The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

by

John Fowles

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The French Lieutenant’s Woman: Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator doesn’t know who Sarah is, or where she comes from. His characters have never existed outside of his mind. He’s only pretending to know their thoughts because he’s using the Victorian convention of an omniscient narrator, by which the novelist pretends to know everything. However, the narrator lives in the 1960s, and even if this is a novel, it’s not a modern one. Perhaps the novel is only a game, and the narrator is disguising himself in Charles or discussing his confusion about modern women like Sarah. Perhaps this is really a book of essays.
Just when it seems the narrator will reveal Sarah’s story, he drops completely out of the conventional narrative and instead comments on the writing process. This self-reflection, which makes the story seem conscious of itself as a construction, is a technique of metafiction. Though the book has seemed more or less like a conventional Victorian novel up to this point, the narrator now explodes all expectations for the future of this story.
Themes
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The narrator meant to reveal everything about Sarah at this point, but now that he’s watching her stand at her window, he realizes that Sarah would never have explained herself if she saw him on the lawn; she would have disappeared. It may seem that novelists always follow their plans for a book. However, novelists have countless different reasons for writing, and the only one they share is the desire to create worlds as real as, but different from, the actual world. A real world can’t be controlled by its creator; the fictional world only becomes real when it disobeys its creator.
Though writers undoubtedly ask themselves these questions about their works, they usually maintain the illusion of being entirely in charge of the story. The storylines of Victorian novels often obey prescribed rules, and in letting this fictional world operate outside of his control, and thus outside of any rules, the narrator seems to suggest that his fictional world is more real than those of Victorian novels. Ironically, he acknowledges that his world is constructed, whereas Victorian novels often pretend to report true events.
Themes
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
The narrator told Charles to return immediately to Lyme Regis when he left Sarah on the cliff, but instead he went to the Dairy. The reader might protest that the narrator simply decided it would be better to have Charles stop at the Dairy, but the narrator reports that the idea seemed to come from Charles. He must respect Charles’s independence. God is “the freedom that allows other freedoms to exist,” and so an author must give his characters freedom in order to be free himself. The modern novelist is still a god, but freedom is now most important, as opposed to authority, which was most important to the Victorians.
The narrator denies his power over the characters, giving the story a life of its own precisely by admitting that it is a story. He suggests that modern people venerate God as freedom, whereas the Victorians venerated God as authority. This is also, by extension, why the Victorians placed so much emphasis on duty and convention, whereas Fowles’s contemporaries were more likely to scoff at these principles. Perhaps it’s the narrator’s willingness to let his characters be free that makes Charles and Sarah so concerned with being free from their society.
Themes
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The narrator insists that he has broken no illusion; his characters are just as real as they ever were. He wants the reader to share his sense that he doesn’t control his characters any more than the reader controls the people around them. The reader might protest that a character can only be either real or imaginary, but in fact, everyone slightly fictionalizes their own pasts. The definition of humanity is to be fleeing reality. The reader might think this digression has nothing to do with the themes of the book, but the narrator will suspect them.
This is a moment in which Fowles particularly blurs the line between fiction and reality, suggesting that these two concepts actually can’t be separated. Though the characters aren’t real, they’re real enough to influence the narration; and though people think their lives are real, reality is subject to differences in individual perspectives. Fowles is participating in a questioning of objective reality typical to postmodernism.
Themes
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Sarah cried but didn’t kill herself, and she continued to frequent Ware Commons. It was clear that sooner or later, Mrs. Poulteney would find out. Sarah did go less often, and she’s begun to take a different path to Ware Commons to avoid detection. She keeps out of sight of the Dairy by taking a path through the bracken, and the afternoon when Charles sees her from the Dairy, it’s because she’s late in returning to Mrs. Poulteney’s. Mrs. Poulteney is going to dine at Lady Cotton’s, and she must prepare for battle. Besides, Charles has shocked Sarah, and it seems that no precautions can prevent her from falling.
Returning to the story, the reader has little better understanding of Sarah than before. However, her determination to continue going to Ware Commons shows her dedication to the kind of freedom that the narrator defined as a twentieth-century trait. Sarah’s sense of falling gestures to the trope of the fallen woman, one who is sexually compromised by Victorian standards. It suggests that she isn’t actually a fallen woman yet, but Charles will make her one.
Themes
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Sexuality and Gender Theme Icon