The French Lieutenant's Woman Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The French Lieutenant's Woman: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. There was no artifice there, no hypocrisy, no hysteria, no mask; and above all, no sign of madness. The madness was in the empty sea, the empty horizon, the lack of reason for such sorrow; as if the spring was natural in itself, but unnatural in welling from a desert. p. 16 At this juncture, Charles reflects how there is ‘no artifice’ in Sarah’s face. Just prior to this reference, it is noted that she does not have the face expected of the age; that is, it is not ‘the demure, the obedient, the shy’.
  2. Ernestina wanted a husband, wanted Charles to be that husband, wanted children; but the payment she vaguely divined she would have to make for them seemed excessive.
    p. 34 Ernestina is used as a figure here to represent a sexually repressed (and sexually ignorant) Victorian woman.
  3. Given the veneer of a lady, she was made the perfect victim of a caste society. Her father had forced her out of her own class, but could not raise her to the next. To the young men of the one she had left she had become too select to marry; to those of the one she aspired to, she remained too banal.
    p. 58 This quotation outlines Sarah’s predicament in this society that depends on hierarchies and strict categories. She no longer belongs to a specific class – because of her ‘lowly’ birth and good education.
  4. Why Mrs Poulteney should have been an inhabitant of the Victorian valley of the dolls we need not inquire, but it is to the point that laudanum, as Coleridge discovered, gives vivid dreams.
    p. 94 By describing Mrs Poulteney as ‘an inhabitant of the Victorian valley of the dolls’, Fowles draws on a contemporary reference (contemporary to the time of writing) to diminish this villain with disparaging humor. This mention of the ‘valley of the dolls’ is also one of many examples of the author’s use of postmodern playfulness that stops this novel becoming just a copy of a nineteenth-century realist novel. References to the twentieth century may be found throughout and these serve to remind the reader that this is a work of fiction that has been written in the twentieth century and, consequently, the writing process is made evident.
  5. If I have pretended until now to know my characters’ minds and innermost thoughts, it is because I am writing in (just as I have assumed some of the vocabulary and ‘voice’ of) a convention universally accepted at the time of my story: that the novelist stands next to God. He may not know it all, yet he tries to pretend that he does. But I live in the age of Alain Robbe-Grillet and Roland Barthes; if this is a novel, it cannot be a novel in the modern sense of the word.
    p. 97 This quotation appears in Chapter Thirteen where Fowles disrupts the narrative entirely. Hints that this is not a standard, realist text have been made prior to this (as when Mrs Poulteney is described as an inhabitant of the Victorian valley of the dolls), but it is in this chapter, and this quotation specifically, that the readers are forced to remember that this is a work of fiction written after the essay ‘The Death of the Author’, by Roland Barthes. As Barthes points out, the author is not the centre of meaning when interpreting a text, and the interpretation depends on the readers.
  6. We can see why he was condemned, or rather, by what he was condemned: by social prestige, they the myth of the pure-minded virgin, by psychological ignorance, by a society in full reaction from the pernicious notions of freedom disseminated by the French Revolution.
    p.226 This quotation explores the reasons for La Roncière being found guilty of assault and sending poison pen letters. This is despite the lack of evidence against him and the discrepancies in the claims made by the16 year old, Marie de Morell. With this case, the discussion also goes on to broach the concept of hysteria and Dr Grogan implies this also lies behind Sarah’s behavior.   6. He did not like her when she was wilful; it contrasted too strongly with her elaborate clothes, all designed to show a total inadequacy outside the domestic interior.
    p. 255 Charles’s view of how his wife-to-be should behave is exemplified here. It is evident that he subscribes at least partially to the values of the age where women were expected to be obedient and acquiescent.
  7. In a way, by transferring to the public imagination what they left to the private, we are the more Victorian – in the derogatory sense of the word – century, since we have, in destroying so much of the mystery, the difficulty, the aura of the forbidden, destroyed also a great deal of the pleasure.
    p. 258 This reference questions the accepted belief that the Victorian repression of sex lead to a sexless existence. Instead, it is argued here that the twentieth century, with its apparent openness about sexual pleasure, has destroyed any sense of mystery.
  8. There was no doubt. He was one of life’s victims, one more ammonite caught in the vast movements of history, stranded now for eternity, a potential turned to fossil.
    p. 321 By choosing Ernestina and following the path of what is expected of a man in his position, Charles will become caught up in the inevitable ‘movements of history’. The point is also made that his position and role are soon to be regarded as outdated as a fossil.
  9. And we judge writers of fiction both by the skill they show in fixing the fights (in other words, in persuading us that they were not fixed) and by the kind of fighter they fix in favour of: the good one, the tragic one, the evil one, the funny one, and so on.
    p.390 The narrator/novelist decides that the only way to avoid being seen to ‘fix a fight’ (that is, the ending of the novel) is to show two versions and to toss a coin in order to select which is used first. The coin is tossed in order to demonstrate that the decision is arbitrary and, therefore, the second (and last ending) will not be seen as the ‘real’ one.
  10. I wish to be what I am, not what a husband, however kind, however indulgent, must expect me to become in marriage.
    p. 430 In this quotation, Sarah voices her independence and her refusal to be contained by Victorian morality.


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