Institute of English Studies
Student’s book no.: 22602
Different aspects of freedom in
The French Lieutenant's Woman
by John Fowles
First Cycle Degree Programme
English Philology, specialization: cultural studies
The paper written under the supervision of
Mikołaj Wiśniewski, PhD
Warsaw, January 2012
“Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room Of One's Own (p.96)
Defining freedom as a concept that exists on the restricted field of the novel is most fascinating, as the concept of freedom itself has many layers. The philosophical approach towards freedom has been changing throughout history and consequently affecting diverse areas of life and art. The philosophical approach towards freedom dates back to ancient Greece and continues to develop, still inspiring further examination. Therefore, when it comes to literature, this multidimensional variety of freedom creates an opportunity for the author to experiment on form and inspires him to shape the realm of the novel more freely. John Fowles' most famous novel "The French Lieutenant's Woman" is a broad and multilayered exploration of the theme of freedom in the Victorian period. The study of liberty is presented from a modern perspective and refers to such highly important contexts as: social escapism, the character's individual path to self-consciousness, nothingness, moral standards as well as novelistic codes. Furthermore, the complexity of both the abovementioned contexts and the concept of freedom itself, set in the particularly rigid times of Victorian England, require a multidimensional analysis. The explorations are to be crowned with the interesting and innovative achievement in the field of narration, since the transgression from novelistic Victorian codes is also a vital form of freedom. In fact, John Fowles intentionally becomes a meta-narrator and through the stream-of-consciousness he considers renaming his work "The Aetiology of Freedom". This significant and symbolic example demonstrates to what extent Fowles depicts the profound and deliberate illustration of freedom within the conventional Victorian paradigm. According to Prof. Dr. Theo D'Hean: "The negation of social and cultural norms (...) all point to a singular "pragmatic meaning" of the novel: to make the reader aware of freedom as an issue." (p.25).
Socio-literary background of the Victorian age.
The French Lieutenant's Woman concerns the freedom of the individual, the one that liberates from the imposed social conventions and expectations, regardless of the status or the role that one undertook. D'Hean states that the most significant theme of the book is the denial of sexual freedom in Victorian times, but it is only one instance of the book's negation of puritanical morality, as "it is intimately linked to the negation of other Victorian constraints, in the first place those upon economic and social freedom." (p.26). The protagonists appear in the reality, which was constructed on a highly hierarchical system with precisely described and socially accepted role models. The narrowness of possibilities, especially considering the possibilities for women, can be seen most efficiently in the numerous publications at that time, written by both men and women. According to Sarah Stickney Ellis, Victorian writer and founder of Rawdon House, female education should have been focused on domestic skills only. She wrote The Women of England and other highly popular guides to female conduct The Daughters of England, The Wives of England, works that unfortunately did not represent the voices in defence of female intellectual advancement (Black, p.96). To the contrary, those novels were promoting the role of a woman...