The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

by

John Fowles

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The narrator Character Analysis

The narrator of the book appears sporadically as a disembodied narrative “I,” and also, twice, as an actual character who inserts himself into the scene of Victorian England. The narrator suggests that he is also the writer of the story, commenting on his process of writing, while making it clear that he isn’t entirely in control of what his characters do and that he doesn’t know everything about them. Despite that the narrator claims to be the writer, he should not be conflated with Fowles, since Fowles is writing in 1967, and the narrator appears in the text as a grown man in Victorian England. The story’s narrator portrays himself as a pretentious and judgmental, and he seems to think the entire world exists for his own use. Fowles uses this narrator figure to satirize himself and writers in general, as well as to provide a reminder that fiction is a construction of the author’s mind, rather than a natural or somehow inherently true occurrence.

The narrator Quotes in The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The The French Lieutenant’s Woman quotes below are all either spoken by The narrator or refer to The narrator. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Back Bay Books edition of The French Lieutenant’s Woman published in 1998.
Chapter 10 Quotes

Charles did not know it, but in those brief poised seconds above the waiting sea, in that luminous evening silence broken only by the waves’ quiet wash, the whole Victorian Age was lost. And I do not mean that he had taken the wrong path.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Charles Smithson, Sarah Woodruff
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

This story I am telling is all imagination. These characters I create never existed outside my own mind. 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 the “voice” of) a convention universally accepted at the time of my story: that the novelist stands next to God. He may not know all, yet he tries to pretend that he does.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

In other words, to be free myself, I must give him [Charles], and Tina, and Sarah, even the abominable Mrs. Poulteney, their freedoms as well. There is only one good definition of God: the freedom that allows other freedoms to exist. And I must conform to that definition.

The novelist is still a god, since he creates...; what has changed is that we are no longer the gods of the Victorian image, omniscient and decreeing; but in the new theological image, with freedom our first principle, not authority.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Charles Smithson, Sarah Woodruff, Mrs. Poulteney
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

But this is preposterous? A character is either “real” or “imaginary”? If you think that, hypocrite lecteur, I can only smile. You do not even think of your own past as quite real; you dress it up, you gild it or blacken it, censor it, tinker with it... fictionalize it, in a word, and put it away on a shelf—your book, your romanced autobiography. We are all in flight from the real reality. That is a basic definition of Homo sapiens.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

Charles, as you will have noticed, had more than one vocabulary. With Sam in the morning, with Ernestina across a gay lunch, and here in the role of Alarmed Propriety... he was almost three different men.... We may explain it biologically by Darwin’s phrase: cryptic coloration, survival by learning to blend with one’s surroundings—with the unquestioned assumptions of one’s age or social caste. Or we can explain this flight to formality sociologically. When one was skating over so much thin ice—ubiquitous economic oppression, terror of sexuality, the flood of mechanistic science—the ability to close one’s eyes to one’s own absurd stiffness was essential. Very few Victorians chose to question the virtues of such cryptic coloration, but there was that in Sarah’s look which did.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Charles Smithson, Sarah Woodruff
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

[T]hose visions of the contented country laborer and his brood made so fashionable by George Morland and his kind... were as stupid and pernicious a sentimentalization, therefore a suppression of reality, as that in our own Hollywood films of “real” life. One look at Millie and her ten miserable siblings should have scorched the myth of the Happy Swain into ashes; but so few gave that look. Each age, each guilty age, builds high walls round its Versailles; and personally I hate those walls most when they are made by literature and art.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Millie
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 22 Quotes

A remarkable young woman, a remarkable young woman. And baffling. He decided that that was—had been, rather—her attraction: her unpredictability. He did not realize that she had two qualities as typical of the English as his own admixture of irony and convention. I speak of passion and imagination. The first quality Charles perhaps began dimly to perceive; the second he did not. He could not, for those two qualities of Sarah’s were banned by the epoch, equated in the first case with sensuality and in the second with the merely fanciful. This dismissive double equation was Charles’s greatest defect—and here he stands truly for his age.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Charles Smithson, Sarah Woodruff
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 25 Quotes

The master went back into his room; and there entered his mind a brief image of that ancient disaster he had found recorded in the blue lias and brought back to Ernestina—the ammonites caught in some recession of water, a micro-catastrophe of ninety million years ago. In a vivid insight, a flash of black lightning, he saw that all life was parallel: that evolution was not vertical, ascending to a perfection, but horizontal. Time was the great fallacy; existence was without history, was always now, was always this being caught in the same fiendish machine. All those painted screens erected by man to shut out reality—history, religion, duty, social position, all were illusions, mere opium fantasies.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Charles Smithson, Ernestina Freeman
Related Symbols: Fossils
Page Number: 206
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 35 Quotes

[The Victorians] were quite as highly sexed as our own century—and, in spite of the fact that we have sex thrown at us night and day (as the Victorians had religion), far more preoccupied with it than we really are. They were certainly preoccupied by love, and devoted far more of their arts to it than we do ours. Nor can Malthus and the lack of birth-control appliances quite account for the fact that they bred like rabbits and worshiped fertility far more ardently than we do.... I have seen the Naughty Nineties represented as a reaction to many decades of abstinence; I believe it was merely the publication of what had hitherto been private, and I suspect we are in reality dealing with a human constant: the difference is a vocabulary, a degree of metaphor.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 267-68
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 49 Quotes

This—the fact that every Victorian had two minds—is the one piece of equipment we must always take with us on our travels back to the nineteenth century. It is a schizophrenia seen at its clearest, its most notorious, in the poets I have quoted from so often—in Tennyson, Clough, Arnold, Hardy... transparent also in the mania for editing and revising, so that if we want to know the real Mill or the real Hardy we can learn far more from the deletions and alterations of their autobiographies than from the published versions... more from correspondence that somehow escaped burning, from private diaries, from the petty detritus of the concealment operation. Never was the record so completely confused, never a public façade so successfully passed off as the truth on a gullible posterity....

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 369
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 55 Quotes

Fiction usually pretends to conform to the reality: the writer puts the conflicting wants in the ring and then describes the fight—but in fact fixes the fight, letting that want he himself favors win. 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 favor of: the good one, the tragic one, the evil one, the funny one, and so on.

But the chief argument for fight-fixing is to show one’s readers what one thinks of the world around one—whether one is a pessimist, an optimist, what you will. I have pretended to slip back into 1867; but of course that year is in reality a century past. It is futile to show optimism, or pessimism, or anything else about it, because we know what has happened since.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 406
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 60 Quotes

And perhaps he did at last begin to grasp her mystery. Some terrible perversion of human sexual destiny had begun; he was no more than a footsoldier, a pawn in a far vaster battle; and like all battles it was not about love, but about possession and territory. He saw deeper: it was not that she hated man, not that she materially despised him more than other men, but that her maneuvers were simply a part of her armory, mere instruments to a greater end.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), Charles Smithson, Sarah Woodruff
Page Number: 453
Explanation and Analysis:
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The narrator Character Timeline in The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The timeline below shows where the character The narrator appears in The French Lieutenant’s Woman. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 11
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Sexuality and Gender Theme Icon
...Ernestina rang for Mary, who came in smiling with the flowers. Ernestina frowned at her. The narrator thinks that Mary is the prettiest woman in this story. She’s the liveliest and the... (full context)
Chapter 12
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Morality Theme Icon
Sexuality and Gender Theme Icon
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
...but gave it no thought. She was crying silently and considering jumping out the window. The narrator won’t make her melodramatically fail to jump, as he’s already shown her alive two weeks... (full context)
Chapter 13
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
The narrator doesn’t know who Sarah is, or where she comes from. His characters have never existed... (full context)
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
The narrator meant to reveal everything about Sarah at this point, but now that he’s watching her... (full context)
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,... (full context)
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
The narrator insists that he has broken no illusion; his characters are just as real as they... (full context)
Chapter 17
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Sexuality and Gender Theme Icon
...be more individual, as they can’t access the entire world, and strangers are more exciting. The narrator thinks that the isolation of the past is enviable. Sam often pretends to know everything... (full context)
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
The narrator doesn’t know whether Sam and Mary met the next morning. But when Charles came out... (full context)
Chapter 19
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Morality Theme Icon
Sexuality and Gender Theme Icon
...country laborers; if they had seen Millie’s family, they couldn’t have done what they did. The narrator hates it when literature and art are used to conceal grim realities. (full context)
Chapter 32
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
...him and partly for God. She went to sleep feeling such a perfect bride that the narrator can only assume that Charles will eventually be faithful to her. (full context)
Chapter 36
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Morality Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
Sexuality and Gender Theme Icon
...revealing a teapot and a jug. The jug is cracked and will crack again, which the narrator knows because he bought it recently. Sarah doesn’t know that it’s valuable, but she has... (full context)
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
...adult. Now she makes tea. She hasn’t heard from Charles, but she seems quite happy. The narrator refuses to find out what’s happening in her head. Eventually she pours her tea, unwraps... (full context)
Chapter 39
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
Sexuality and Gender Theme Icon
...probably very similar to things that happened in ancient history and in the twentieth century. The narrator recently found a book detailing an eighteenth-century brothel. (full context)
Chapter 44
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
The story ends here. The narrator doesn’t know what happens to Sarah, but Charles never sees her again. He and Ernestina... (full context)
Chapter 45
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Now that he has created a traditional ending, the narrator has to admit that everything in the last two chapters didn’t happen quite the way... (full context)
Chapter 55
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
...of a god, though gods are not usually portrayed this way, with this immoral look. The narrator is very familiar with the face of the man in the train, and he’ll stop... (full context)
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Morality Theme Icon
As the narrator stares at Charles, he wonders what he’s going to do with him. He could end... (full context)
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Morality Theme Icon
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
...reason to show an opinion about it, since the reader knows what’s happened since then. The narrator doesn’t want to fix Charles’s fight. He decides that the only way he can remain... (full context)
Chapter 58
Convention vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
...about his mindless travels as a way of fleeing his shame. He memorizes a poem the narrator likes much better, Matthew Arnold’s “To Marguerite,” which laments the human condition of isolation. Surprisingly,... (full context)
Chapter 61
Fiction and History vs. Reality Theme Icon
Storytelling and Morality Theme Icon
Religion, Science, and Evolution Theme Icon
...the reader must believe that this ending is just as realistic as the former one. The narrator has returned to the principle that evolution is the only god that influences human life,... (full context)