The understand the author’s intention: “All emancipation

 The
title of the novel – a kind of euphemism, pointing to the main character Sarah
Woodruff.

    When Fowles’s novel
was published, he was struck by his difference from modern publications, the
narrative style itself seemed taken from the past. But in the middle of the
book, the composition turned into experimental prose: the author ran ahead,
through a century, informed about the fate of the heroes, offered the reader
various options for the finals to choose from. In general, he demonstrated the
techniques of postmodern writing.

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Of course, this is an intellectual novel: the
purpose of the work is not the image of life, but the solution of more general
questions of human existence. Heroes are carriers of certain ideas, in the work
we see a clash of different ideological principles.

The wandering of Charles Smithson occurs in a
historically specific time and place: the beginning – the end of the sixties of
the XIX century in Victorian England. But Sarah, who acts as the temptress of
Charles, takes her own way of knowing herself: she draws him from the first
meeting, she forces the hero to perform unthinkable deeds, like his own. Like
Sarah, Charles, too, in his own way defies Victorian morality.

        (The structure of the novel is complex:
Fowles uses epigraphs to the chapters and to the entire novel, footnotes of
author’s notes to the text, in which he gives historical, linguistic and
sociological explanations; all this is intended to remind readers that the
narrator himself belongs to another time.)

   The work is preceded by an
epigraph that allows one to understand the author’s intention: “All emancipation
consists in the fact that it returns the human world, human relations to the
man himself” (K. Marx, On the Jewish Question (1844)). And, indeed, throughout the narrative, we observe the process of the
return of the protagonists to themselves: both Sara Woodruff and Charles
Smithson discover the needs and desires that largely contradict the traditions
and the spirit of Victorian England, but only when the heroes allow themselves
live in accordance with their own aspirations, they find themselves.

“The French Lieutenant’s Woman”
recalls the historical novels of Walter Scott, in which action always occurs at
the turn of two epochs, at moments of major social upheavals, but historical
novels assume the presence of historical figures as the main or secondary
characters, and the plots of such works are usually associated with which or important
historical events.Fowles has only fictional characters, and he also emphasizes
their fictional nature in direct authorial digressions: “Everything
I’m talking about here I tell you, it’s all fiction The heroes that I create
never existed beyond my imagination If until now I pretended to know their
innermost thoughts and feelings, then only because, having learned to some
extent language and the “voice” of the epoch in which the action of
my narrative takes place, I likewise adhere to the generally accepted
conventionality: the novelist is second only to the Lord God, if he does not
know everything, he tries to pretend that he knows. But I live in the age of
Alain Rob-Grill and Roland Bart, so if it’s a novel, it’s not a novel in the
modern sense of the word “(Ch 13).

The beginning of the events in the work refers
to the end of March 1867. During this period, under the influence of Darwin’s
theory of evolution and other natural-science discoveries, the notions of the
world and man were rapidly changing. The writer depicted a transitional era,
when new forms of social consciousness arose. The plot of the novel does not go
beyond the scope of private life, although the author gives a picture of the
mores of Victorian England in great detail.

   The era of the reign of
Queen Victoria is portrayed as a specific sociocultural system dictating to the
person rigid norms of behavior. According to Fowles, this system suppresses
human feelings, and passion and imagination condemns. Therefore, people begin
to fear themselves: one of Ernestine’s heroines forbids to think about sensual
pleasures and even invents the formula-prohibition “do not you dare”:
“… she invented something like a commandment for herself -” do not
you dare! “- and repeated these words softly every time the thoughts about
the physical side of her feminine nature tried to invade her consciousness
“(Chap. 5).

Fowles introduces into the work a vast amount
of documentary material: quotations from the work of K. Marx
“Capital”, testimonies of people of that era, statistical data (E.
Royston Pike “Human Documents of the Victorian Golden Age”),
fragments published shortly before the described period of work of Charles
Darwin ” Origin of Species “, etc. Probably, it is this saturation of
documents and information that causes perplexity and confusion among readers
who are not ready for such a peculiar manner of presentation.

The novel is distinguished by a special ironic
style of narration, the author, indeed, acts as an omniscient observer, who not
only captures the external manifestations of the nature of the characters, but
also shows us the hidden from all the underside of their actions. This
is especially noticeable with regard to the heroine of the second plan – Mrs.
Poulteney – the symbol of Victorian manners. In her own, very limited circle,
she was famous for charity. And if it occurred to you to doubt her reputation,
you would immediately be presented with incontrovertible proof – was not the
kind, kind Mrs. Poulteney lodging a Friend of a French lieutenant? “(Ch.
4). It was worrying about her afterlife and sensing that she had few good deeds
on her account, Mrs. Poulteney decided on a good deed – to give shelter to a
young woman who was in a difficult situation and who had a bad reputation in
Lima. Following the advice of the priest, Mrs. Poulteney accepts a companion,
Sarah Woodruff, whom she considers to be the abandoned mistress of a French
sailor.

The narrative in the novel is conducted in
violation of the chronological sequence: telling the events, the author returns
to the past, closer and more distant, makes assumptions (who Sarah would be in
past and future times, reports that “Ernestine was destined to survive all
her generation. She was born in 1846. And she died that day when Hitler invaded
Poland “(Chap. 5)).

The composition of the work is a constant
alternation of stories from the life of Charles, Ernestine and Sarah, at the
beginning of the novel, stories from the life of Mrs. Poulteney are added to
them. But from the very beginning it is clear that Sarah and Charles are at the
center of the novel, while the other heroes are just the background.

The main characters, Charles Smithson and
Sarah Woodruff, are opposed to each other: he is ordinary, lazy, but pretending
to be unusual; she is an outcast, unusual in everything, accused of what was
not. And although in the novel there is still the image of Ernestina, but this
heroine is not present in that version of the novel, which is not connected
with the banal finale. Fowles tried to show that a person can choose from
several ways of life: follow the traditions of his environment, time or resist
them, rebel in the pursuit of freedom. Charles takes part in the fate of the
girl, breaks off the engagement with Ernestina. But after all, Sarah seeks to
seem mysterious: she creates in the surrounding illusion of her own guilt,
deliberately puts herself in a position of outcast and watches the reaction of
the inhabitants.

Irony permeates all levels of the novel: the
writer ironies over the heroes, the reader, the composition and the plot; It
manifests itself in the way characters are characterized, in the selection of
information, in the manner in which they are served, and the author’s attitude
is felt: “Mrs. Poulteney discovered a perverted plantation
in order to seem genuinely kind” (Chapter 9). “Judging by previous
statements of Mrs. Poulteney, she knew that in the leap for the prize of piety,
on many buildings, she lags behind the above-mentioned lady. Lady Cotton, who
lived a few miles from Lyme, was famous for her fanatical charity
“(Chapter 4).

   The characterization of
Charles, too, is permeated with irony. Charles was very
indifferent to the cute maidens and would not mind leading their own nose and
their ambitious parents’ plans. Thus he acquired the reputation of a man of
haughty and cold – a well-deserved reward for dexterity (and by the age of
thirty he was skilled in this business no worse than any ferret), with which he
sniffed the bait, and then started off from the hidden teeth of the matrimonial
trap trapped for him “( Chapter 4).

Charles’s choice of one of the alternative
ways of life is presented in the novel as the choice of one of two women: Sarah
or Ernestine, as a choice between duty and feeling. That is why in the novel
there are three variants of the finale: “Victorian”,
“fictional” and “existential”. The most prosaic and predictable
finale – Charles’s marriage to Ernestine – is given in chapter 44 (total of
61): the hero follows this word (duty) and leads a gray life to an unsuitable
person, who lost his potential inheritance and baronial title.

   The denouement, in which the
hero remains forever with Sarah (fictional ending), contradicted the author’s
views, which was important to show that the process of human development does
not end until death, is continuous, the person constantly makes free choice.
Losing Sarah (an existential finale), the hero continues his difficult journey
through the hostile world, this is the path of a man who has lost all support,
but has received in return a “particle of faith in himself.”

In the novel there is a constant game with
literary connotations, the main place among the sources attracted by the works
of English writers of the Victorian era: Fowles quotes C. Dickens, W.
Thackeray, J. Eliot, T. Hardy, A. Tennyson, J. Austin, and others. , Sarah read
exactly Jane Austen and Walter Scott: “Unknowingly,
she judged people more by the standards of Walter Scott and Jane Austen than by
the standards obtained empirically, and seeing in the surrounding some sort of
literary characters, believed that the flaw must will be punished And virtue
will triumph “(Ch. 9). Naturally,
part of the meaning of the novel eludes the reader who is not familiar with the
writings of the above-mentioned authors.

The narrator acts as an original character of
the work: he directly addresses the reader, combines various time layers: he
refers to Freud, Sartre, Barthes, the authors who lived and worked much later
than the described period. In the classic novel of the XIX century, the
author-narrator always seems to rise above the characters, in Fowles he is in
the position of equal among equals. At critical moments of the plot, the
“I” of the author is transformed into “he” and receives all
the signs of an actor, even a portrait characteristic. The author gives free
space to the reader, who is offered co-participation and co-creation. Therefore,
in the novel there is a constant semantic tension between the past and the
present, fiction and reality.