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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Twentieth Century Masterpiece - Fowles at his very best!
It is all too easy to be transported into the world so vividly created for us by John Fowles, as he details the love affair between Charles Smithson and Sarah Woodruff, whilst simultaneously exposing the hypocracies of Victorian England.
Haunted night and day by the face of 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' (Sarah Woodruff) Charles Smithson struggles to forget her and...
Published on 24 May 2001

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars slightly disappointed my high expectations
A novel set in Victorian times, published in 1969, and narrated by an author suffused with mid-20th century ideas. It tells the story of a love affair, and one for which the author write three different endings.

Coming to this after reading "The Crimson Petal and the White" and "The Children's Book", the concept of writing a novel which reflects both the 19th...
Published on 16 July 2011 by William Jordan


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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Twentieth Century Masterpiece - Fowles at his very best!, 24 May 2001
By A Customer
It is all too easy to be transported into the world so vividly created for us by John Fowles, as he details the love affair between Charles Smithson and Sarah Woodruff, whilst simultaneously exposing the hypocracies of Victorian England.
Haunted night and day by the face of 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' (Sarah Woodruff) Charles Smithson struggles to forget her and concede to a life with the entirely more conventional Ernestina Freeman. Theirs is the expected and typical Victorian pairing, but as the action progresses, Charles finds his initial curiosity towards the enigmatic Sarah developing into attraction and eventual desire. In his novel, Fowles powerfully depicts Charles's inner conflict between head and heart, painfully illustrating the consequences of allowing the heart to overrule in such a repressed, hypocritical society.
'The French Lieutenant's Woman', with its convoluted yet innovative narrative structure, use of multiple endings, enigmatic characters and reflexivity does not make for simple reading, but perservere and you will be rewarded. Fowles's gripping tale of illicit love, simmering passions, repressed sexuality and (ultimately) painful rejection is a haunting masterpiece. The characters and their situations will live on in your memory long after you have closed the book. A beautifully evocative, engaging and intruiging novel - this is a modern work of art and must not be missed.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very clever twentieth century Victorian novel, 16 Dec 2010
By 
Katie Stevens "Ygraine" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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The French Lieutenant's Woman at times reads exactly like a Victorian novel; Fowles is able to mimic the style impeccably and I often forgot I was reading a modern piece of writing. However, the text is peppered with dry observations on the characters, the Victorians or the process of writing a story that come from such a modern perspective that they jolted me out of this false sense of period and made me aware of what the author was doing. Fowles has a very knowing, self-conscious narratorial voice in these passages which can put some readers off, particularly as they often interrupt the flow of the story. He does like to draw attention to just how clever he is being, but as I whole-heartedly agree with him it's very difficult to find this an irritating trait. In fact, I thought that Fowles observations and reflections on being Victorian, something obviously impossible in contemporary novels, added an extra layer of richness to the text. He uses the distance and perspective provided by time to make explicit the cultural points of view latent in these Victorian novels and provide commentary on them. I think it's great that he doesn't just write a historical novel butinstead uses a historical style and setting to produce something so lucid and clever.

The story centres around Charles Smithson, who is staying in Lyme Regis visiting his fiancee, Ernestina, prior to their wedding. There he meets Sarah Woodruff, also known as Tragedy or, less kindly, as the French Lieutenant's Woman. As he becomes increasingly fascinated by Sarah he is forced to reexamine his own values as his forthcoming marriage is threatened. Charles is a thoroughly intriguing central character: although not always likeable, he is so open and honest with himself that it is impossible not to sympathise with him as he struggles with doing what is morally right but socially unacceptable. I got the impression that Fowles rather likes him even though he may not approve of him. His `sinister fondness` (p. 17) for spending time in the library, so frowned upon by his uncle, is another trait designed to make him appeal to the reader.

Fowles employs a similar tactic when talking about Sarah and her days at boarding school, designed to make her appeal to the reader and to make her relatable rather than aloof, as she initially appears. I felt I was manipulated into liking her, just as Charles is, while Ernestina on the other hand, the woman with a legitimate claim to affection, is not a sympathetic character at all. She is constantly shown playing games and acting rather than being sincere, a trait which continues even during moments of what should be genuine emotion.

Considering Fowles' frequent interruptions of the narrative and drawing attention to the fictionality of the characters, I was surprised at how invested I was in Charles and Sarah and what happened to them. In this novel, Fowles explicitly states that there is no `real' ending in fiction, just the author making things work out in his own way, yet still I cared about what `really' happened. This year I've discovered that it takes a lot for me to forgive an author messing around with the story: it has to have a point and it has to be well executed. The French Lieutenant's Woman exhibited both of these qualities and so was a fantastic book from beginning to end.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel that will penetrate you and never leave, 18 Mar 2014
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"I do not know. This story I am telling is all imagination... I have disgracefully broken the illusion?"

"No."

Many would argue the real main character of this novel; the oblivious young gentleman searcing desperatly for his own identity, or the young woman- the French Lieutenant's Whore, in fact - that he falls in love with.

Both are incorrect. The most prominent character in this tale is Fowles himself. Writing from 1969, Fowles explores the Victorian era through every character he brings to our attention, with emotion that only comes from passionately studying the period. What manner of emotion? It ranges at times from commiseration to downright disdain.

Fowles understand the conventions of typical Victorian romantic novels and brutally exploits them. The is no fallen woman who find redemption in the love of a man. No lovers attempting to overcome their separate classes. This novel understands Dickens and resents every image he made of Victorian England. The novel doesn't hold back, often finding itself delighting in some of lives harsher truths.

The person you obsess and find yourself heart-sick over is often far from the idolised image you paint of them.

Some men are haunted by the fact that there are women in the world far more attractive that the one they're with.

And, despite every effort to pretend otherwise, women are capable of cruelty and manipulation that rivals, and even sometimes surpasses, men.

In "The French Lieutenant's Woman", Fowles creates a world impossible not to find yourself lost in lost, without using any of fiction's cheap tricks. In fact, you may find that he'll use them against you, building up your expectations only so he can crush them with a wit that few novelists possess. A lot of criticism aimed at the novel seems to be based on confusion as to what it actually is. Is it a story of two lovers trying to see if they can discover themselves in one-another? An in-depth essay on Victorian values? Or perhaps a lecture on how novelist creates novel?

In my opinion, it's all three of these. And if my conclusion on that matter has made you interested in picking this novel up, I utterly implore you give this novel the chance it has very rightfully earned. .
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fowles's most successful novel., 20 Jun 2001
By A Customer
Lyme Regis, Dorset, 1867. Sarah Woodruff, a young woman dressed in black, stands motionless at the end of a stone jetty and stares out to sea. Walking by are Charles Smithson and Ernestina Freeman, a respectable engaged couple. Ernestina tries to pull Charles away, saying Sarah is a well known local eccentric, nicknamed 'The French Lieutenant's... Woman'. Ernestina is being polite - the self-righteous people of Lyme really call Sarah a whore. Charles finds he cannot erase her image from his memory, and he is fated to meet her again...
So begins John Fowles's remarkable 1969 novel, which is an affectionate parody of Victorian 'sensation' fiction, a genre which offered its readers thrills, suspense and danger, always spiced with a love interest. Readers can follow the romantic triangle between Charles, Sarah and Ernestina, or pursue the narrator's digressions into evolutionary theory, social history, and the art of storytelling itself. The novel combines a powerful central narrative with fascinating intellectual games that are never allowed to detract from the unfolding events. The critic Linda Hutcheon has called it a 'historiographic metafiction', meaning it claims to be an authentic historical account of Victorian England and yet, paradoxically, shows how such accounts are made up of words, quotations, metaphors... that is, they are nothing but stories themselves. It is this, as well as the beautiful, enigmatic Sarah and her relationship with the handsome Charles, that creates the novel's fascination.
Fowles began the novel as an exercise in imitating nineteenth-century fiction, and thought it would be badly received, because it would seem too coldly intellectual. He was wrong - it is his most successful artistic achievement, and the most popular one along with The Magus. It has been adapted into a film starring Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep, with a screenplay by the playwright Harold Pinter.
This is the first book that anyone interested in Fowles should read. It is one of the most critically and commercially successful experimental novels ever written. It's also great fun. Treat yourself and enjoy it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still fresh and intriguing, 18 Dec 2007
By 
Wynne Kelly "Kellydoll" (Coventry, UK) - See all my reviews
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As fresh and intriguing as on my first reading of this book many years ago. The Victorian age is brilliantly portrayed from the genteel pretensions of Lyme to the rough and tumble of the seedier parts of London. The main characters are strongly portrayed. Would-be paleontologist Charles is from a comfortable upper class background but condescends happily to become engaged to Ernestina who is a pleasant but shallow daughter of a prosperous middle class draper. But into their lives comes Sarah, the enigmatic woman who is rumoured to have been "ruined" by a liaison with French seaman.

Fowles is particularly good on the class war and social mores of the time: The attitude of society to Sarah is shocking as is the off-hand way in which servants are treated. When Ernestina's father suggests that Charles join the drapery business he is truly aghast at the idea even though he has no career in mind.

Sarah remains ambiguous - we are left uncertain as to whether she is manipulative and self-absorbed or badly treated and depressed. Throughout the book she both irritates and evokes our sympathy.

The other central character is the writer himself. He playfully drops in and out of the writing, discussing the motives of the characters and suggesting three different endings. This works superbly. The French Lieutenant's Woman is a twentieth century classic.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars slightly disappointed my high expectations, 16 July 2011
A novel set in Victorian times, published in 1969, and narrated by an author suffused with mid-20th century ideas. It tells the story of a love affair, and one for which the author write three different endings.

Coming to this after reading "The Crimson Petal and the White" and "The Children's Book", the concept of writing a novel which reflects both the 19th century and a modern take on the life of the time is no longer unfamiliar - bold and unexpected as it must have been when Fowles wrote it - and a startling and ambitious departure after the two very different masterpieces of The Magus and The Collector. While the multiple endings are of interest, perhaps there is nothing so new there - Great Expectations has two in modern editions, and there are the cancelled chapters of Persuasion...

So - while this undoubtedly holds the attention - I was a little disappointed overall. But then my expectations had been very high.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting plot but authorial voice not so great, 27 Aug 2014
Although I did generally enjoy reading this book, I did find myself questioning whether Fowles' authorial voice would not have been better if it was omniscient. His constant digressions from the actual narrative itself, to his ideas on philosophy and society, was slightly irritating and there were times when I thought his style was a bit pretentious. A positive aspect of this style of narrative however was that it was highly informative and educational in places, so I won't completely condemn John Fowles.
The plot was very alluring and I loved the enigma which surrounded Sarah. I was also captivated by the general oppression and prohibition in the plot-the fact that Sarah, after gaining an infamous reputation, was forbidden to enter Ware Commons or go certain places. I loved the illicit and duplicitous nature of the storyline.
I did find the character of Charles somewhat perplexing at some points as his thoughts were contradictory. However, I loved Mrs Poulteney. Her unwavering devotion and reverence to God, and her shrewd, disapproving censure of everyone else was in a way quite amusing. Fowles did his best to portray Mrs Poulteney as this austere and aloof individual but throughout some parts of the novel she did subtly reveal a compassionate nature, despite its being hidden well beneath that cold exterior.
Overall, the novel is quite compelling and it's one that i've kept for my bookshelf.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Get out of the way John, I'm trying to read, 26 Jan 2009
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I don't usually comment on endings, but here the author himself doesn't seem to have attached narrative importance to it (and I don't give it away in any case)...

It does all go so well until the ending, previously having toyed intelligently with the reader Fowles declares he cannot make up his mind and uses literary pretensions as a cop-out - turning the motives implausible to air his own political points. It came over more as moral cowardice to me, given his preferred ending is obvious, but spoils the story (and I'm not referring to happy or sad endings).

If you don't mind politics and sociology lectures (bearing in mind the incarnation of both have a limited shelf-life and this was published 1969) hijacking your novel reading then it may feel a refreshing change for you. If you do mind being invited to a sumptuous dinner to be bored by the host afterwards then you may be put out.

Either way I'd urge you to read this book. It contains the best modern depiction of the Victorian age from an author who truly understood it.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A finely tuned twentieth century classic, 3 May 2007
By 
M. Walker (Lampeter, Wales) - See all my reviews
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This is by far the most finely crafted novel by John Fowles i have read. He generally enjoys long - but no less than erudite - passages of analysis and description, but this is the one that strikes a very good balance between craft and content. The novel begins as a traditional Victorian novel of manners, but it very soon becomes apparent that this method is (as the blurb on the back says) actually being mocked very artistically by the author. Classical realist descriptions are often interposed with references to the time the narrator is narrating from; 1969. The author never lets you fall into the trap usually set by an omniscient narrator, and reminds you of your position as a reader. This comes most starkly into focus when the narrator begins to 'converse' with the reader on what should happen with the various characters. The final, and very well crafted piece of metafiction comes when the author appears in the same train carriage as a character, and expresses his desire to have alternative endings. This is an appropriate contrast to the more clumsier proponents of metafiction, such as Paul Auster. The metafiction aside, he also manages to engage in meaningful social and political commentary, as well as providing a passionate and convincing love story.

In short, this is a novel that is not only a highly capable and complex piece of art, but one that is thoroughly readable as a modern British classic.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, superb reader, bears repeated listening, 12 Jun 2000
By A Customer
The book itself is an enjoyable read, both for the story and for the digressions on life in Victorian England, Thomas Hardy, aristocracy as fossil, etc. This narrated version with Paul Shelley as reader adds an additional dimension - a superb reader who manages to keep all the characters straight, endow each with a recognizable voice and personality, convey humor and irony without intruding on the story line or descriptive passages - in short, he creates a coherent world and invites the reader to join him inside. As opposed to many other readers, he also does not use annoying mannersims to distinguish one character from another. Each person sounds sounds natural, yet individual. I have used this tape (2 sides per day) to accompany my 1-1/2 hour exercise sessions, and have found it to be enjoyable and absorbing, no matter how many times I've gone through it. I think that for repeated listening, the reader is more important than the author, as his interpretation is really what hooks or loses the reader. This reader is the best!
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