The French Lieutenant's Woman is the third published book of John Fowles Conference Paper (PDF Available) · April with 2, Reads. John Fowles's novel The French Lieutenant's Woman has become a modern classic but it is a complex novel and can be PDF eBook (Watermarked) . The French Lieutenant's Woman. Kollaroth,Hari K V. “Fabulations: A Metaphysical Study of Italo. Calvino, John Fowles, Charles Palliser and Robert Kroetsch.”.
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THE "RITEFUL" PLAY OF TIME IN "THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN" Author(s): GLEN A. MAZIS Source: Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. Fowles‟ multi-layered, artfully crafted novel The French Lieutenant‟s Woman. The social struggles within this small pocket of Victorian Britain. The French Lieutenant's Woman is a postmodern historical fiction novel by John Fowles. .. "Historical Romance, Gender and Heterosexuality: John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman and A.S. Byatt's Possession" (PDF). Journal of.
As such a gestalt,filmpresentsus withits subjectas a multileveled playin whichwe participatesymboli- cally. As Maurice Merleau-Ponty observed,"A movie is not itis thought; perceived. They directlypresentus withthatspecial way of being in the world.
Through its multilayeredpresentation,a film which com- memorates reveals the object of commemoration as a com- prehensive symbol in which we participate. The viewer can squirm in his or her own seat under the hypocriticalbarrage of insultsfromMrs. Poulteney,feel the awkwardnessof Charles's encounterwiththe patheticLondon prostitute,feel the forbid- den air of sexualityin the Exeter room, feel the excitement lurkingin Grogan's studyas he picksup Darwin,and in thisway participateagain in the vitalcurrentsof a past world.
Victorian hypocrisy,Victorian degradation of women, Victorian excite- ment withthe forbidden,Victorianresponse to Darwinism- all are made to live again forus, at least symbolically.
They are not merelyamusingor interestinghistoricalfactsforus whilewe are watchingthe film,but dimensionsof our experience withwhich we are intimatelyinvolvedon many levels. Film,in general, has thispower to become a powerfulcommemorativerite. However, what is mostinterestingforthe viewerof TheFrenchLieutenant's Womanis thatthisfact itselfis a vital part of both the plot of the filmand the theme that the filmattemptsto convey.
The Film versus the Novel as a Retrieval of the Past In his forewordto the screenplay,John Fowles,author of The FrenchLieutenant'sWoman,expresses complete satisfactionwith the waythescreenwriterand directorchanged his novel to a film about making a filmof The FrenchLieutenant'sWoman.
Fowles writes,"I am convinced now, in retrospect, that the only feasible answer was the one that Harold and Karel hit upon. I do not think of the present script as a mere Version' of my novel; but as the blueprint I approve en- This content downloaded from This ispossiblebecausefilmsare remarkablefortheirabilityto throwus beyondthe realmof consciousnessinto a symbolically participatoryexperienceof multifaceted situations- situationsintegrating the differentdi- mensionsof one's behaviorand the historical contextin which such behavioroccurs.
The filmhas itsown "language"which speaksto our sensual,emotional,imaginative, unconscious, and kineticnature,causingus to liveforeignrealitiesas iftheywere our own for the moment.
This differencein focus between novelsand filmsis used brilliantly byFowlesin the novel,and Pinterand Reiszin thefilm,tohighlight differentaspectsofour troubledrelationship to thepast. From the firstsentenceonward,the reader of the novel is made awarebytheauthorthattheyare bothlookingon at the eventsdescribed. The author'sconsciousnessintrudesintoour experienceof the eventsnarrated.
He addressesthe reader briefly at pointsand evenspeakstothereaderas one whoshares his position. He continuesuneasilyrelatingthe story,making detachedcomments atvariousmoments, until,onlyeightypages intothenovel,he seemstoreacha crisiswhichhe feelscompelled to discusswiththereader.
The narratorstates: This storyI am tellingis all imagination. These charactersI createneverexistedoutsidemymind. Has the reader'ssuspensionof belief,thereader'sagreementto livethe fictionas real fora momentin the mind'seye,been shattered? The narratorhimselfdiscussesthisquestion,and concludesthat the readerwillstillsuspenddisbelief.
The narratorknowingly remindsthereaderthathisor herstancetowardshisor herown lifeis no different: The narratoris rightabout this,of course; but also, he has thrown the reader a red herring. The true question thathounds the narratoris whatkindofrelationship will he, thenarrator,and his readerhave withthisstoryof thepast during theirsuspensionofdisbeliefWhat bothershim is not whetherthe imagined has anyvalidity,not whethertheunreal can have some measure of reality,perhaps even more than our "real lives,"or whetherall realityis fiction.
Rather, the real problem for our narrator and also the reader is whetherour relationship to our experience is real, or imagined, or some intertwinedhybridof the two.
What the narratortrulycares about is the nature of his relationship to the story: The narratorlooks on at hischaracters,discussesthem,triesto control them or not control them, and tells us all about his struggle. What bothers him is not any part of that game; he enjoysall those wrinklesof authorship. What bothershim is that he creates,describes,discussesan age thathe tellsus had chances for discovery,whereas we moderns think"we have nothingto discover, and the only thingsof the utmost importance to us concern the present of man.
So much the better for us? They are caught in a drama thatthe nar- ratorcannot enter. They are forced to fightthe weightof their past, and in so doing discover new possibilities. The narrator demonstratesthathe thinkstoo much; he knowstoo much. He has so many possibilities. None is forcedupon him,and none is forbidden. This is true of our age, not only for writingnovels, but also forselectingfromamong the indeterminatepossibilities of amorous relationships,cohabitationstyles,and otheressential matters.
The author is dizzy fromthe price of this"sophistica- tion. He is tryingto show his reader thatin thisall-knowingattitudeof our presentage, neitherhe nor his reader can reallythrowthemselvesinto the world he describes. We can assentto possibilities,but onlyhalfheartedly. We are not compelled to create withthe passion of a Charles breakingaway fromhisworldbygoing to the Exeter rendezvous,nor of a Sarah strikingout against definingherselfthrough a man by fleeing This content downloaded from As he is tellingthe storyof Sarah and Charles,thenarratorexperiencesmountingfrustration withhis, and hisreaders',jaded relationship to hisand theirpastand to his and theirpresentpossibilities.
This frustration leads the narratorto dare the preposterous: Whenthenarratorentersthenovel the firsttimeon the train,he and his characteravoid any in- volvementand the narratoris leftin the same positionhe has alwaysbeen in,watchingandjudging. He admitshe can create, but he feelsdetached,can findno compellingreasonsto take sides,to createin a particulardirection. It is futileto showoptimismor pessimism, or anything else about it, because we know what has happened since.
It is obviousto all thathe is detached,complacent,smug,withdrawn. At theend of thesec- ond conclusionof the novel, he again appears in the scene depicted-but he onlylooks on, resemblingan "impressario," forwhomtheunfoldingdramais a "pleasantinterlude. Beneaththissmugdemeanor, one can feelfrustration - frustration withthereal problemand nottheotherproblemoffactversusfiction, aboutwhichhe isall too complacent. That real problemis that"these characters neverexistedoutside myhead. This also meansthat heistrappedinhistime.
He canrecollectthepastand toywithit,but itis alwaysat thedistanceofthatwhichis told,recollected, the object of consciousness. As Fowleshas stated,the novel as art formis masterful at exploringconsciousness. It is thereforea masterfulvehicleforcreatinga symbolfor the consciousness whichcannotescape itsownstandpoint-and therefore itsown time-exceptas a bemusedbystander. However,itis onlyliterally secondslaterthatthevieweris suddenlyplungedintothisVictorianage in sucha waythatone becomes unsure about whethereventsportrayedare taking This content downloaded from Aftera shortwhile,one becomesconfusedtothepoint thatone is no longersurethattheVictorianSarahand Charles are notequallyorevenmore"real"inthemagicworldofthefilm thanthe "actors,"Anna and Mike.
Unlikethereaderofthenovel,theviewerof thefilmis neverable to retreatto hisor herdetachedmodern consciousness, but ratheris continually forcedbeyondnormal boundariesof individuation to livethepastas presentedon the screen-to liveitcarnally, emotionally, sensually, imaginatively, and unconsciously.
In ordertounderscorethecomplexity ofthe situationoftheviewer,theprotagonists portrayingtheactorand actressmakingthefilmwithin thefilmaredepictedas experienc- ing the same ambiguity pastand present.
Thisambiguity becomesso acutethatat times theviewerbecomesmomentarily confused-is theactionseenas takingplace in the pastor is it seen as enactedwithinthe"pres- ent"ofthefilm? When,forexample,theirrowboatglidesoutof theshadows,thevieweris somewhatdisconcerted and surprised to see Charlesand Sarah,and notMikeand Anna at theircast party;and is thenimmediately joltedagainwhen,a fewseconds later,thescenedoes fadeoffto thestrainsof therockmusicof thecastparty.
Similarly, whenMikeand AnnarehearseSarah's fallin the Undercliff, the vieweris againjolted when Mike's rehearsalof Charles speech is suddenlyansweredby Sarah withinthescene- theansweris no longerbeingrehearsed,but, rather,is suddenly"happening"in thefilmwithinthefilm. The literaldislocationin timethatstrikesand confusesthe viewerofthefilm,however, isonlya pointertothatdeepersense of ambiguity whichaccompaniesthediscovery of one's present througha suddenshiftto thepastwhenthatshiftis possibilities createdbycommemoration.
The protagonists of thefilmthem- selvesfallpreytothisdeepersenseoftemporaldislocation. They become unsettled,unsure of the boundarybetweenthe past realityoftheeventstheycommemorate and the"presentreality" This content downloaded from Through theiracting,Mike and Anna give theirbodies,emotions,ges- tures,imagination, and speechto a commemoration of an age boundbyitspast,withinwhicha struggletakesplacetobreakout of the grip of thatage to a dimensionof freedom,dignity, sensuality, and creativity whichithas stifled.
It is thebirthing of thosesensibilities, fromthe scientific curiosity daring a and of Darwin,to the emergingconsciousnessof a woman'spowers beneaththeoppressivesocietalroles,toa meetingofthesexesin a more honest,celebratorysexualitythat is commemorated, alongwithitssurrounding social,cultural,economic,and histor- ical context. Mike,the actor,is so caughtup in the powerof commemoration, and of filmas commemorative act, thathis present is transformed. It isappropriatethatthefilm ends withhimcallingout for"Sarah,"becauseit is the"Sarah" thatmightbe kindledin the modernAnna thathe seeks.
This ambiguity is also betrayedwhenMikerejoinsAnnaat a London baraftershehasbeenawayfromthefilmlocationfora fewdays. The following dialogueensues: Haveyoubeenhavinga goodtime? I don'tknow. Whatdo youmean? The worldisn'treal Isn'the real? I missSarah. I can'twaittogetback. I can'twaittobe inExeter. You knowwhat'sgoingtohappeninExeter?
I'mgoingto haveyouinExeter. At leastshe is still Anna if she can remaincarefullyreflective and objectiveand succeedin detachingherself time in from her commemorative This content downloaded from She succeedsin retainingthis detachment throughtheretreattoconsciousness, to a detached induced objectivity bylooking at in herself themirror.
Onlyby retainingthisdistancedstanceand seeingherselfas an objectto does shesucceedinbreakingthespellof be consideredrationally thecommemorative ritein whichshe has becomeimmersed. By usingthe deviceofa filmwithin thefilm,thispoweroffilmhasbeenmade a specifictheme. In oppositeand equal fashion,withinthenovel thedeviceof havingthenarratoraddresshisreader,offerdif- ferentendings,and attemptto enterthenovelhimselfhas con- veyedthepowerof thenovelto exploretherealmofconscious- nessand to showthatconsciousness functions in sucha wayas to its keep experience at a distance.
Both the novel and the film pointto our modernimprisonment withinan all too knowing consciousness,and our lack of a more immediateand many- leveledinvolvement withthepast.
Boththenoveland the film contrastour moderninability to leave our present,on theone hand,with,on theother,theVictorianstrugglewithan all too realpast,which,nevertheless, gaverise,as a resultofthatstrug- gle,to an expressive future.
The Novel and the Film in their Indictmentof the Present The age whichis recalledin thenovelis markedbya peculiar quality: As thefilmopens,wesee Annalookintoa hand-heldmirrorand see Sarah. Afterthis,thereis a cut to Charles,who is looking througha magnifying glass at a fossil. Then Charles looks througha telescopeat Sam walkingup thestreet. Nextwe see Charlesshavingin a mirror. In thenextcut,as Charlesenters Mrs.
Tratner'shouse,Mary,themaid,appearsvividly intheshot as sheis capturedin thereflection oftheglassdoor. Afterother playswithmirrors, theopeningsequenceof shotsculminates as This content downloaded from The "world of glasses" effectof this scene is furtherheightenedby having Aunt Tratner on the one hand, and Sam and Mary on the other,witnessthe eventas they look on throughboth the panes of glass of the windowsat which theyare stationedand throughthe glass panes of the conserva- torywalls.
In thisopening sequence, thevieweris made to experi- ence directlythe glasslikequality of the Victorian world, what the novel describesas "itsstiflingpropriety,itsworshipnot only of the literalmachine in transportand manufacturing,but of a far more terriblemachine now erectingin social convention.
The brittlenessof thisage is a traitof a certain one-sided cast of mind which the narratordiscusses in the novel: In spiteofHegel,theVictorians werenota dialecticallymindedage; theydid notthinknaturally in opposites,of positivesand negatives as aspectsof the same whole. Paradoxes troubledratherthan pleased them. They werenotthe people forexistential moments, but for chains of cause and effect;for positiveall-explaining theories, studiedand studiously carefully applied.
However, the Victorians themselves would probablyhave disagreed.
They would not have recognized this oppressiveness, for they would not have dared to dream of alternatives. However, there were those few who did dare to imagine and who did actuallybreak through these formidable barriers. Charles's feelingsare described when he is on the brink of such a moment,i. This is the moment when we sense a possi- ble change in Charles's condemnation of Sarah's "unchastity," the moment when he almost embraces her on the edge of the Undercliffafter listeningto her confession of her motives for following the French Lieutenant to Weymouth.
Suddenly, Charles sees outside the pure lightcast by his Victoriancontem- poraries,and as the novel puts it, "glimpsed the dark shadows where he mightof enjoyed it [her unchastity]himself. The narratorof the novel comments: Sucha suddenshiftof sexualkeyis impossibletoday. A manand a womanare no soonerinanybutthemostcasualcontactwhenthey considerthepossibility We considersuch ofa physicalrelationship.
So Sarah stands out in this glass world. Her sensuality,her forthrightness, her concernwithintrinsicvalues insteadof social customs,and her insistenceon her rightto self-determination as a woman stand out as a challenge to her age. This conflictof values, once brought into the open, has the power to inspire others,such as Charles, to question accepted values and create new ones. There are other challenges to the Victorianage that are commemoratedin thistale in a more minorway,such as the challenge generated by Darwin's theories.
These challenges en- courage breaks with the weight of custom, with an accepted world view, and with a history. It is that intense moment of realizationdescribed by Barthes as "the degree zero": Sarah sufferspain at thereactionof her peers; she does not dodge their censure, but persistsin her course untilshe is sure of the Tightnessof her way. She uses their ire and her own self-doubtsas the firewithwhichher forgecan create new values and a new way of life.
In confrontingErnes- tina,Dr. Grogan, and finallyMr. Freeman, and in being forced to sign a document confessinghis guiltin breaking established social custom,Charles is forcedto discover,clarify,and consoli- This content downloaded from This costs Charles much soul- searchingand self-doubt, buthe emergesfromthisprocesswith a surersenseofhispresenceinhisworldthanhe had previously.
Aftersufferingat lengthforthe consequencesof his challengesto his age, and afterattempting to go back to his previousVictorianhabitof findingsolacewitha prostitute,29 Charlesdiscoversthathe has changedhishabitsand valuesina waythatgiveshima newsense of time. The noveldescribesthe intuitionhe suddenlyhas of historicaltimedrawingtogether togivea senseofa transcending presence: Earlierthatevening,whenhe wasin SirTom'sbrougham, he had hada falsesenseoflivinginthepresent; hisrejection thenofhispast andfuture hadbeena merevicious plungeintoirresponsible obliv- ion.
Nowhehada farmoreprofound andgenuineintuition ofthe greathumanillusion abouttime, which isthatitsrealityislikethatof a road- on which onecanconstantly seewhereonewasandwhere onewillprobably be- insteadofthetruth: He has learnedthatignoringthepastand the futureleads to an "irresponsible oblivion.
Charleshas realizedthatwe have to struggleto makeour own timeand place,butthathistory alwaysoffersus theopportunity toengageinthatstruggle. The trick,he hasrealized,istobecome awareof one's historyand the opportunities to strugglecrea- tively withit,sincetheyare usuallyso closetoone thattheyoften go unnoticed.
Butwhatofour age, of Mikeand Anna's age, we who commemorate? So itseemsveryfarfromsurethattheVictorians didnotexperi- This content downloaded from In a way,by transferring to the public imaginationwhat they left to the private,we are the more Victorian-in thederogatory senseof theword- century, sincewe have,indestroyingso muchofthemystery, theauraof thedifficulty, theforbidden, alsoa greatdeal ofthepleasure. Of course destroyed we cannotmeasurecomparative degreesof pleasure,butitmaybe luckierforus thanfortheVictoriansthatwe cannot.
However, the suggestion that the present openness to all possibilitiesof sexual behaviordoes not necessar- ilylead to more pleasure,and mayeven lead to less,is disturbing. The narrator'scommentsfurthersuggestthatthe adherence to a certainsocial and moral perspectiveas a legacy fromthe past may give one opportunities for self-overcoming and self- creation that lead to greater meaning and pleasure.
This was Nietzsche's view of the value of values: It appears as thoughwe maybe left cheerfullyin the quicksand. We are smug in our sense thatwe are so enlightenedthatwe are notchained to the pastor anyof its value systems- yet we may be paying dearly for our bemused detachment. Mike, in commemoratingthe struggleof Sarah and Charles, seeks thatspiritof creativitypossessed by Sarah, the creativityto go beyond securityand customto thatclear space where human freedom and dignityshine.
But in the last scene he findsonly emptyair, a dead echo of the past, as Sarah's name floatsdown the road.
Does the knowingeye of all involved,actorsas well as readers- the knowledge thatthisisjust another affair,another alteration in a melody of improvised,jaded human interac- tions-trivialize the strugglein such a way that it is almost im- possible for the actors to react creatively? We moderns, who accept all varietiesof behaviorwitha knowingsmile,are whores in a truersense than the so-called French Lieutenant'sWhore.
We trade pleasures, negotiate"priorities"in our choice of rela- tionships,and pursue our self-interest in a manner more bald than the "ladies of London" and their"gentlemanly"Victorian This content downloaded from The French Lieutenant'sWhore is seen to be a noble creatorof values and preserverof integrity.
Sarah does not care whatothersthingof her, because she knowsthather integrityis most importantto her and that she is seeking to express the intrinsicvalues of life. We moderns,on the other hand, feel no sense of strugglewithpast moral standards, have despaired of findingany values that are intrinsic,and are preoccupied with whatothersthinkof us, since our internalsense of self-esteemis based on extrinsicor manipulativeconcerns.
This contrastis brought home in the filmduring the scene when Mike is discovered in Anna's bed when she oversleeps: Did youanswerthephone?
But then- they'llknowyou'rein myroom,they'llall know. In yourbed. He kissesher I wantthemto know. They'llfireme forimmorality. He embracesher They'llthink thatI am a whore. You are. They both knowthisis a playfullover'stease.
There is no moralityon a modern movie location that one takes seriously. Like the cos- tumesin the wardrobedepartment,thereis a set of moralitiesto be used on differentoccasions forvaryingeffects. Their affairis toleratedby all involved,even by Mike's wife,who banterswith Anna at the cast partyat Mike's house about who should envy whom among the two women. The fact that this behavior is tolerated withbemused curiositycheapens the human interac- tionsto the pointthatone mightclaim thatMike and Anna livein a world of whores.
Both Anna and Mike are whores in a way Sarah could neverhave been. Sarah pursues her self-realization. The novel explores the fraught relationship of gentleman and amateur naturalist Charles Smithson and Sarah Woodruff, the former governess and independent woman with whom he falls in love. The novel builds on Fowles' authority in Victorian literature, both following and critiquing many of the conventions of period novels. Following publication, the library magazine American Libraries , described the novel as one of the "Notable Books of ".
In , Time magazine chose the novel as one of the best English-language novels published between and 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: However, despite claims by Fowles that it is a feminist novel , critics have debated whether it offers a sufficiently transformative perspective on women.
Following popular success, the novel created a larger legacy: Byatt , and through adaptation as film and dramatic play. In , the novel was adapted as a film of the same name with script by the playwright Harold Pinter , directed by Karel Reisz and starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. The novel was also adapted and produced as a British play in Before Fowles published The French Lieutenant's Woman in , he had already established his literary reputation with his novels The Collector and The Magus Fowles described his main inspiration for The French Lieutenant's Woman to be a persistent image of a 'Victorian Woman,' who later developed into the novel's titular character Sarah Woodruff.
In a essay titled "Notes on an Unfinished Novel," Fowles reflects on his writing process. He said he had an image during the autumn of of "A woman [who] stands at the end of a deserted quay and stares out to sea. You are not trying to write something one of the Victorian novelists forgot to write; but perhaps something one of them failed to write.
Remember the etymology of the word. A novel is something new. It must have relevance to the writer's now - so don't ever pretend you live in ; or make sure the reader knows it's a pretence.
In an appended comment, dated "October 27, ", he writes that he finished the first draft of the novel at about , words. Throughout the essay, Fowles describes multiple influences and issues important to the novel's development, including his debt to other authors such as Thomas Hardy. 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. 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:.
Before the second and third endings, the narrator appears as a character sharing a railway compartment with Charles. He tosses a coin to determine the order in which he will portray the other two possible endings, emphasising their equal plausibility. They are as follows:.
Like many other postmodern novels , Fowles uses multiple different stylistic and structural techniques to highlight his thematic interests in The French Lieutenant's Woman.
When discussing these stylistic concerns, many literary critics comment on the importance of the narrator and the narration, the intertextual references to other literary works, and the multiple endings. Throughout the novel, the omniscient narrative voice, alongside a series of footnotes , reflect with an objective tone on a number of plot devices: The narrator often returns to topics of interest to literature and scholarship from the period, like the theories of Charles Darwin and Charles Lyell , the radical politics of Karl Marx , and the works of Matthew Arnold , Alfred, Lord Tennyson , and Thomas Hardy.
Through a metafictional and metahistorical voice, the contemporary, postmodern narrator questions the role of the author and the historian in thinking about the past. Beyond the narrator intervening and emphasizing particular interpretations of the text, the book's metafictional approach often relies on intertextual references to provide further commentary.
In the epigraphs for each chapter, the book gestures towards a number of important 19th-century texts and ideas. Partially, references to other texts act in "ironic play" , parodied by how the novel emulates other Victorian conventions throughout the text. In his discussion of science and religion in the novel, John Glendening notes that both character commentary on Darwin's publications along with the epigraphs mentioning those works as direct contributor's to the novels emphasis on science superseding religion.
Often critics will comment on the novel's multiple endings. Each offers a possible ending for Charles's pursuit of Sarah: Michelle Phillips Buchberger discusses these endings as a demonstration of "Fowles's rejection of a narrow mimesis " of reality; rather Fowles presents this multiplicity of endings to highlight the role of the author in plot choices.
It is not enough to suggest that the novel with its multiple endings is a mere experiment with the narrative form. It is Sarah Woodruff "the content of whose character produces multiple and contradictory possibilities" for the narrative. Though a bestseller , the novel has also received significant scrutiny by literary critics. Especially during the s and 70s, a novel with great popularity and significant academic scrutiny is unusual; in literary study, the canon and its academic defenders often focused on " high literary " works that didn't have large popular followings.
In her study of postmodernism, Linda Hutcheon described The French Lieutenant Woman' s binary of popular and academic interest as a paradox similar to the postmodern thematic binaries produced within the novel's content.
Some of the most popular concerns for the novel are its discussion of gender, especially questioning "Is the novel a feminist novel? The novel creates a number of binaries between men and women. Michelle Phillips Buchberger argues that The French Lieutenant's Woman, along with Fowles two earlier novels The Collector and The Magus , portrays a fundamental binary between the male and female characters: Rather, the binaries demonstrate what she calls a gendered "scopic politics", or a politics created by a gaze not dissimilar from the "male gaze" noticed in cinema studies , that constructs an artificial gender binary within Fowle's early novels as opposed to a multiplicity of socially constructed genders.
A number of critics have treated the novel as a feminist novel. The novel's narrator demonstrates and proclaims a feminist approach to women: In a interview by Jan Relf , Fowles declared himself a "feminist". Magali Cornier Michael criticises this reading of the text, saying that the novel's overwhelming reliance on male perspectives on women and feminism prevents the novel from meeting feminist objectives.
Fowles's presentation of Sarah, one of the most enigmatic female characters in literary history, is also psychoanalytically informed.
Fowles himself was interested in the psychology of men and women. The enigma of femininity, myth of masculinity, and impossibility of man-woman relationship are some of the crucial themes. Through Sarah's deliberate spreading of lies about herself and her relationship with Charles, Fowles brilliantly brings about the various aspects of femininity that has the potential to authenticate, threaten, and expose the vanity of the male subjects.
In her important study of postmodernity and its poetics in literature, Linda Hucheon describes this novel as definitive of a genre she calls " historiographic metafiction ". She defines this postmodern genre as "well-known and popular novels which are both intensely self-reflexive yet paradoxically also lay claim to historical events and personages. The text's representations of the past introduce anachronistic perspectives on the time and the characters. For example, in her queer studies -based article, "Historical Romance, Gender and Heterosexuality", Lisa Fletcher argues that The French Lieutenant's Woman , by relying on a "good love story" as the central means of representing the past, projects a contemporary hetero-normative sexuality on the history of Victorian England.
Emphasis on a conflicted relationship between science and religion frequently occurs in both historical studies of Victorian history and Neo-Victorian novels. In his chapter on The French Lieutenant's Woman in his book, Evolution and the Uncrucified Jesus , John Glendening argues that Fowles' novel is one of the first neo-Victorian novels to handle the dynamic created between science and religion in Victorian identity.