Analysis of Voice and Character of
The French Lieutenant’s woman
The novel begins with voice of Thomas Hardy’s ″The Riddle″ which is quoted by the author. This quotation is an apt description for The French Lieutenant’s woman which portrays a singular figure, alone against a desolate landscape. The novel portrays Victorian characters living in 1867, but the author, writing in 1967, intervenes with wry, ironic commentary on Victorian conventions. In fact, it is parody of Victorian novel with chatty narrator and narrative juggling.
The most striking fact about the novel is the use of different authorial voices. Voice of the narrator has a double vision: The novel starts off with an intrusive omniscient, typically Victorian, voice: “I exaggerate? Perhaps, but I can be put to the test, for the Cobb has changed very little since the year of which I write; [...]” (Fowles, p.10).
In chapter 1 we hear an extensive, detailed description of Lyme Bay. The narrator makes it a point to insist that very little has changed in Lyme Regis since the nineteenth century to the present day. The narrator deftly moves between the two centuries and comments on the present day events in the same tone in which he comments on the Victorian period. We hear the voice of narrator as a formal, stiff Victorian tone while narrating the events in the novel yet the content of what he says is contemporary.
The illusion of a Victorian novel is soon broken by a narrator, who introduces his modern 20 century point of view. For example, in Chapter 3, he alludes to devices totally unknown to Victorian society and the illusion of the typically Victorian novel is broken. “[Charles] would probably not have been too surprised had news reached him out of the future of the air plane, the jet engine, television, radar: [...]” (Fowles, p.16). In Chapter 13 he finally reveals himself as a modern narrator when he admits to live in the age of Alain Robbe-Grillet and Roland Barthes (Fowles, p. 80).
Voices of the novel seem to belong to John Fowles, the author. The narrator not only comments the whole narrative but he also intrudes in order to make comments on the characters. His authorial intrusions are very pointed and sometimes biased. The narrator’s voice plays the role of both participant and observer.
The first person voice occurs in different roles. It seems to be an artist, a novelist, a teacher, a historian and a critic who surveying the scene with a modern and ironic eye, constantly reminding the reader this is not a typically Victorian novel. The third person voice, on the other hand, represents all features associated with an omniscient narrator. It misleads the reader and sometimes even ridicules characters: “He would have made you smile, for he was carefully equipped for his role. He wore stout nailed boots and canvas gaiters that rose to the encase Norfolk breeches of heavy flannel. There was a tight and absurdly long coat to match; a canvas wide awake hat of an indeterminate beige; a massive ash-plant, which he had bought on his way to the Cobb; and a voluminous rucksack, from which you might have shaken out an already heavy array of hammers, wrappings, notebooks, pillboxes, adzes and heaven knows what else.” (Fowles, p. 43)
In Chapter 13 the first person narrator suggests to stand out against the third person narrator when he admits not to be able to control the thoughts and movements of his characters. He denies having all the god-like qualities associated with the classical role of a narrator who knows all the moves of his characters beforehand and he gives a definition of his status: “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...
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