Literature / The French Lieutenant's Woman
A 1969 Postmodern
novel by English author John Fowles. A pastiche of Victorian novels, The French Lieutenant's Woman
sets up the familiar archetypes and dilemmas found in such books and set about quietly subverting them with a cavalcade of Lampshade Hangings
, Shout Outs
and fourth-wall breakings
. Writing itself is one of the major subjects of the book, and the seemingly omniscient narrator/author's struggle to accurately convey his story are as much a concern of the book as the tribulations of the characters.
The year is 1867, and gentleman Charles Henry Smithson is fairly content with life. He is engaged to Ernestina Freeman, an industrialist's daughter who is kind, loving and rich. Within a few years he can look forward to inheriting his family's estate from his uncle. Although he has no great achievements to which to aspire, he has an agile mind and a passion for natural sciences. However, a lingering dissatisfaction with the predictability and restraint of the society around him gnaws at Charles, and this becomes increasingly hard to ignore after he meets Sarah Woodruff, a single governess variously nicknamed "Tragedy"
and "the French lieutenant's woman
Initially telling himself he is only curious, Charles is increasingly attracted to this strange, passionate woman, and finds himself at odds with the propriety that Victorian England so prizes.
Adapted as a 1981 film directed by Karel Reisz, scripted by Harold Pinter
and starring Meryl Streep
and Jeremy Irons
Provides Examples Of:
- All Women Are Prudes: Most of the characters, male and female, believe this to be the case, but the trope itself is Double Subverted in the case of Tina, who does occasionally entertain sexual thoughts, but immediately banishes them and feels guilty for her "impurity". Overall, the trope is explained by the choking sexual repression of the era.
- Author Avatar: Fowles himself shows up near the end of the book.
- Babies Ever After: Played straight in the first ending and averted in the second.
- Beta Couple: Sam, Charles' manservant, and Mary, one of the servants of Tina's family. Their relationship turns out to be more relevant to the main plot than it first seems.
- Betty and Veronica: Tina (Betty) and Sarah (Veronica).
- Consummate Liar: Sarah's accounts of her relationship with the French lieutenant, Varguennes, are incredibly convincing. But fictional.
- Distracted by My Own Sexy: Tina has a rather longish session by the mirror when she admires herself as one of the prettiest girls she knows. She gets a bit aroused and thinks about future sex with Charles, her fiancÚ. She also feels guilty and thinks that it's inappropriate because she's a Victorian girl.
- Fire and Brimstone Hell: Charles imagines Mrs. Poulteney winding up here.
- French Jerk: Varguennes, in all of Sarah's accounts, exacerbated by the other characters' prejudices against France in general.
- The Fundamentalist: Mrs. Poulteney.
- Goal-Oriented Evolution: Charles thinks that evolution works this way; the narrator points out that he has misread Darwin.
- Historical-Domain Character: The sibling poets Christina and Dante Rossetti.
- Hollywood History: Averted. The narration repeatedly pauses to discuss various aspects of Victorian England and point the inaccuracies of the modern era's perception of the era.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Sarah, the prostitute with whom Charles has a brief and unsuccessful encounter. She is extremely nurturing with both Charles and her daughter.
- Innocent Blue Eyes: Mary, the servant girl, has periwinkle eyes. She's the most beautiful girl in the story and they emphasise her youthfulness.
- In-Series Nickname: Sarah has quite a few: Tragedy, the French Lieutenant's woman or the French Lieutenant's whore.
- The Jeeves: Averted. Sam is of lower social standing and, although good-hearted, is not especially competent. When push comes to shove, he is not very loyal, either.
- Maiden Aunt: Mrs Tranter.
- Multiple Endings: A pair of mutually exclusive possible endings, as well as an earlier "ending" which is shown to be Charles imagining the future.
- Painting the Medium: The narrator repeatedly discusses the novel form and whether fictional characters can be said to have their own personality or will.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Kindhearted Mrs Tranter, Sarah's former employer.
- Victorian Novel Disease: Played with in Tina's case. Her parents are positive that she's suffering from consumption (tuberculosis), and insist on treating her as a permanent invalid. In fact, Tina is completely fit.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Charles' response when the prostitute tells him her name is Sarah.
- Wounded Gazelle Gambit: One interpretation of Sarah's lies to Charles about her history is that she was attempting to attract his attention by inhabiting the role of the tragic figure.
- The Wrongful Heir to the Throne: Unbeknownst to Charles, he's regarded this way by the servants and tenants on his uncle's estate.
- Yandere: Sarah, quite possibly.