The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
Category: Modern Fiction
Challenge: Flashback Challenge
Synopsis: The French Lieutenant’s Woman tells the story of Charles Smithson, a Victorian gentleman and his infatuation with Sarah Woodruff, the title character, who is a woman who has acquired a certain reputation. During a visit to his fiancé, Ernestina, in Lyme Regis, Charles meets Sarah and is captured by her tragic story.
My thoughts: There are some spoilers in this review with regards to structure (which goes to message and events) because I can’t talk about the book without commentating on these issues.
I didn’t like this book. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t like it. I on principal dislike books where the author feels that they repeatedly have to jump in the book and tell me that it is just a story. I know it is a story. If I wanted a true story I would read non-fiction. When I read fiction I want a story. I don’t want to be repeatedly yanked out of the story by the author thinking they are clever and having a dialogue with me.
I also disliked the multiple endings. I want a straight up and down ending. I want the author to make up their mind about which ending they like the best. I don’t like this whole “well I wrote this ending, but now I’m going to give you this other ending”. Just make up your mind for pete sake.
I do like the language in the book. Often it is very beautifully constructed. Clearly a lot of thought went into choosing words and to make them feel authentic. I also liked the the location descriptions.
I am well aware of the fact that this book was written with a psychoanalytical criticism in mind and I find that problematic. The way women are portrayed in the book is a view that I find insulting. There are no women (apart perhaps from Aunt Tranter) who do not appear scheming in some way. The men are portrayed as mere victims of these women. For me that is insulting both to men and women.
I read this book in high school and I just could not remember what happened. It was as if I had read the book for the first time. I did remember the setting and once I started reading I remembered the characters and some events. But more events were new to me than I remembered. Not generally a good thing for a book.
All this said I know a lot of people really appreciate this book. I just don’t.