John Fowles, The French Lieutenant*s Woman

John Fowles (1926-2005)
1, September 10
2, September 17
3, September 24
4, October 1
5, October 8
6, October 15
7, October 22
8, November 5
9, November 12
10, November 19
11, November 26
12, December 3
13, December 10
John Fowles
Salman Rushdie
Angela Carter and Amy Sackville
Julian Barnes
Anthony Burgess (lecturer: Ákos Farkas)
Ted Hughes
(October 23-31 autumn break – no lectures)
Tony Harrison: V
Seamus Heaney (cf. 18 Sept)
Carol Ann Duffy
Tom Stoppard & the success of the playwright
Caryl Churchill & in-yer-face theatre
Tibor Fischer
Anthony Burgess (1917-1993)
prolific, popular and philosophic
A Clockwork Orange (1962)
John Fowles
John Fowles (1926-2005)
redefining the role of the author
The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969)
Angela Carter (1940-1992)
Feminist retelling of fairy tales
The Bloody Chamber (1979)
Salman Rushdie (1947-)
postcolonialism, pop-culture
Midnight’s Children (1981)
Julian Barnes (1946-)
Grand narrative?
Flaubert’s Parrot (1984)
A History of the World in 10 ½
Chapters (1989)
Tibor Fischer (1959-)
humour and tragedy
Under the Frog (1992)
Amy Sackville (1981-)
Postvictorian post-postmodern
Individualism and community
The Still Point (2010)
Contemporary British Fiction
Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange (1962)
• John Fowles: The French Lieutenant’s Woman
• Angela Carter: The Bloody Chamber (1979) OR
Amy Sackville: The Still Point (2010)
• Salman Rushdie: Midnight’s Children (1980)
• Julian Barnes: Flaubert’s Parrot (1984) OR
A History of the World in 10 ½ chapters (1989)
• Tibor Fischer: Under the Frog (1992)
John Fowles (1926-2005)
(1963) The Collector
(1964) The Aristos
(1965) The Magus (revised 1977)
(1969) The French Lieutenant's Woman
(1973) Poems by John Fowles
(1974) The Ebony Tower
(1974) Shipwreck
(1977) Daniel Martin
(1978) Islands
(1979) The Tree
(1980) The Enigma of Stonehenge
(1982) A short history of Lyme Regis
(1982) Mantissa
(1985) A Maggot
(1985) Land (with Fay Godwin)
(1990) Lyme Regis Camera
(1998) Wormholes - Essays and Occasional Writings
(2003) The Journals - Volume 1 (2006) The Journals - Volume 2
John Fowles (1926-2005)
• born in 1926 in Leighton-on-Sea, Essex
”oppressively conformist family life”
• short military service (marine training finished on 8th May, 1945)
• educated at Oxford: French existentialism (Camus, Sartre)
conformity and the will of the individual
• 1950-63: teaching in France, Greece (Spetsai) and in London
• 1963: The Collector (success, earlier unfinished novels)
• publishes fiction, poetry and essays regularly until 1990
• 1968: moves to Lyme Regis
The Collector (1963)
• lonely lower-class Ferdinand Clegg
(butterfly collector) falls in love
with higher middle-class arts
student Miranda Grey, but
unable to approach her
• after winning a large sum, kidnaps
• love as total possession
• first part: story in Clegg’s p. o. v.
cold, emotionless language
Clegg incapable of intimacy and
normal human relationships
• second part: Miranda’s diary
• third part narrated by Clegg again
The Collector (1963)
• second part: Miranda’s diary
at first scared and afraid of Clegg’s
alleged sexual motives
• later learns Clegg better and starts to
pity him
Caliban / Miranda situation (The
hopeless obsession (Ferdinand!)
• tries to escape and also to seduce Clegg,
but it only leads to confusion. Miranda
becomes desperate, grows ill and dies.
The Collector (1963)
• third part narrated by Clegg again
• He first considers committing suicide, but after
discovering Miranda’s diary and the fact that she
never loved him, he decides he is not responsible.
Considers kidnapping another girl.
• social and intellectual division:
power in the hand of those who are intellectually
unsuited to control it
In The Aristos (1964): moral and intellectual elite (Heraclitus)
The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969)
Charles Smithson (aristocrat)
Tina (Ernestina) nouveau riche
Sarah Woodruff
Sam Farrow
Charles enjoys the company of his fiancée Ernestina in rural Lyme
Regis, when he meets the outcast Sarah and finally falls in love
with her.
In the first version he returns to Ernestina. [First ending]
However, it turns out to be a sort of daydreaming.
• He breaks up the engagement with
Ernestina and returns to Sarah, who
• A long search follows; Sarah finally
found in the company of artists in
London, with a daughter
• Two alternative versions for and
ending are offered:
– Charles recognizes that Lalage is his own
child, and a family reunion is implied
[Second ending]
– A bitter reunion: they meet and part
again unhappily [Third ending]
Reader to choose the appropriate ending
The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969)
• re/deconstruction of the Victorian novel (and society)
narration: chronological
very detailed descriptions (dignified journalism?)
• Victorian topics:
– society (wide, many layers)
– historical progress and evolution (cf. Sam)
[Dickens’s Sam Weller]
– victorian dilemma: rank marrying money
– male hero facing decision: fair vs. dark lady
[femme fatale]
– victorian omniscience
(beginning: place, time, weather)
• victorian novel with a modern consciousness
praise and criticism of victorian novel
criticism of postmodernism (shallow, depthless)
• Do we know victorians better?
details vs. perspective / overall view (today?)
• 1960’s: freedom decade, sexual revolution
Isn’t freedom an illusion?
Are we as free as we think? Aren’t we calculable?
Attitude to history
creative anachronism
looking for our problems in the historical context
projection of a 1960s mentality into the 1860s
allusion to 20th century referents in 19th c. context
mostly remains at the level of the narrator’s discourse
(reference to television, Hitler)
foregrounding the temporal distance between the
act of narration and the objects narrated
but also penetrates the fictional world
But exposing the gap between the date of the
story and the date of its composition inevitably
reveals not just the artificiality of historical
fiction, but the artificiality of all fiction…. The
French Lieutenant’s Woman is a novel as much
about novel writing as about the past. There is a
word for this kind of fiction, “Metafiction”…
David Lodge, “A Sense of the Past”
In: David Lodge, The Art of Fiction (1992)
Chapter 13 – Metafiction
”Who is Sarah?
Out of what shadow does she come?”
do not know. This story I am telling is all imagination.
These characters I create never existed outside my own
mind. If I have pretended until now to know my
characters’s minds and innermost thoughts, it is because
I am writing in […] a convention universally accepted
at the time of my story: that the novelist stands next to
authorial intrusion (also in Chapter 55): carefully created illusion broken
author or narrator (or character)?
essay or novel? (cf. Huxley)
”We know a world is an organism, not a machine. […] a planned world
(a world that fully reveals its planning) is a dead world. It is only when
our characters and events begin to disobey us that they begin to live. […]
In other words, to be free myself, I must give him [Charles], and Tina,
and Sarah, even the abominable Mrs. Poulteney, their freedoms as well.
There is only one good definition of God: the freedom that allows other
freedoms to exist.”
• autonomy / existential independence of the characters?
basic features of the novel (character, author, ending)
• author as a modern (romantic) myth:
the work of art stems in the author
This myth questioned by
Roland Barthes: ‘The Death of the Author’ (1968)
Wimsatt and Beardsley: ‘The Intentional Fallacy’ (1946)
Fowles: the unfreedom of the tyrant
self-conscious author
The freedom of the characters
• The freedom of Sarah:
you cannot know her, you cannot calculate her moves
• explanations:
quasi-religious: Mrs Poulteney (lapsed woman, fails second chance)
scientific: Dr Grogan (Darwinist, agnostic) hysteria
social: trying to rise at a high rank / fallen woman excludes herself from
Charles: no explanation: freedom (explain = control)
I know a person = I can calculate his/her actions =
predictability (power)
threat of uncertainty: threat of freedom (cf. 1984)
Fiction and reality
”We are all in flight from the real reality.”
Modernist fiction – epistemological uncertainties:
How do we know?
Postmodernist fiction –
ontological uncertainties:
Which is the real world?
Historical fiction: Real compared to what?
language: not a passive reflection (imitation) of the world,
but active modelling.
History (and also nature) is conveyed as it is organized in
accordance with cultural conventions.
Hayden White: history is a narrative
historians create / reveal the connections among events
common features of history and fiction
Victorian novel: dignified journalism
everything about how people lived – except a man and a woman
in the sexual act (Fielding, Defoe: earlier)
yet: hayday of supressed pornography and prostitution
• ”Fiction usually pretends to conform to the reality: the writer
puts the conflicting wants in the ring and describes the fight –
but in fact fixes the fight, letting that want he himself favours
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
favour of…” (Chapter 55)
Endings: aleatoric principle
John Cage: 4’33’’ (1952) also 0’0’’ (1962)
also: chance procedures in other works
B. S Johnson: The Unfortunates (1969)
book in a box
the tyranny of the last chapter
” I take my purse from my pocket […], I extract a florin, I rest it on
my right thumbnail, I flick it, spinning, two feet into the air and
catch it in my left hand.
So be it.” (Chapter 55)
The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)
Director: Karel Reisz
Screenplay: Harold Pinter
Starring Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons
The Magus (1965 / 1977)
• the first novel written (published after
The Collector)
based of experiences in Greece
a cult novel in the 60s
(psychoanalysis, mysticism)
• Depressed and disillusioned teacher of
English Nicholas Urfe in a Greek
• grows fond of a local recluse
gets involved in mystical and bizarre
games where they often use masks
and special garments
• After a while, game and reality seem
to correspond: the games start to
resemble his life
• mysteries and psychic
experiences follow
• Ending: deliberately ambiguous
(uncertainty about the future of a
• Filmed in 1968 by Guy Green,
featuring Michael Caine and
Anthony Quinn

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