The French Lieutenant's Woman Study Guide

The French Lieutenant's Woman Study Guide

Original title:
The French Lieutenant's Woman

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles is a postmodern historical fiction that tells us the story of the aforementioned woman, abandoned by the French lieutenant who returned to France and married there. The woman named Sarah was left disgraced and shun from the society, spending most of her time on the beach and looking at the sea, grieving about her loss and shame. The story starts when another young man, Charles, goes for a walk to the beach with his fiancée Ernestine and meets Sarah. Ernestine tells him the story of the woman and it becomes the beginning of a weird love triangle.

The main feature of the novel is its ambiguous ending. The omniscient narrator turns into a character, who at least has their own watch to track the time of the endings. He presents us the three endings, each of them isn’t truly happy. All of three are mutually exclusive, leaving Charles with one or the other woman, but showing that he still lacks something that he could have had in the other relationship.

The narrator touches some important topics such as gender and female emancipation, comparing reserved Victorian Ernestine to independent and strong Sarah, science and religion, that also reflects the conflict of the two women, and history, even despite Fowles being inaccurate and using anachronisms in his novel. He engages the reader into the process of writing, offering them to choose the ending by themselves.

The novel received lots of mixed reviews from critics who both praised and criticized the book for its experimental and unconventional narrative style and brave portraying of the topics that can be confusing for the audience. His writing about Victorian era from the modern point of view can be historically inaccurate, but it is still accurate in spirit, making The French Lieutenant’s Wife a piece of historical fiction that is worth reading and thinking over.

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