional digression, expounding on his opinions of the differences between the two time periods.

But then we come to Sarah. Fowles tells us outright that he doesn’t know what’s going through her head – it shows, and that’s a real weakness, given that she’s the book’s second most prominent character. At first, Charles sees her as a simple “fallen woman,” ashamed and pining for the eponymous French lieutenant, who seduced and then left her. Cliché, but comprehensible. Then we learn that she never loved the guy at all; rather, she suffers from depression and feelings of isolation, and “ruined” herself on purpose to create an external cause for her outcast status and exempt herself from society’s expectations for respectable women. Now we are getting somewhere; this is what I want from literary fiction. But then we find out . . . that it was all a charade, and actually she just goes around faking maladies all the time, in hopes that a man will eventually appear, be overwhelmed by a sense of protectiveness and fall in love with her, so that she can . . . leave him? What? The author attempts to support this by having Charles read some 19th century psychological treatise claiming this is known female behavior and possibly caused by sexual repression. Which is clearly bunk in light of what we now know about mental illness, and leaves us with a nonsensical character, who may have engineered the whole plot to get back at men, via Charles, for the French lieutenant (whom she didn’t love anyway?) leaving her. Because that makes total sense. Or maybe she didn’t, and was actually motivated by . . . what? Who knows?

At any rate, if you love metafiction, you should probably give this book a whirl. If you don’t, though, the story isn’t particularly strong, and to me a basic task of fiction is the creation of a work that can be enjoyed simply for its plot and/or characters. So, while not by any means a poorly-written book, this isn’t one I’m likely to recommend.

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review 2014-05-18 00:00
The French Lieutenant's Woman
The French Lieutenant's Woman - John Fowles Slowly builds to a series of climaxes of varying intensity (i.e. each strand of thought gets to come into its own at various points in the novel: Marxism, Darwinism, crypto-feminist existentialism). A near-masterpiece undone only by its awkward amalgam of neo-Victorian postmodernism and standard existentialist modernism.
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2014-04-22 17:07
"It is my shame that keeps me alive ... I have a freedom they cannot understand."
The French Lieutenant's Woman: A Screenplay - Harold Pinter,John Fowles

 

 

"Outside of marriage, your Victorian gentleman could look forward to 2.4 fucks a week," actor Mike coolly calculates after his screen partner (and lover) Anna has read to him the statistics according to which, while London's male population in 1857 was 1 1/4 million, the city's estimated 80,000 prostitutes were receiving a total of 2 million clients per week. And frequently, Anna adds, the women thus forced to earn their living came from respectable positions like that of a governess, simply having fallen into bad luck, e.g. by being discharged after a dispute with their employer and their resulting inability to find another position.

 

This brief dialogue towards the beginning of this screenplay based on John Fowles's 1969 novel succinctly illustrates both the fate that would most likely have been in store for its title character Sarah, had she left provincial Lyme Regis on Dorset's Channel coast and gone to London, and the Victorian society's moral duplicity: For while no virtues were regarded as highly as honor, chastity and integrity; while no woman intent on keeping her good name could even be seen talking to a man alone (let alone go beyond that); and while marriage – like any contract – was considered sacrosanct, rendering the partner who deigned to breach it an immediate social outcast, all these rules were suspended with regard to prostitutes; women who, for whatever reasons, had sunk so low they were regarded as nonpersons and thus, inherently unable to stain anybody's reputation but their own.

 

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review 2013-12-07 22:47
I don't understand this woman..
The French Lieutenant's Woman - John Fowles

The first thing that amazed me: I was half through the book, when the story suddenly came to an end.

For the first time.

It was a harsh ending and, fortunately, the narrator apologized for it in the following chapter. Although two further endings followed, and regardless of this unusual amount of endings in a novel to choose from, none of them left me satisfied.

 

"The French Lieutenant's Woman" by John Fowles is set in Victorian England, where the engaged gentleman Charles meets Sarah, a beautiful woman who was dishonored (was she really?) by a French lieutenant (really?) who promised to marry her, but never returned from France to actually do so. Still, Sarah keeps waiting for him (is she waiting at all?), spending her days staring out to the sea (why?).

Due to her solitude and melancholy Charles starts to feel more and more compassion and sympathy for her and his fascination finally shifts to love. The story represents all stiff conventions of the Victorian Age, especially the repression of all carnal and sexual desires, fantasies and actions.

 

Basically, Charles is struggling the whole time to understand Sarah's story, motives, intentions, actions and reactions - and so was I. This woman at first seems to have a very distinct character, but changes her mind or does something absolutely contradictory to her hitherto character, as soon as you turn the page. Throughout the book I sometimes thought her fate to be common, tragic, sad or even funny, herself melancholic, sadistic, intelligent, loving, sad, naive, cruel, suicidal or simply insane.

I have to admit, that I have no idea, what she wanted. Never, not in any moment of the book could I tell you what her intentions were. She could have had everything she wanted - a romance with Charles, an honorable and well paid job, a happy life, a sad life, she could have just left the village in which everyone mocked her, yet she strove for all those things on one hand, but did not on the other.

 

The French Lieutenant's Woman is a very innovative and highly entertaining novel in terms of narration technique and story. Many times I just couldn't put the book down, I just had to read the next chapters, but soon I got tired of Sarah's contradictory behavior and there are so many questions concerning motives of action that are not answered. Therefore, 3/5 stars.

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review 2013-09-27 22:30
The French Lieutenant's Woman

I was really excited when this novel wound up on the final list of books we would be reading this school year with my book club.  It’s been on my TBR for ages…  I can say I’m a real fan of John Fowles having read and loved both The Magus and The Collector.  I should have known that The French Lieutenant’s Woman would challenge me immensely.  It wasn’t at all what I expected, however I liked and hated it at the same time.  Those 56034480 pages went by a lot slower last week than I had expected. I guess I can congratulate myself for finishing it in five days; for without the book club I may have taken a lot longer to finish it or worse not finished it at all.  The first half of the book was slow, but from about page 240 on something changed in the writing and I was hooked.

The story is complex and I’m not really sure what to tell you because I could say something that will either steer you away from it or maybe make you feel as if I’m giving you spoilers.  In a nutshell, the main characters are Sarah Woodruff and Charles Smithson.  Sarah, the French lieutenant’s woman, is a seemingly depressed character mourning a relationship that could have been.  She spends her days walking along the streets of Lyme Regis and staring out to sea.  She is an utter mystery to the end.  To the citizens of Lyme Regis she is a disgraced woman, a blemish on their tight-knit small town.  Charles, however, becomes attracted to her difference and falls in love with Sarah, while he’s engaged to the young, pretty, naive Ernestia, while defying the accepted customs and beliefs of Victorian society in 1867.

John Fowles wrote The French Lieutenant’s Woman in 1969.  It is a very experimental work because it mixes  a Victorian love story, along with an intricate critique of Victorian and modern society.  What I mean is that John Fowles presence is right there with you while you’re reading the story.  This aspect can be perceived as annoying or engaging.  At times you’ll want to tell him to shut the hell up and go away.  The consensus in my book club was that it was annoying and didn’t allow them to enjoy the story the way they would have liked.  I too felt this but some way some how midway through the book I started to enjoy the concept.  I accepted it as if John Fowles accompanied me, holding my hand through the second half of the book, showing me and informing me on life in Victorian times and critiquing modern-day simultaneously.  I had begun to accept the experiment.  The second half I loved so much I had trouble putting it down.  At times, there were footnotes that intrigued me, but also that made me smile.

The characters were all perfect and served the overall purpose for critiquing Victorian life.  Even though the story revolved around Sarah and Charles there were a myriad of other important secondary characters that make the novel great.  I would say the character of Charles is surrounded by many women considering he was motherless.  The only things he has left are his faith in science, his Victorian upper class background and education(which he has difficulty shaking), and his uncle who will hopefully leave him a healthy inheritance.

As for the film of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, released in 1981, screenplay written by Harold Pinter, I haven’t seen it yet but probably will try to since I heard only good things about it.  Starring Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep, how can I pass on those two.  If this novel seems like a big hunk of hefty for you but you’d still like to try a novel from Fowles, I’d recommend The Collector as a good place to start.  It was his first published work in 1963, even though he’d already started writing The Magus first.  Fowles was interested and influenced by existentialist writers like Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre and this aspect is one of the common themes that runs through his novels.  Fowles was an English teacher for most of his adult life.  He taught English in France at the University of Poitiers and in Greece on the Peloponnesian island of Spetsai.  This is where he met his first wife Elizabeth Christy.  His experiences in Greece set the scene for his third successfully published novel called The Magus in 1966.  Oddly enough his second wife was called Sarah and he lived the rest of his life primarily in Lyme Regis.  He died in November 2005.

Source: didibooksenglish.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/the-french-lieutenants-woman
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