I finished this book at the weekend and have delayed writing a post on it. I felt I needed to digest and scrutinise what I had just read in a little more detail before venturing an opinion. The first thing to say is that The French Lieutenant’s Woman is wonderfully written and unique in my opinion. But for the authorial interjections to poke fun at the standards of the time, I would have had very little difficulty in believing that this was the work of a nineteenth century author. Fowles captures period details, style and attitudes incredibly well.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman tells the story of three main characters, the mysterious woman of the title, Sarah Woodruff, Charles Smithson an engaged man who becomes fascinated by Sarah and Charles’ fiancée, Ernestina. However, we are never allowed to forget that this is fiction and the author even makes an appearance in the text itself.
This story I am telling is all imagination. These characters I create never existed outside my own mind.
Now, to the ending. Well, my goodness! I’m not quite sure what to say as it certainly took me by surprise! There are not one ending, but three. I won’t say too much more as I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it. However, the way the endings were delivered was a defining feature of the book in my opinion and means that it is very difficult to sum up this book. Each ending gave me such a different perspective on all that had gone before, it was almost impossible to make my mind up about what it was all about!
Overall, this book made me think for days after about all its possible meanings and I was forced to keep reviewing my opinion of Sarah Woodruff (the mysterious French Lieutenant’s woman who fascinated the hero Charles Smithson) and her motives. I like it when a book makes me think, but on the other hand, the lack of firm answers and insight into Sarah’s motives was a bit frustrating. I think The French Lieutenant’s Woman is one of those rare books that would really improve and mature for me if I studied it in more depth. As I understand it John Fowles is a bit of an unfashionable writer at the moment (is that true do you think?) so perhaps the likelihood of that is not very great unless I took it into my own hands!
One thing is for sure, I will be looking up other books by John Fowles and I will certainly be reading The French Lieutenant’s Woman again soon to see if I can find more clues!