The French Lieutenant’s Woman

09/29/2014 at 10:26 AM (Books) (, , , , , , , )

Source: myvictorianbooks.blogspot.com

Source: myvictorianbooks.blogspot.com

I first encountered the The French Lieutenant’s Woman after finishing The Collector by John Fowles but had to return it to the library before I had the chance to finish. I gave it another go and was able to make it to the end of the book before it was time for overdue notices!

Sarah Woodruff is a governess who is looked upon with contempt by the  English community of Lyme Regis due to falling for a French naval officer who left her behind after he allegedly ‘ruined‘ her.  In spite of her pious employer’s warnings, she walks by the cliffs pining for her lost love.  Meanwhile Charles Smithson is a Victorian gentleman engaged to Ernestina , the daughter of a wealthy tradesman who is residing with her aunt Tranter  in Lyme Regis. After Charles accidentally stumbles across Sarah, he becomes fascinated by her history and tries to convince her  to go to London where her tale of scandal is less likely to be outrageous. But Sarah is not amenable to that particular course of action and asks Charles to compromise himself by meeting her in secret in order to give her emotional support while pretending she lacks the will to alter her life. During the course of these meetings, Charles begins to find himself falling for her despite warnings from her doctor that Sarah’s mind is not in the best state and may drag others down with her. 

You could be forgiven for thinking this is a tragic melodrama but now the story starts to veer off in a different track as the narrator begins to intervene in the novel and supplies three possible endings. Each offers a possible ending for Charles’s pursuit of Sarah: the first ends with Charles married to Ernestina without him explaining the details of his meetings with Sarah, the second with a recreation of a relationship with Sarah which hints of a future reconciliation, and the third with Charles ending partnerless deprived of both Ernestina and Sarah. The narrator explains the fairest way to end The French Lieutenant’s Woman is to present all the ways in which it could possibly end.

I think The French Lieutenant’s Woman is really clever and ingenious with all the interpretations given to the reader to finally conclude. But I feel it also shows the limitations of plot devices and how much authors are constricted by the rules governing writing. There are few authors who pushed through that boundary and Fowles was one of the early ones.

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The Collector

02/10/2012 at 12:01 PM (Books, Classics, Horror, Movies) (, , , , )

So I finally have some breathing space to actually sit down and write a review. I have been reading but just haven’t had the time to write since my reading is mostly done during my one-hour train commute to work. Well, I was fascinated by The Collector’s cover and the vintage classic which was the first effort of John Fowles (better known as the author of The French Lieutenant’s Woman) was an unexpected treat.

Here’s the basic overview of the plot: Dull and ordinary clerk Frederick Clegg has an obsession. The object of his obsession is a woman, namely a pretty art student named Miranda Grey. After lucking out on the lottery, he moves out from his aunt’s and purchases an old estate with a cellar in country England. This is where it starts getting bizarre. Deciding he has to have the company of Miranda at all costs because he “loves” her, he kidnaps the poor girl and keeps her captive in the cellar which contrasts with his hobby of collecting different butterflies. Essentially Miranda is a human specimen.

The Collector - John Fowles

The first half of the story is narrated from Frederick’s point of view while the second half is gleaned through Miranda’s diary. It is obvious that these two are far from being a perfect match because their opinions conflict and their individual perspectives are at odds with the beliefs of the other party.

but I have left the best part for last. With the last of Miranda’s diary entries, we come to a plot twist that will shock you about Frederick for whom, nine times out of ten, you would have felt sympathy so far because of his lack of social skills. Reeling with that, we are treated to an unexpected ending which is very ingenuous for book written in 1963. There was a movie made in 1965 but seriously don’t miss out on the prose. I thought Miranda’s rambling went on for a little too long for my liking since I found her own obsession with an older paramour grating but other than that I have no quibbles with it.  It is in the face of what happens, I would say, a horror story in the sense of psychological suspense.

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