Postmodernism encompasses a reinterpretation of classical ideas, forms and practices and reflects and rejects the ideologies of previous movements in the arts. The postmodern movement has made way for new ways of thinking and a new theoretical base when criticising art, literature, sexuality and history.
John Fowles’ 1969 historical bricolage, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, utilises the ideas of postmodern theorists such as Foucault, Barthes and Sartre amongst others to form a postmodern double-coded discourse which examines values inherent in the Victorian era from a twentieth century context. The novel’s use of intertextuality, metafiction and its irreverent attitude can be seen as a postmodern parody of Victorian fiction and the historical novel. For the purpose of examining the values and ideologies of the Victorian era in comparison to the postmodern paradigm, Victorian conventions are shown juxtaposed with postmodern techniques such as the authorial intrusion and alternative endings.
Sarah Woodruff is different from other characters in The French Lieutenant’s Woman because she is epistemologically unique and because the narrator does not have access to her inner thoughts: in chapter 13 the author directly addresses the reader and states that he gives his characters the free will to determine their outcome in his novel. In a typical Victorian context, the protagonist’s inner conflict and motives would be exposed to the reader. Fowles denies his right as the author to impose definition of characters and in this way recognises “the age of Alain-Robbe Grillet and Roland Barthes” in bringing about the “death of the author” and the birth of the “reader”. The reader must interpret the text in ways (s)he views it and is forced to actively engage in the text. Fowles also introduces the author as a god-like figure (who turns back time) to craft multiple endings.
He (the author) allows Sarah to act...