I’m afraid I haven’t got time to write much just now, but thought I’d at least log in and add a very quick entry for the last couple of novels I’ve read – the first of which being John Fowles’ well known novel, The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman of the title is a character named Sarah Woodruff (or ‘Tragedy’, as she is sometimes called), a disgraced woman living in a small sea-side town in the middle of the nineteenth century. Sarah carries this disgrace due to her association with a Lieutenant who came and went and was later found to have already been married. Then there is a gentleman named Charles Smithson and his well-heeled but shallow fiancée, Ernestina Freeman, who come into contact with Sarah.

So far, so good. Next throw in a generous helping of the Victorian class system, social morality and the endemic hypocrisy that went with it and you have all the ingredients of a good Victorian yarn. However The French Lieutenant’s Woman is much more original and complex than it at first appears.

If you have never read any of John Fowles’ work, then I would highly recommend him to you. The three novels of his that I have read are all incredibly clever, perceptive books, clearly written by a hugely intelligent and gifted writer. For example, within this one novel many of the key philosophical issues of the era are explored with great skill.

It is only when our characters and events begin to disobey us that they begin to live.

The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles

What can I say in a few words? This is a big, ambitious, clever book, written in the style of a Victorian novel – yet all the while reminding us that it is actually a modern artifact self-consciously donning the guise of a former age. All very clever. Plus John Fowles manages to provide us with not one, not two, but three different endings, without prioritising any one over the others.

This novel will probably not be everyone’s cup of tea, but then I suppose no book is. I, however, certainly enjoyed it.

If you like this, you might also enjoy: John Fowles’ The Collector or The Magus.

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