An analysis of how Darwin's theory of Natural Selection relays themes in John Fowles' "The French Lieutenant's Woman" and reflects the characters.
A paper which details how theories from Charles Darwin's "Origin of the Species" conveys themes discussed within the lives of the main characters in the novel, "The French Lieutenant's Woman" by John Fowles. The paper explores Darwinism and how it pertains to Charles, Sarah and the narrator. It also demonstrates societal evolution within the context of Darwinism.
The narrator discusses Darwin and relates his ideas to the condition of the characters. Fowles suggests that despite evolution, every species struggles and often loses the same kinds of fights fought and lost centuries before. To Fowles, evolution, in essence, means both change and no change. In the novel, the narrator says himself: "Darwinism, as its shrewder opponents realized, led open the floodgates to something far more serious than the undermining of the Biblical account of the origins of man; its deepest implications lay in the direction of determinism and behaviorism" (pg. 120)."
a look at John Fowle's 1969 novel, "The French Lieutenant's Woman". This is a novel set in Victorian times that features many Victorian values and mores. Yet by dissecting the novel's two main characters, this paper makes the argument that Fowle's bridges the gap between the past and modern times by infusing said characters with modern worth and values.
In this article, the writer notes that the traits of order and categorization, without which society cannot function, are especially prominent in the Victorian society in which 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' is set. The writer points out that the Victorian era is an outstanding example of when categorization was taken to the extreme, almost completely suppressing the socially and scientifically inexplicable instead of incorporating it into a system as had been done in religion and superstition. The writer discusses that Fowles' experimentation with the most fundamental elements of the Victorian novel (for instance with their endings) clearly indicates that he actually uses his image of Sarah to highlight the limitations he suffers in his own position as author with an equal weight. The writer notes that Fowles shows, through his exploration of the categorization of the individual and the external world, and his evasion of authorial convention, that the problems of excessive categorization are just as much of a problem for the author himself - not just the world around him.
The setting throughout the novel is predominantly Victorian. Most of the novel’s action takes place at Lyme
Regis, Dorset, England. Lyme Regis was one of many small villages in southwest England scattered along the
coast. It consisted largely of small houses surrounded by hills on one side and the sea on the other. The Cobb
was built along the shore and it is a promenade where people could enjoy the sea air while taking a walk. A
section of the hills, known as the Ware Commons, was a meeting ground for most young couples and ……
In this novel, Fowles is interested in the literary genre of the nineteenth-century romantic or gothic novel and
succeeds in reproducing typical Victorian characters, situations and dialogue. But Fowles perception of the
genre is touched with typical twentieth-century irony. His thematic concerns range from the relationship
between life and art and the artist and his creation to the isolation that results from an individual struggling for
LITERARY/ HISTORICAL INFORMATION
In this novel, Fowles is interested in the genre of the nineteenth-century romantic or gothic novel and
successfully recreates typical characters, situations and even dialogue. Yet his perspective is that of the
twentieth century as can be noted in the authorial intrusions and opening quotations drawn from the works of
Victorian writers whose observations were uniquely different from the assumptions that most Victorians held
about their world. In this way, he attempts to critique those values that Victorians most heralded
Until today, the Victorian Age was seen to be a Golden Age where Reason and Rationality were proclaimed as
dogma and faith. People were beginning to question the claims that religion made about the existence of God
and the beginning of man. Anything that could not be proven through experimentation and…….
CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
The initial chapter begins with an extensive description of Lyme Bay in 1867. The narrator observer informs
the reader that since that time very little has changed in Lyme. He compares it to a tiny Greek island, Piraeus.
It is picturesque place a dozen or so houses, sloping meadows and wooded hills. From the perspective of an
outsider looking in, the narrator informs the reader that he is the local spy. He uses his telescope to spy on two
people taking a walk along the Cobb. The two people seem to be well-dressed and from the upper class. The
young lady is dressed in the height of fashion, which the narrator says was a revolt against the crinoline and
large bonnet commonly worn by Victorian women. The man too is expensively clothed.
The narrator/spy then shifts his telescope to the other figure standing at the end of the Cobb. Dressed in black,
the figure is staring out to sea. She is a woman who appears distressed.
The novel begins with a quote from Thomas Hardy’s “The Riddle” and is an apt description of the French
Lieutenant’s Woman and the reader. She is portrayed as a singular figure, alone against a desolate landscape.
This image piques the reader’s curiosity.
Chapter 1 gives an extensive, detailed description of Lyme Bay. The narrator makes it a point to insist that very
little has changed in Lyme Regis since the nineteenth century to the present day. The narrator deftly moves
between the two centuries and comments on the present day events in the same tone in which he comment on
the Victorian period. That is, he adopts a rather formal, stiff Victorian tone while narrating the events in the
novel yet the content of what he says is contemporary.
The narrator is in the persona of John Fowles, the author. His authorial intrusions are very pointed and
sometimes biased. He comments on Charles and Ernestina’s dress sense, saying both appeared fashionable,
especially Ernestina who has adopted a more provocative style of dress. For instance, Ernestina’s skirt is
shorter than the accepted length, and she wears a pork-pie hat instead of a large bonnet. Her sense of fashion is
alien to a place like Lyme Regis, which is provincial and rooted in conventions. This gives the reader a sense
that Ernestina may be less conventional than a typical Victorian woman yet whether her adventurous dress
sense matches her ideas will soon be seen.
The narrator plays the role of participant and observer. It is through his lens, metaphorically seen in the use of
his telescope, that the characters and situations are wrought. He provides insight and information about the
characters as well as providing authorial commentary about the setting.
Fowles gives a quotation from E. Royston Pike’s “Human Documents of the Victorian Golden Age” which is a
commentary on the role of Victorian women.
The chapter introduces the reader to Ernestina Freeman and Charles Smithson, the two people walking along
the Cobb. The couple are engaged to be married. Their conversation is largely small talk and rather trite.
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Ernestina appears to be lively, romantic and coy, typical of Victorian women. Her fiancée, Charles is interested
in the theories of Darwin. He likes to think of himself as rational and scientific. His aim is to be different from
other Victorian gentlemen.
The wind is blowing rather hard and a gale is coming in when Charles sees the women in black standing at the
far end of the Cobb. He is concerned for her safety. Ernestina tells him that the woman is nicknamed
“Tragedy” and that she is awaiting the return of her lover who has abandoned her. Charles is intrigued by the
story and curious to meet the woman. He attempts to warn her about the storm but the woman simply turns
around and stares at him. The look has a strong impact on Charles. He finds her face is unforgettable and
tragic. When she turns away from them, Charles and Ernestina leave.
Chapter 2 starts out with a quotation from E. Royston Pike’s “Human Documents of the Victorian Golden Age”
which comments on the population of women being higher than that of men. Pikes implies that because of
these statistics the set role of Victorian women is that of a wife and mother. Yet because there are more women
than men, not all women can fulfil their role as wives and mothers; therefore, the quote becomes ironic in the
context of the French Lieutenant’s Woman. Although Sarah’s epithet appears to attach her to a man, he is in
fact not present so far in the novel and she is free of the conventional role society attempts to impose on her.
The reader is introduced to Charles Smithson and his fiancée, Ernestina Freeman. Their conversation is banal.
Ernestina typifies a Victorian woman in that all of her energy is expended on captivating a man’s attention yet
what she says is insubstantial. Much of this has to do with her socialization and she cannot be judged too
harshly. Yet the differences between her and Charles is significant here. Whereas she has no interest in Sara
other than the story of misfortune, Charles finds her odd and disconcertingly attractive because she is outside
the norm. He has a predilection for scientific inquiries and theories such as Darwinism yet Ernestina shares
none of this. He believes himself to be rational and analytical as he is scientifically inclined, but in reality, he is
like any other Victorian gentleman: romantic, idealistic and conventional. When Ernestina informs him about
Sarah, he is attracted by her unconventionality yet repelled by her strangeness. It is as though he is looking at
some exotic specimen………
Sarah Woodruff - From the very beginning, she has been introduced as the French Lieutenant’s Woman. Being
the scarlet woman of Lyme, she has been ostracized by the entire community. Charles learns of her through the
rumors that abound about her. To him, she presents a picture of dark intrigue and mystery. In fact, her
portrayal is supposed to match the mold of the dark, mysterious woman of the typical Victorian romantic novel.
Such a character type either played the heroine or the villain but always stood as a symbol of all that was
forbidden. Charles paints his own idealistic picture of her and his attraction for Sarah stems mainly from the
aura of strangeness that the local rumors have built around her as well as his own imaginings.
Sarah’s “strangeness” should be considered in the light of the Victorian era. She is very different from her
Victorian counterparts in dress, behavior and attitude. Her unconventional attitude makes her stand out from
the conventional community of Lyme. She deliberately chooses to defy convention as……..
Charles Smithson - He is the male protagonist of the novel and his character is supposed to represent that of a
Victorian gentleman typically found in a Victorian romantic novel. Charles is an educated, wealthy gentleman
and heir to his uncle’s title. He is interested in Darwin and the scientific theories of his age. He desires to be
different from other Victorian men by keeping himself occupied in scientific pursuits, but it soon becomes
evident that Charles is more interested in keeping himself from getting bored than any real scientific interest.
His interest in Darwin is rather superficial. Also, his interest in paleontology serves………
Additional characters are analyzed in the complete study guide.
PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS (Style & Structure)
By recreating a nineteenth century literary genre, John Fowles is doing much more than simply parodying it. In
its capacity to recreate and redefine an older fictional life, The French Lieutenant’s Women acts as a key to
understanding the best of contemporary British novelists whose relations with Victorian fiction and culture,
although less conspicuous than here, are often equally intimate and complex. The novel recreates an older sort
of realism to serve the old purpose of studying society. Fowles is interested in cultural continuity, in how our
social conditions evolved. He deliberately works within the tradition of the Victorian novel and consciously
uses its conventions to suit his own purpose. At the same time, the reader is made aware of Fowles’ intentions
through his authorial intrusions.
When the reader is first introduced to Charles and Ernestina, their relationship is typical of those found in
Victorian romantic novels. Being Victorian and at least middle class, they both are bound to each other by their
sense of duty and propriety. Their engagement is more or less contractual in nature. Ernestina will…….
THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS
Major Theme - The Victorian world was not as stable and solid as it seemed. It was a period of transition and
change. Old social norms were no longer applicable to the changing order. Thomas Hardy, the novelist, and
poets like Matthew Arnold and Alfred Lord Tennyson were sensitive enough to feel this change and raise their
doubts about the so-called ‘stability’ proclaimed by prominent leaders of the era. Fowles has picked up this
theme and used it in the novel. The French Lieutenant’s Woman is deliberately written in the literary genre of
the nineteenth century as it enables Fowles to explore this theme further.
Also, it enables Fowles to test the conditions of fiction but within the world of the Victorian novel, with its solid
narrative comforts. This novel allows one to understand the best of contemporary British novelists, whose
relations with Victorian fiction and culture are often equally intimate and complex. Thus, Fowles is able to
explore the relationship between life and art. An artist is expected to be aloof from his creation. T. S. Eliot
insisted on non-personal involvement between the writer and his creation. Fowles is attempting to………