1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As clearly a masterpiece today as when it was published
John Fowles' "The French Lieutenant's Woman" is not only a masterpiece, it's an UNUSUAL masterpiece. Fowles takes the story of a mysterious, stubborn woman who clings almost proudly to her shame much in the same way that Hester Prynne does in "The Scarlet Letter"--yet it turns out that there is, after all, no actual reason for shame. But to Sarah...
Published on Aug. 21 2002 by Catherine S. Vodrey
3.0 out of 5 stars The French Lieutenant's Woman
The French Lieutenant's Woman is a Victorian novel by a modern author - the revered John Fowles. The novel concerns a love triangle between a young man on an income, his fiancé, and the mysterious and independent Sarah.
Throughout the novel, Fowles takes numerous opportunities to speak directly to the reader in asides that describe the process of writing...
Published on June 24 2004 by -_Tim_-
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As clearly a masterpiece today as when it was published,
This review is from: The French Lieutenant's Woman (Paperback)John Fowles' "The French Lieutenant's Woman" is not only a masterpiece, it's an UNUSUAL masterpiece. Fowles takes the story of a mysterious, stubborn woman who clings almost proudly to her shame much in the same way that Hester Prynne does in "The Scarlet Letter"--yet it turns out that there is, after all, no actual reason for shame. But to Sarah Woodruff, the woman in question, shame equals freedom: freedom from constraints both social and emotional.
Sarah Woodruff is as full-blooded and full-bodied a literary invention as any character of the 20th century canon, yet she retains a sense of mystery which is absolutely essential. It is for this sense she projects of being impossible to know that she becomes impossibly alluring to Charles Smithson, a wealthy, not-bad-looking, touchingly innocent gentleman who thinks of himself as a man of the world. The action of the book is propelled forward by the attraction Sarah holds for Charles, especially as it is forbidden (he is engaged to marry someone else).
I will mention the film here only because it is probably the only film I've ever seen that actually adds something to the book. In the film (made in 1983, if memory serves), Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons play Sarah and Charles, but they ALSO play their modern-day counterparts, making it a movie within a movie. This layers on further depth and further despair for Charles and lends an unexpected richness to the Victorian portion of the film. Although "The French Lieutenant's Woman" stands staunchly on its own, I highly recommend seeing the movie once you've read the book--if only for the delicious sense of something wonderful having been expanded even further beyond its bookish boundaries.
3.0 out of 5 stars The French Lieutenant's Woman,
This review is from: The French Lieutenant's Woman (Paperback)The French Lieutenant's Woman is a Victorian novel by a modern author - the revered John Fowles. The novel concerns a love triangle between a young man on an income, his fiancé, and the mysterious and independent Sarah.
Throughout the novel, Fowles takes numerous opportunities to speak directly to the reader in asides that describe the process of writing fiction from an author's perspective. Fowles also speaks directly to the reader to provide some historical information about the Victorians and their age. These asides are enjoyable and make the characters seem less removed from our own time.
One quibble: the final resolution of the plot was a bit stilted (the characters basically stand up and explain themselves) and not very satisfying. I'm still not sure I fully understand Sarah's motives. The rest of this novel is very well done, though.
5.0 out of 5 stars A true masterpiece,
This review is from: The French Lieutenant's Woman (Paperback)In the first hundred pages of this book I had already begun to realize that this was one of the best books I have ever read. That feeling never let up; indeed, it grew even stronger as I approached the end, when I began to feel a frantic eagerness to discover what would become of these characters that I had grown to care so much for.
Sarah Woodruff (aka the French Lieutenant's Woman) is one of my favorite characters in literature. She is a complex, nuanced character, intriguingly covered by a delicate veil of mystery throughout the first half of the book. Her pain, her selfless sacrifice, and her courage are deeply and powerfully drawn. She is a true example of a woman ahead of her time, a woman who challenges the norms of her society by simply ignoring them. Her confidence and her quiet scorn for the Puritanism of the times in which she lives raise her to a level above the so-called moral leaders who condemn her. In a strange way, she is a true hero.
This book, written in the late 1960s but set one hundred years earlier, is a beautiful example of period literature. Fowles, through his remarkably genuine narrative voice, recreates the world of Victorian England in such a way that if it weren't for the occasional references to modern life you might think the book was a century older than it is. It is filled with all the pomp and formality you would expect, but also with a wit, dry humor, and quiet mocking of the period that lend it an added flavor.
But Fowles is not simply trying to create a period piece or social commentary. I believe that first and foremost he was creating a love story. I would put Charles and Sarah in the same category with Romeo and Juliet as far as love stories go. The relationship is developed slowly, so slow that it is exquisitely painful almost. And though the time they spend together is brief, it is filled with an unmistakable air of eventual tragedy.
The only question left in my mind is whether to categorize this book as a classic of modern fiction or of 19th century fiction. It could easily stand in either section of my bookshelf.
4.0 out of 5 stars Book vs. Movie,
This review is from: The French Lieutenant's Woman (Paperback)Alternate endings, authorial interjections, primary source documents, epigraphs; just a few techniques John Fowles uses to turn his Darwinian novel, The French Lieutenant's Woman, into a unique resurrection of classic Victorian literature. With all of the literary devices that Fowles employs in his novel to make it-according to one reviewer-"so utterly compelling," it comes as no surprise that this novel does not adapt easily to the screen. In fact, the screenwriter, Harold Pinter, completely disregards the true intended nature of the aforementioned rhetorical strategies in his adaptation of the novel.
Instead of portraying these essential elements as Fowles wrote them, Pinter creates a "movie within a movie" by constructing a passionate affair that the actors portraying Sarah and Charles involve themselves in while filming the screen version of Fowles' novel. He then cleverly weaves the two stories-one taking place in the 1860s and '70s, the other in the late-1970s/early-1980s-in and out of each other. He does so in order to give the audience a sense of the comparing of times that Fowles produces by interjecting 1960s views-on subjects including politics, religion, and social customs-in the classic style of the Victorian novel. Pinter sees this as an opportunity to use both of the novels endings, as well-the "happy" ending for the screen lovers, and the more realistic for the "real" lovers. Despite the deliberate effort to make the endings seem as genuine as possible, the do not invoke in the audience the "Mystery of the True Ending" that the novel does. And by utilizing the double-romance technique, Pinter falls prey to time constraints.
Pinter realizes that he must sacrifice plot developments and some of the other devices that make this Fowles novel unique. For example, Pinter discards of Fowles' use of the epigraphs and primary documents (including case reports) that give The French Lieutenant's Woman its Darwinian flair. Again, Pinter hopes to achieve this sense of evolution and historicism by comparing the Victorian love story with the modern one, but for anyone that has read the novel, the film just seems to lack that "something." Pinter also cuts what many readers consider key plot points from the story. This makes grasping character motivations very difficult, despite the obvious attention to detail given to keeping the dialogue consistent with that in the novel. For example, not a single frame of the film mentions Charles' uncle and the fact that Charles will no longer inherit his uncle's estate. Nor does the film address the lengths to which Sam goes to try to ensure his and his soon-to-be-bride's financial security. Without Fowles' rhetorical ingenuity and sub-plots that reveal characters' drive, the film slips further into the pattern of slaughtering the makeup of the author's creative skill.
Surely anyone who's read the book will most likely concede that they would rather adapt virtually any other book for the silver screen than The French Lieutenant's Woman. John Fowles' narration technique, designed to involve the audience in the story by speaking directly to them, and the infamous alternate endings present the most difficult aspects of the novel to overcome in the rewriting process. Surely there must exist a better way to show these aspects of the novel than the way that Pinter ultimately released it. Perhaps a narrator or even Shakespearian-inspired, one-man chorus could narrate the film in a truly Darwinian fashion, making it almost seem like a romantic documentary. Therefore, it would not seem absurd to include some of Fowles' side comments, and the narrator could then even plug in a few epigraphs or primary document excerpts. The problem of the alternate endings would then also be solved: the narrator would present them as John Fowles does in the novel. Obviously this version of the film would last longer than the two hours that Pinter's version fills, but without the second, parallel love story, the new version would occupy less time than one might think. Even so, this new longer, documentary-like version would probably not reap the same fiscal benefits that the 1981 blockbuster did, but at least the film would uphold the integrity of Fowles' novel.
Despite paltry attempts to portray Fowles' literary flair on screen, the film version of The French Lieutenant's Woman comes off as nothing more than a summary of the dominant plotline with a few glimpses into the lives of people that readers of the book have no acquaintance with. Do not misconceive this, however, as a complete bashing of the film. In deed, the film portrays Lyme Regis in an extremely visually stimulating manner, having been shot on location. And the cast, including Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep, did an outstanding job playing the well-dialogued characters that, due to unfortunate adaptation circumstances, had very little motivation to guide them. But what does exemplary acting and an aesthetically pleasing setting matter if no one makes an effort to uphold the artistic integrity of the piece that inspired the film? The novel's authorial interjections, alternate ending, epigraphs and primary source documents give the novel its reverence in the literary world. Without them, the film completely fails to capture the essence of the novel, no matter how well it portrays the dialogue and visual aesthetics of the book.
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting story that is tragic and beautiful,
This review is from: The French Lieutenant's Woman (Paperback)I have 4 different copies of this book. Fowles is really a literary giant when compared with many writers today. On par with the likes of AS Byatt, Charles Palliser, Iain Pears and Umberto Eco, Fowles (like these other authors) has an uncanny ability to write literate and thought-provoking stories while keeping the reader's interest. FLW is devastating and unsettling at some points, but the mounting tension and subsequent resolve are really wonderful. One of my favorites.
5.0 out of 5 stars Fowles' most artful, enigmatic tale,
This review is from: The French Lieutenant's Woman (Paperback)The French Lieutenant's Woman is a Victorian-style novel that deals with 20th Century issues. Charles Smithson falls in love with the mysterious Sarah Woodruff, a woman who has been cast aside by the French lieutenant of the book's title. The book shifts in time between past and present, between politics and social issues of today and the Victorian era, as it deals with love, lust, broken promises, and redemption.
Lovely, lyrical, and there's a twist to the surprise ending.
5.0 out of 5 stars Living in the Moment,
This review is from: The French Lieutenant's Woman (Paperback)This novel is at once a retrospective and a prospective, a narrative that ultimately erases the temporal boundaries between the Victorian era and the modern reader's present moment. Fowles goes considerably beyond a novelist such as A. S. Byatt and even most historians in painting the portrait of an era and its citizens as well as evoking the multifarious "Victorian sensibility," with its ambivalence about social class, morality, progress, science, religion, and, of course, sex.
The affair between Charles Smithson, amateur gentleman paleontologist, and Sarah Woodruff, alluring, forbidden "outcast," is, in many respects, no more than a ruse (readers who express disappointment at the ending have no doubt swallowed too much of the bait, reading the novel as conventional romance). The epigraph to the final chapter, Matthew Arnold's "True Piety Is Acting What One Knows," can be taken as a key to the story's compelling theme and purpose. The narrative is a variation on the quest pattern, with the salvation of the story's everyman-protagonist at stake. Moreover, his progress from ignorance to self-knowledge, contrary to Marxist theory and, for that matter, inexorable Darwinian laws of natural selection, requires that he separate himself from his "age," the very culture that has formed him, defined him, and threatens to deform him.
The climax in the story is not Charles' meeting with Sarah in the home of the Rossetti's but his epiphany, in Chapter 48, while viewing a Crucifix in the sanctuary of a church. At this moment he sees his preoccupation with fossils as representative of his society's fixation on custom, externals, and respectability at the expense of the interior self and its own priorities. Charles and Sarah find their heart's bliss "through" but certainly not "with" each other.
I read this novel at the same time I was reading "The English Patient," Michael Ondaatje's poetic novel that challenges spatial boundaries much as Fowles' narrative does the same with temporal ones. Ondaatje takes fewer chances, constructing a fantastic, impressionistic narrative that makes very few mistakes and admittedly casts a lingering spell. Fowles', on the other hand, risks a lot, especially with his frequent, self-referential intrusions into the narrative--potentially alienating some readers, whether on grounds that he's violated the implict author-reader contract or that he's naively "postmodernist." Regardless, Fowles' novel is the richer, greater achievement, and ultimately the less contrived and pretentious as well.
"The French Lieutenant's Woman" is capable of satisfying at many levels. It offers a comprehensive history of the Victorian era, a Dickensian gallery of characters, an dramatization of the faith-doubt struggle found in the poetry of Tennyson and Arnold, a critique of Victorian and modern cultural malaise, a postmodernist literary conceit, an archetypal journey with an existentialist twist. Above all, the attentive reader of this allusive, multi-layered, yet remarkably focused story will be rewarded with a unique understanding of narrative and the reader's place within it. The narrator's offering the reader a choice between two endings has the effect of "liberating" the narrative and relating it to the examined life of the reader's own present.
It's difficult to see how a triumph such as this could be excluded from any short list of greatest novels written in English during the second half of the twentieth century.
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing literature,
By A Customer
This review is from: The French Lieutenant's Woman (Paperback)This novel is a masterpiece in the craft of writing. Fowles combines science, romance, and literary beauty into one novel. Even if you tend to not choose books this long, you will not regret this book! You won't be able to put it down, the suspense grabs you from the very beginning. He adds quotes from period literatre that helps the reader transport themselves back into the victorian era.
5.0 out of 5 stars Post-modern needn't mean archly stupid,
This review is from: The French Lieutenant's Woman (Paperback)What to make of a Victorian novel by a contemporary existentialist who steps into the book twice and can't decide how to end it? I cannot imagine a more satisfying inconclusive book.
Charles gets the girl. Or maybe not? It doesn't matter. Fowles' novels are always superficially simple and unplumbable in their philosophical depths: *The Collector*, *The Magus*, *The French Lieutenant's Woman*, *A Maggot*.
Sarah Woodruff is at once utterly inexplicable and absolutely believeable. And her believeability extends to the unthinkable. As well as we "understand" her, we cannot choose the "right" ending any more than Fowles can.
Humans are creatures of dizzying Hazard. I once heard Richard Loewentin argue that even if behavior could be "determined" by complete knowledge of motives and stimuli, as the social Darwinists believe, the sheer volume of those motives and causes would allow virtual free will. Even so, no depth of understanding can determine Sarah's behavior, no fount of self-knowledge binds her to any course.
Chance circumstances, trivial as the nail lost from the horse's shoe, trigger the chaotic avalanche of the action after the incredible sex scene. So it is in life; the trivial becomes the deciding element.
I lost a Sarah, as randomly and as much through my own error as Charles did. And I remain as uncertain as he of the magnitude of that loss, however familiar I am with the scale of my grief. What a heartbreaking book, what terrible truths.
4.0 out of 5 stars The Victorian Era read by the late '60s,
This review is from: The French Lieutenant's Woman (Paperback)When I started reading The French Lt's Woman, i was expecting some very sad, tragic and hard to follow, but what I got is quite the opposite: the book gives you good laughs sometimes and it is very catching. I think that the fact of being written more than a hundrer years later than the time when the story takes place allows the writer to have a critical and ironic inight in his characters and events as well.
Fowles is a master when it comes to go over the XIX century using the XX century approach. From time to time he reminds us that when the book was being written most of the moral of its characters and situations had already changed. On the other hand, we can see that the world hasn't changed at all in many other subjects dealt in the book.
I guess that when the book was first published in the late '60s it caught on, and it is easy to understand, The French... goes with the sixties ideas.
To sum up, it is a book interesting for anyone who enjoys a good writting and wants to see how different ( or similar) we are from the Victorian Era.
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The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles (Paperback - Sept. 1 1998)
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