An Overview on the French Lieutenant’s Woman
The novel “The French Lieutenants Woman” from 1967 by John Fowlers shares a number of properties with the idea of a traditional time machine. At the first look it seems to be a precise rendering of the Victorian world of the 1 sass that immerses the reader in what would seem like a credible, immaculate historical reproduction. However, it is certainly a 20th century time machine, a machine that is as unstable and illusory as the post-modern context in which it was created.
It is apparently a book about another time and place in which certain truths and ales of the pre-modern 19th century world are alive, but is also a book of Illusion and trickery. With one hand, the author wants to recreate a world as truthfully and atmospherically as possible, while with the other, he rips It apart and hands It to us piece by piece. Fowlers Is trying to disguise his love of the traditional romantic novel with glimpses of post-modern ironic clarity throughout the novel, but It Is at no point more than an artificial flavor added to disguise the bitter taste of what the author worries may be a dying art form, the novel.
The author also covers the theme of identity and its relationship to time and space, and how the crisis of representation influences our perception of what identity is. Fowlers explores freedom and (in)authenticity through his characters, putting them in contrived social situations and settings and exposing their true intentions. “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” deals with how we always create the world instead of how we perceive the world, and this idea Is important In connection with Fowlers’ ideas about writing in it self.
He Is concerned with the relationship between life and art, how they influence each other, and how and If Fowlers can control them. This paper will analyses how “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” portrays the nature of Identity. There are strong links to existentialism and determinism in the book, and this paper will include these elements in the analysis. Furthermore, it will juxtapose the contradictory elements of the romantic, traditional storyline and the post-modern anti-illusory spirit that permeates “The French Lieutenants Woman”, and analyses the implications for the concept of identity.
It will analyses Fowlers’ comments on the act of writing and the nature of representation, and construct a critique of his ideas in relation to his book. 2. Structure, texture and characters The novel Is situated In the small town of Lame Regis, England, an apparently Idyllic setting. Close to the sea and rich In nature’s beauty, It Is a traditional romantic location, with all the opportunities of atmospheric description that an author could Lame, which is important in connection with the romantic aspect of the book.
The characters of “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” are all stereotypes of the romantic novel (Carter, The rational glass). Fowlers has consciously created characters that at once are alive, and at the same comply with certain standard rules for the Victorian character. The focus of the book is on characters and their development, in contrast to a plot-driven novel. The book takes off in medias rest, and much of the traditional plot has already taken place, making room for a development of characters and narrative technique.
The book is filled to the brim with traditional situations and problems of the Victorian novel. Charles and Ernestine are connected through several materialistic reasons instead of true love, Sarah is the fallen woman who is lost through her supposed acts of uncontrolled lust, Mrs.. Polygene is the strict old villain who represents a fanatic religious aspect etc. However, these characteristics will be made increasingly questionable as the novel progresses and the true intentions of the author are made clearer.
Charles, one of the main characters, is a traditional romantic hero. He is intelligent, intellectual and experienced in traveling. While he is suspicious of the Victorian values, he never really goes beyond them. The reader gets a sense that he is somehow trapped in the ideas and limitations of his time, especially when the narrator sums up the contrasting 20th century ideas. Charles has two contrasting conceptions of sexuality: One of restraint, and one where visiting whore’s is acceptable, a typical contradiction of the Victorian age.
As is typical in the romantic novel, love is the main theme for Charles’ development in the book. Sarah represents the tool that makes him able to grow beyond himself and attain a new awareness of his life. Charles is unaware of himself as a human being, and constantly takes on different roles in order to conform to how he thinks he should be perceived. He tries to conform to the identity he is handed by society instead of creating his own. He makes a move from being a traditional Victorian character to being a more aware individual who is confronted with the decisions of existentialism.
His old Victorian worldview of stable truths are shattered and replaced by a heterogeneous conception of the world as Fowlers manipulates his character with the thoughts and ideas of the 20th century. Sarah, the French Lieutenant’s Woman of the title, is the mysterious pariah of the story. She is almost totally rejected by the small society in Lame, and relies solely on the charity of Miss Polygene. This position is an interesting one, because it is more or less a choice made by Sarah herself. She is a virgin when Charles meets her, and he story of the lieutenant is not quite correct.
Sarah is trying to shape her own identity, and in doing so, she has to reject the rigid conventions of society. This has a serious sidepieces, namely becoming an outcast, but it is apparently vital to her survival. She chooses the role of the martyr, suffering for a set of ideas about how things could have been. Even though she is the character mentioned in the title, Charles seems to be a more likely protagonist in the story. Sarah does not develop in any remarkable way, as her conception of her own identity is more or less satisfying.
She is able to choose consciously her own role, and chooses knowingly what and invisible conventions of society. Her individuality is emphasized, in contrast to the traditional Victorian value of community. This could be seen as an early sighting of modernism, where the traditional shared values of Victorian society were slowly crumbling. The labeling of Sarah by Dry. Groan in cheaper 27 as insane is interesting, as it illustrates the relationship between self and other in connection to society. In order to make up a sing lee homogeneous unit, society has to reject elements that are too efferent from the rest.
Heterogeneity is sacrificed in the name of unity. The psychology of the insane is an interesting thought, because it truly marks society’s rules as right, and whoever does not obey these rules are not Just “rebellious”, they are “mentally sick”. Ernestine, on the other hand, is the character of conformity. She dutifully tries to live by every single rule set up by society, lack of sexuality and courtesy being two main ingredients. She is trying to live by the posited values made by society, instead of trying to discover her own identity.
She is limited in several ways, sexually inhibited and constrained by the social conventions that she lives by. She is the classic Victorian lady: soft, weak-willed on the surface, shy and non-sexual. This was the ideal that Victorian women were Judged by, a role that was pressed over their heads. It was derived (by and for the middle class) from religious and political ideas from the time, and the narrator is critical towards it. His viewpoint is always that of the wiser 20th century writer, with all his knowledge of identity and existentialism.
Most of all it is the lack of personal freedom that particularly limited women that is arthritis, especially when it is Juxtaposed with the relative freedom men experienced at the time, especially sexually. At the time, there was a general consensus that the body should be ignored as much as possible, and that the mind should be elevated, but nevertheless it was accepted that men had certain urges, and that normal women did not. This male chauvinism was to be confronted much later by the then emerging feminism, which opposed all these ideas directly and praised the freedom of women.
It is possible to see Ernestine, Charles and Sarah as representing efferent points of a spectrum, where Sarah is at the sexually liberated and identity- conscious end, Ernestine at the opposite end of sexual restraint and total acceptance of the given identity, and Charles conveniently placed in the middle. He is trying to achieve and understand the liberation of Sarah, but he is trapped in the conventions of his time. This point is Just beyond his consciousness, and the only thing that makes him able to brush it is his experience abroad.
In chapter 18, Sarah tries to make him understand her decisions by telling her story, but he is unable to do so cause he thinks in other terms such as social acceptance, and he does not quite have the ability to go beyond the limitations imposed on him. Charles is trying to fit Sarah into his own rational worldview, but naturally he is unsuccessful, as no easy answers exist for Sarah. She is not easily explained and categorized, and thus she escapes his essentialist’s effort to understand her, which is probably also one of the main reasons why Charles is so fascinated by her.
This is a major theme in the book: The inability of easy answers to explain the complex reasons why we act as we do. One main theme in “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” is the discussion of identity? Are we the sole masters of our own destiny, or are we slaves of our heritage? Fowlers is exploring these thoughts, and the characters are somehow representative of the different views. The main idea in existentialism is that “what we are, and what gives our lives significance, is not pre-established for us, but is something for which we ourselves are responsible. ” (Gauguin, 1995).
This means that there is no pre- ordained destiny for us, and that we are free to create our own lives and setting our own limits for our existence. The emphasis is on choice and its responsibility; we have to consciously make decisions, and the freedom is something we have to be aware of. This idea is tightly connected with the idea that “fiction is woven into all” (chapter 13), and that reality and fiction are inseparable. We have to write our own life story in order to make sense of ourselves, and thus every individual is the creating power behind his or her existence (See “Fiction and metrification”).
The contrasting idea to existentialism is determinism, the notion that our destiny is predetermined and unavoidable. We cannot ever escape the linearity of our future hat is laid down by rules that are unknown to us. The notion of free choice is eliminated in determinism, and there is only a well-lit path that leads us the way to our predestined existence. Thus the importance of human consciousness is downplayed, and the sense that our thoughts do not really matter that much is prevalent. Fowlers’ characters are tools to explore these notions of determinism and existentialism.
He experiments with them, subjects them to different settings and ideas, in order to see how their choices influences their lives. Ernestine is in every way determined: She does not seem to have a choice at all. Society has hidden the fact that she is able to choose, and she seems to live the determined life that she is supposed to. Sarah, on the other hand, is the epitome of existentialism: She takes her destiny in her own hands, despite of the serious ramifications. She consciously chooses to live her own life by her own decisions. Charles is the undecided one: He has a foot in each camp.
Can he really be the master of his own destiny? The answer seems to be undecided in the book. He is full of self-doubt and indecisiveness, but nevertheless he seems willing to explore the unknown. The narrator himself at one mime mentions that “maybe I am Charles”, and this would fit very neatly: The narrator is full of doubt himself, and has no clear-cut answers for anything. The narrator is also divided in several ways: He does not know whether to tell a post-modern tale or a very traditional romantic tale, and he does not know whether his characters are controlling him or the other way around.
This independence of the characters is stressed several times by Fowlers, for example in chapter 13: “to be free myself, I must give (Charles), and Tina, and Sarah, even the abominable Mrs… Polygene, their freedoms as well… Do not fully control these creatures of my mind… ” (p. 98) This question of freedom and its implications are vital to the novel, as the plot revolves around the progression of the characters’ identities. However, it is also certain voices and speak the required dialogue. The question of freedom arises again; is character-acting freedom? The quest for authenticity is vital to the book.
Fowlers exposes his characters as inauthentic time and time again, and consequently he is questioning their true freedom. Fowlers toys around with their wishes and hopes, makes them realize themselves in new ways through his 20th century respective and then takes the role of the observer, closely following the thoughts of each character and relaying them to the reader. Fowlers is concerned with the choices human beings make about their identity, as the following paragraph shows: “John Fowlers offers his world of relativists truths as preferable to an interpretation of the world which insists on the existence of Absolute Truth.
For he sees in a realm of truths the possibility of an existential freedom for individual human beings. Human beings can choose to live in different worlds, different value- systems. ” (Carter, The Rational Glass, p. 75) Fowlers wants a multiplicity of truths, and heterogeneity of identities instead of certain strict guidelines for what is acceptable and what is not. This can only be possible if there is no one true value-system, and that all value-systems are equal. Since every reality is fictional, no one reality is more real than any other, and thus every individual is free to choose whatever he or she desires.
This is the ideal world Fowlers is advocating through his description of the homogeneous Victorian society. 3. The present in the past Fowlers has made a conscious choice of the setting of his novel, a choice that offers overall opportunities for both making his characters act and develop according to certain criteria. “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” takes place one hundred years before it was written, in 1867, an age of scientific breakthroughs and major changes in society and how it was conceived. Darning’s theories of evolution were Just beginning to be accepted in scientific circles, and people were either fascinated or appalled.
There was a strong disparity between the old worldview, where God was the unifying concept, and the new one that radically broke with the truths and values of the Victorian Age. The French Lieutenant’s Woman” has many characteristics of a historical study. It has a wealth of trivia information on the Victorian period that mainly serves as factual knowledge, but nevertheless represented in a digestible form that goes well with the story. Fowlers does not choose arbitrarily what he reconstructs; he examines and Juxtaposes the two ages’ view on identity, society, science, religion, sexuality, etc.
It is very much a reconstruction of a past era through the eyes of the 20th century, which certainly poses its problems, and these are confronted by Fowlers in his book. The main problem in the reconstruction of the Victorian age lies with the basic problems of representation, the limitations of words. Assures’ theory of the arbitrary relationship between sign and signifier is an important idea in this context. Words have no constant, never-changing signifier, and are subject to constant true narratives to hang the final, absolute value-system on.
What remains is the helter-shelter of truths, which in turn makes human beings free to choose without artificial limitations. The Victorian system is one narrative, and Fowlers invokes it in order to show that it is Just one out of an infinite supply of truths. Another problem lies in the fact that Fowlers himself did not live in the Victorian age. He has no first-hand experience of the actual conditions present at the time, and thus his only means of reproducing it is through other texts. This intellectuality is problematic since there can be no true verification of its validity.
It is also important to note that Fowlers is probably aware of these problems, and that his goal is mainly emulate a certain kind of textual mode, that of the romantic novel, and at the same time questioning its basic premises. It is obvious that Fowlers has studied several historical works on the age, and he makes explicit references to several such works through the book, but he is nevertheless aware of his own limited position in time and space; this is part of the post-modern ideas represented in the book. 4. Fiction and metrification Probably one of the most important aspects of “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” is the meta-fictional aspect.
Fowlers invokes certain traditional Victorian styles of writing, but at the same time he is analyzing and criticizing them. Fowlers declares his position in the following paragraph: … I am writing in Oust as I have assumed some of the vocabulary and voice’ of) 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”, p. 97 Fowlers is emulating a certain mode of writing that was prevalent in the Victorian Age. Yet later it will become apparent that this is not quite true, as he also writes in the voice of the post-modern.
His objective is to examine the nature of narrative technique, an aspect of writing that has come increasingly into focus in the 20th century. He asks questions such as “why am I writing” and “why do I write at all”. In order to come closer to answering these questions (he does not give definitive answers), he shifts from one narrative technique to another, and in the process makes the reader aware of Fowlers’ conscious choices of technique. The invoked voices of the romance and the Victorian novel are defoliator’s, and the reader has to reassess his conception of the traditional conventions of how to read such a story.
The non-linearity of the plot also serves to make the reader uneasy by breaking the conventions and thus surprising him or her. The sudden shifts in time shocks the reader out of his usual reading habits into awareness. In chapter 13, the first true glimpse of meta-fiction appears. The narrator of the story (Fowlers himself? ) takes a step back from the story and looks at it through the eyes of a 20th century author. On certain occasions up until now he has made himself visible, but not as clearly as in chapter 9.
Fowlers is breaking the illusion of realism, of the all-knowing detached author who merely describes the action in an impartial manner. One important Roland Breathes (who is mentioned directly by Fowlers on p. 97). This is the idea that the author cannot be seen as the truly omniscient creator of the novel that traditional criticism made him look like. The convention of realism is that the author is all seeing and all knowing, and makes a perfect textual reproduction of acts and events, but this convention is thoroughly dismissed in “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”..
The narrator of “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” is self-questioning, full of doubt and indecision: A truly post-modern character who does not know right from wrong or self from other. Distinctions are blurred: There is no way to cling on to any stable inventions without acknowledging their totaling premises. However, Fowlers is having a hard time letting go of the author, as shown in the following quote: “The novelist is still a god, since he creates… What has changed is that we are “no longer the gods of the Victorian image, omniscient and decreeing; but in the new theological image, with freedom our first principle, not authority. (p. 99) Here Fowlers advocates the freedom of creating worlds that are not prescriptive, and denies the authority that made Victorian writers into Judges of morality and ethics. Fowlers goes on to comment on the nature of writing, and how the author is not in full control, how the writing is not a product of a mastermind concealed in the shadows, but an “organic process” in which the author’s role is diminished compared to the conventional idea of writing. He mentions reasons for writers to write, and assumes the voice of all authors and says: “we wish to create worlds as real as, but other than the world that is”, p. 8. According to Fowlers, the fictional worlds authors create do not necessarily correspond to the “real” world, but they feel real. Reality is lull of contradictions, Just as fictional reality is, and the distinction between reality and fiction is blurred. Fowlers then ponders whether the illusion is broken when he doubts the realness of the story, but he declares that “fiction is woven into all” on page 99, and claims that his “characters still exist, and in a reality no less, or no more, real than the one I have Just broken. Reality is no more real than fiction, since we all create fiction in order to create meaning. Perception is intermingled with fiction, which means that the fiction we create on a daily basis is no more valid than the fiction created by authors. As Denied puts it, “each man’s life is a novel of which that man is the author” (Denied, 1976). What Fowlers is trying to do is to kill off the Victorian way of looking at writing. He is giving us a story that at first glance may look very much like a Victorian story, but the post-modern ideas he enumerates suddenly make the reader realize that things are not that simple.
Chapter 55 sees the personae of Fowlers make another entry into the narrative, as he stares at Charles in the train, contemplating what to do with his character: “(… ) What the devil am I going to do with you? I have already thought of ending Charles’ career right 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, the inconclusive ending; and I preached earlier of the freedom characters must be On one hand, Fowlers is following the Victorian principles of writing, but on the other, he sees its limitations.
He talks of the “organic” nature of writing, that his characters are somehow alive and not mere puppets. Nevertheless, writing for Fowlers is what he calls “god games” (which was the original title for his first novel, as written in the introduction to “The Magus”). The author creates worlds of fiction in a way that somehow gives the feeling of omnipotence, even though it may be illusory. Fowlers goes on to describe what he calls “fight-fixing”, the idea that an author pits the desires of his characters against each other, and by choosing who wins, he gives the reader his own view of how the world is constructed: “(… The chief argument for fight-fixing is to show one’s readers what one thinks of the world around one – whether one is a pessimist, an optimist, what you will. I have pretended to slip back into 1867; but of course that year is in reality a century past. It s futile to show optimism or pessimism, or anything else about it, because we already know what has happened since. ” (p. 390) Here Fowlers acknowledges his position as a limited writer, and not the omniscient God that some may think he is in context with his book.
Any side-choosing would be an easy option, an easy way to deliver answers that are in no way that simple. It is impossible to write a book without having an opinion about the events occurring in it, and Fowlers is trying to circumvent this limitation by having several endings in the book. He is trying to be objective, but he knows it is a loosing battle. He is aware of the subjective nature of his work, and that it can never be escaped, only disguised. Furthermore he is concerned with the impact on the reader, who will have a propensity to see the last ending as the most probable.
This he tries to circumvent by flipping a virtual coin in the story, and by this he is trying to convey the sense that the order of the endings is random. However, he knows that the multiple endings are not an adequate solution, but in the least he has made the reader aware of his troubles. Awareness is a big thing in “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”, both in terms of the act f reading the book, and in the way that people relate to his or her own identity and situation.
Fowlers has made clear that he is not oblivious to the fact that the reader is reading a book of fiction, and not a piece of undigested reality. 5. Conclusion “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” is a book of many qualities. It has a plethora of information about the Victorian Age and many other things, and it seems deep and involving, especially in connection with the characters and their interaction with each other and the society of the age. But “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” tries to be ouch more than a simple historical study.
It tries to turn itself upside down by taking a step back from the illusion that the story is a reflection of reality by involving the author and his thoughts about the story. By letting his book enter the world of post- modernity, Fowlers opens up a whole new avenue of possibilities for his fiction and This paper has shown how Fowlers tries to defend his position as a writer with meaningful ideas by declaring that his fictional reality is no less real than any person’s perception of reality. It has been shown how Fowlers explores the idea of existentialism through his characters, and how these characters develop.
The post-modern elements and their implications for the plot and characters is also a main ingredient in the book, and this paper has shown how Fowlers combined meta-fiction and intellectuality to fully explore the multiplicity of voices that make up the identities of his complex characters. His Juggling of the form of the novel is used to manipulate the reader into awareness of both his own position and the characters of the novel. The crisis of representation is made evident in chapter 13, and Fowlers certainly sees the contradictions of his work.
The book tries to do two things at the same time: Tell a traditional romantic story and state some of the problems in doing so. Fowlers undermines his own story, and it all comes out as a bit too constructed. The self- consciousness of the book somehow feels superfluous. It is as if it is a late addition to the book, and that it is included merely to satisfy a certain train of ideas that were emerging at the time of writing. In no way does Fowlers delve deep enough into his ideas to actually produce any kind of convincing statements.
He points out all the weaknesses of his own position as a writer without taking the real implications seriously in connection with the surface story of the novel. The plot and story are still very conventional, even though there are 3 different endings. Fowlers definitely is intrigued by the Victorian principles, and this shines through even his 20th century know-all attitude towards it. He successfully captures a certain mood that many Victorian novels had, and this can be captivating in the sense that the book entertains you; but as a serious comment on the act of writing, “The French
Lieutenant’s Woman” does leave a lot to be desired.