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The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969)

by John Fowles

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6,5321081,463 (3.83)1 / 430
While in Lyme Regis to visit his fiancee, Ernestina Freeman, Charles Smithson, a 32-year-old paleontologist, becomes fascinated by the mysterious Sarah Woodruff. A fallen woman said to have been jilted by a French officer, Sarah is a pariah to the well-bred society that Charles and Ernestina are a part of. While searching for fossils in a wooded coastal area, Charles encounters Sarah alone, and his curiosity and pity for her soon evolve into other emotions. It is not clear who seduces whom, but when another opportunity presents itself, Charles embraces Sarah passionately. Shortly thereafter, Sarah disappears, having been dismissed from domestic employment by the tyrannical do-gooder Mrs. Poultenay. Charles finds her in a room in Exeter, where he declares and demonstrates his love. Inspired by his image of Sarah as a valiant rebel against Victorian conventions, Charles rejects the constricting, respectable life Ernestina represents for him. He breaks off their engagement and is harassed with legal action for breach of contract. Meanwhile, Sarah vanishes again, and Charles spends 20 months scouring the world for her, finally tracing her to the lodgings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti in London.… (more)
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» See also 430 mentions

English (100)  Spanish (3)  Danish (1)  Italian (1)  Hebrew (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (107)
Showing 1-5 of 100 (next | show all)
Interestingly, the author deliberately breaks all the show don't tell and omniscient narrator rules, even intruding into Chapter 13 to tell how he doesn't plan - the world you create must come alive to the extent that characters take over. Very well written but at one point the female protagonist tells the male protagonist that she did something that in Victorian terms would result in suffering - deliberately - when it doesn't ring at all believably to me.

Altogether, I found this an odd book with all the author intrusion, alternative ending etc. A bit post modern except that it was written in the late 1970s. I can't say I'm a fan of that though the book was well written in other respects. ( )
  kitsune_reader | Nov 23, 2023 |
Another one I remember reading some years ago, without now recalling its details, but still knowing I enjoyed it. ( )
  mykl-s | Aug 13, 2023 |
The writing in this book was almost as interesting as the story itself. The author frequently breaks the fourth wall and speaks of the reasons for some of the characters actions. I was very interested in the 3 main characters, although it was difficult to feel at all close to or understand the title character. The author provided quite a bit of dramatic irony, but was not always clear in presenting it. There was also so much suspense I could not always put the book down when I planned to. I am looking forward to reading more of Fowles. ( )
  suesbooks | Aug 6, 2023 |
First, I can't say I cared for the end of this book. However, I suppose a more conventional ending would have been cliché. That doesn't mean it wasn't well-written, engaging, suspenseful, and thoroughly captivating. There are a lot of dubious characters in it. Even the author—who keeps playing with the plot mid-chapter—is guilty of being a bit shifty. When Charles Algernon Henry Smithson, a well-to-do-Victorian gentleman, falls for the mysterious Sarah (a.k.a. the lieutenant's woman), he upends his entire life for allusive happiness. What follows is more of a cat-and-mouse game that nobody wins. The author helpfully inserts verses written by well-known nineteenth-century poets at the beginning of each chapter to prepare the reader for what is to come—or perhaps as a teaser for what is not. Although they didn't benefit me, they were educational and pleasant. I loved the extensive lecturing on the habits of the Victorian era and the author's comparisons to the twentieth century at the time of writing. Nice to know; we have changed so little. ( )
  PaulaGalvan | May 13, 2023 |
I found this to be a very interesting book.

The story sounds straightforward enough. It takes place in the late 1800's, and Charles is a gentleman engaged to a young wealthy woman. His path crosses with another woman, Sarah, who had a shortlived affair with a French lieutenant. As events unfold, Charles becomes torn between his fiance and Sarah, and he begins to recognize how constrained he is by the expectations of Victorian society.

The story in and of itself is engaging as all the characters are well rounded and both admirable and flawed. What makes it even more interesting is that the story is narrated by the author himself, and he breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the reader from time to time. He also provides a variety of possible scenarios regarding what happens to Charles and Sarah . . .so in effect, the book has both a classic Victorian ending and also an ending that is very different from that.I'm giving the book five stars because it is very clever in that it skewers and also explains Victorian society - - and is written like a classic Victorian novel. The author gives the reader a LOT to think about, and I think I would benefit from re-reading the book from the beginning right now, while the ending is clear in my mind. It's also suspenseful which kept me turning the pages. The character development of Charles is done really well.

The only thing that bothered me is I felt I never quite knew Sarah's motivations - - and I don't know if the author explained them, and I just somehow "missed" it (I swear sometimes when I read right before bed I actually lose a chapter here and there). Or, if I am supposed to infer the motivations, and I just wasn't smart enough. In any event, I went to Cliff Notes for help, and there was no help forthcoming - - so if anyone felt like they have a better grip on this - - help a fellow reader out. I admit ignorance. ( )
  Anita_Pomerantz | Mar 23, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 100 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (28 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Fowles, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fuente, Ana María de laTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Velde, Frédérique van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Every emancipation is a restoration of the human
world and of human relationships to man himself
Marx, Zur Judenfrage (1844)
Dedication
First words
An easterly is the most disagreeable wind in Lyme Bay - Lyme Bay being that largest bite from the underside of England's outstretched south-western leg - and a person of curiosity could at once have deduced several strong possibilities about the pair who began to walk down the quay at Lyme Regis, the small but ancient eponym of the inbite, one incisively sharp and blustery morning in the late March of 1867.
Quotations
"Fiction usually pretends to conform to the reality: the writer puts the conflicting wants and then describes the fight - but in fact fixes the fight, letting the want he himself favors win. And we judge writers of fiction both by the skill they show in fixing the fights (in other words in persuading us that they were not fixed) and by the kind of fighter they fix in favor of: the good one, the tragic one, the evil one, the funny one and so on."

"That is the great distinction between the sexes. Men see objects, women see the relationship between objects. Whether the objects need each other, love each other, match each other. It is an extra dimension of feeling we men are without and one that makes war abhorrent to all real women—and absurd . . . War is a psychosis caused by an inability to see relationships."
When Charles left Sarah on her cliff ledge, I ordered him to walk straight back to Lyme Regis. But he did not; he gratuitously turned and went down to the Dairy.
- p. 81
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While in Lyme Regis to visit his fiancee, Ernestina Freeman, Charles Smithson, a 32-year-old paleontologist, becomes fascinated by the mysterious Sarah Woodruff. A fallen woman said to have been jilted by a French officer, Sarah is a pariah to the well-bred society that Charles and Ernestina are a part of. While searching for fossils in a wooded coastal area, Charles encounters Sarah alone, and his curiosity and pity for her soon evolve into other emotions. It is not clear who seduces whom, but when another opportunity presents itself, Charles embraces Sarah passionately. Shortly thereafter, Sarah disappears, having been dismissed from domestic employment by the tyrannical do-gooder Mrs. Poultenay. Charles finds her in a room in Exeter, where he declares and demonstrates his love. Inspired by his image of Sarah as a valiant rebel against Victorian conventions, Charles rejects the constricting, respectable life Ernestina represents for him. He breaks off their engagement and is harassed with legal action for breach of contract. Meanwhile, Sarah vanishes again, and Charles spends 20 months scouring the world for her, finally tracing her to the lodgings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti in London.

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