Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The French Lieutenant's Woman

The French Lieutenant's WomanThe French Lieutenant's Woman
by John Fowles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“It is only when our characters and events begin to disobey us that they begin to live.” ― John Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Woman
I have been aware of this book, but only in a vague way, since I was a kid. It was a movie when I was in middle school and was part of the cultural zeitgeist. I knew it was about a love triangle and was set in a seaside British town, but that is about it. I was very pleased to discover on reading it that it is much more interesting than that.
This novel is told with a 19th century tone and the story is set in Lyme Regis, on the Southern coast of England, in the 1860s. What makes it wonderful though is that the author is very present in the telling of his tale and interjects with what are basically essays on the scientific, social, political and fashion issues of the period the story takes place in. (And occasionally on the period in which it is being written.) The combination of a Victorian romance and a commentary on what is happening and what is involved in writing it makes the whole thing quite fascinating. The only real objection I had to it was that the characters were often tremendous dopes (which Fowles is clearly aware of but contends he can't do anything about) and the prose in sections of the story itself was outrageously purple.
In a 2013 article BookMarks magazine describes John Fowles like this:
"Considered one of the 20th centuries literary giants, though more acclaimed in the United States than in his native England, Fowles brought popular appeal to the serious literary novel. Hard to place, but best positioned somewhere between modernism and post-modernism, Fowles wrote for an audience appreciative of playful, multilayered fiction ("historigraphic metafiction") as he manipulated his characters and explored the tensions between free will and society's restraints."
This title is on my Classics Club list.


  1. Yeah, Fowles is sort of hard to categorize, sort of on his own. Definitely intriguing.

  2. This is one of my favourite books - due for a reread! The Meryl Streep movie is a fabulous interpretation too - hopelessly dated in look, but fascinating metaficion to mess with your head :-)


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