Readers have not always considered the idea that they have the opportunity to choose the path of the story they read. In The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles revolutionizes the traditional art of story telling by breaking away from certain aspects of the novel to introduce a whole other world of fiction. The narrator plays a significant role, by providing insight into Victorian society, acting as a character in the story and creating relationships with the characters, all of which breaks away from the conventional role of the narrator and forces the reader to consider that she is an active participant in the art of storytelling.
Through the use of epigraphs and illustrations from the time period, Fowles provides the readers with insight into Victorian society, establishing his credibility of knowledge on the Victorian time period, and thus justifying his knowledge. The historical references that link the Victorian era to the plot are a valuable characteristic in the novel. “Fowles intends the chapter epigraphs to have particular bearing on the content of the chapters they begin” (Landrum 105); Fowles opens each chapter with at least one epigraph, to set the tone for the chapter that follows.
As Katherine Tarbox justifies, “much of the narrator’s energy is spent in explaining and accounting-for; he offers an extravaganza of facts, historical analysis and cultural exegesis” (Tarbox 98). Tarbox elaborates the idea that, by explaining historical facts, Fowles is able to submerge himself into the Victorian era. As the narrator says himself, “I have pretended to slip back into 1867; but of course that year is in reality a century past” (Fowles 406). This technique used by Fowles to immerse himself into the 1800’s can be confusing for some readers, but can also be viewed as a way to heighten suspense and tension within the novel.
The narrator’s story is transcendental in that it transports the reader from the modern day to the Victorian; he doesn’t just recount the facts, he takes the reader on a historical journey. One scholarly author that contradicts this idea is K. R. Ireland, who argues, “In the case of FLW, particularly, the omnipresent prefatory epigraphs, means that even immediate continuous phase chapters can not in practice be more tightly linked than these “retards” permit” (Ireland 404).
In his judgment, this type of sequencing into another chapter deteriorates from the narrative voice because it adds a significant length to each chapter, and furthermore, the length of each chapter causes the plot to be lost. What Ireland does not consider, is the artistic element that these epigraphs stimulate to develop an illusion of a new world situated around the Victorian time period. “The novel asks the reader to see absolute ontological parity between the world of the imagination and the world of life” (Tarbox 97).
As Katharine Tarbox explains, trying to submerge into a different world may be challenging for some readers, but once the readers fully place themselves into the imaginary world of Fowles, they can more fully understand his characters. The epigraphs and insight to the Victorian time period appeals to a great variety of readers because it releases them from their modern world and into Fowles’ reconstructed mid 1800’s era. Through Fowles’ style of writing, he is able to develop strong human relationships between the characters and the readers, allowing them to become active participants in the story.
Thus the readers are able to further connect and step out of their own worlds and into the world of the characters. As Katherine Tarbox states, “I am proposing that this novel is an anatomy of the relationship between human cognition and narrative, and that it naturally implicates itself in this relationship as well” (Tarbox 88). As this quotation explains, the novel provides a relationship between the readers and the narrator, which subconsciously connects the relationship to the characters.
This can be justified through the personal experiences that Fowles evokes in his writing. “The stories within the novel dramatize the ways in which human subjects make experience intelligible through storytelling processes” (Fowles 88), thus proving that personal experiences connect to a person’s consciousness. “Fowles always offers his readers an experience that is parallel to and simultaneous with that of his characters” (Tarbox 96). Again, this quotation demonstrates the “experience” or relationship that Fowles offers for his readers.
Moreover, by using the technique of injecting personal experiences and relatable stories, the readers are more likely to empathize and become emotionally attached with characters, producing a strong relationship. “It dreams [the novel] of consciousness that will produce an extra-narrative mode of understanding, making not new but more consciousness available to us, more love, more freedom, more desire, more tolerance” (Tarbox 93). Through using common human occurrences, Fowles is giving the readers the same opportunity for hoice and self-discovery that he gives his characters, so he is able to take the reader into a whole other world where it is hard to differentiate between something they are imagining to be happening and something that actually did happen. By putting himself in his own story as a character, the narrator takes a step beyond his traditional role to become a part of the character’s worlds and act, as the characters would act. Being a character, he is forced to accept that he does not know what the other characters are going to do, so he keeps the readers guessing, as he himself tells us throughout the novel.
The book’s most important chapter, chapter 13, stresses the significance that Fowles believes in having free characters in fiction. “So perhaps I am writing a transposed autobiography: perhaps now in one of the houses I have brought into fiction and perhaps Charles is myself disguised” (Fowles 98). This quotation brings up the idea of guessing and a main underlying theme of Fowles’ uncertainty of himself and the choices of his characters. “Where does the narrative consciousness come from? ” (Tarbox 93).
It is possible that this consciousness comes from the self-conscious author or the imaginative, yet uncompromisingly blunt narrator. This narrator constantly interrupts the story and takes away the reader’s disbeliefs. One quotation that targets the narrator is “the narrative mode of cognition accounts for the phenomenon of re-volution at the social level as well, and is one of its most deleterious effects” (Tarbox 92). Some readers disagree that the narrator is a “deleterious effect” because of the beneficial dramatic difference he makes to the reading of the novel.
By putting himself as a character in his story, Fowles further demonstrates the idea that The French Lieutenant’s Woman goes beyond the traditional art of storytelling. Through his narration techniques, John Fowles provides insight into Victorian society, places himself in the novel as his own character, and forces the reader to consider the art of story telling. The story could have appeared to be a hollow, boring fable of a seemingly mad women, had Fowles not become one with the novel and brought much needed life to the story. In a way, Fowles uses the narrator to convey his internal, otherwise nspoken thoughts. Whether it is subconsciously or not, we can see that Fowles is passing on some of his own experiences because every person goes through an existentialist awakening like Charles, which allows him to collude with them. “The novel moves well beyond lament, because while it both narrates and defines the limits of narration and simultaneously aims to produce, through its exertions, an evolved reader” (Tarbox 88). A most powerful narrative effect is making the reader involved and having them as an active participant. This reader, by virtue of accepting the radical cognitive challenges the novel offers, develops new perceptual skills and processes that enable him or her to read in other than narrative ways” (Tarbox 88). Fowles uses this technique by the practice of first person and addressing the reader as “you” and himself as “I”. The use of the narrator in the French Lieutenant’s Woman makes the readers extensively involved and provides a firsthand experience as he takes them through an enchanting journey of free will and insight, as an active participant in the art of story telling. Works Cited Erin Brown Fowles, John. The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
New York: Little, Brown Company, 1969. Print. Ireland, K. R. “The Model of The French Lieutenant’s Woman. ” University Press 7. 3 (1986): 397-420. Print. Landrum, W. David. “Emancipation and Restoration in The French Lieutenant’s Woman” Twentieth Century Literature: 42. 1 (1996) 103-113. Literary Reference Centre. Web. 29 Oct. 2011 Mansfield, Elizabeth. “A Sequence of Endings: The Manuscripts of The French Lieutenant’s Woman” Middlebury College: 275-287. Print. Tarbox, Katherine. “The French Lieutenant’s Woman and the Evolution of Narrative” Twentieth Century Literature 42. 1 (1996): 88-96. Print. ———————– 4 5