A New Style of Narration in The French Lieutenant's Woman

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Readers have not always considered the idea that they have the opportunity to choose the path of the story they read.  In The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles revolutionizes the traditional art of story telling by breaking away from certain aspects of the novel to introduce a whole other world of fiction. The narrator plays a significant role, by providing insight into Victorian society, acting as a character in the story and creating relationships with the characters, all of which breaks away from the conventional role of the narrator and forces the reader to consider that she is an active participant in the art of storytelling. Through the use of epigraphs and illustrations from the time period, Fowles provides the readers with insight into Victorian society, establishing his credibility of knowledge on the Victorian time period, and thus justifying his knowledge. The historical references that link the Victorian era to the plot are a valuable characteristic in the novel.  “Fowles intends the chapter epigraphs to have particular bearing on the content of the chapters they begin” (Landrum 105); Fowles opens each chapter with at least one epigraph, to set the tone for the chapter that follows.  As Katherine Tarbox justifies, “much of the narrator’s energy is spent in explaining and accounting-for; he offers an extravaganza of facts, historical analysis and cultural exegesis” (Tarbox 98).  Tarbox elaborates the idea that, by explaining historical facts, Fowles is able to submerge himself into the Victorian era.  As the narrator says himself, “I have pretended to slip back into 1867; but of course that year is in reality a century past” (Fowles 406).  This technique used by Fowles to immerse himself into the 1800’s can be confusing for some readers, but can also be viewed as a way to heighten suspense and tension within the novel.  The narrator’s story is transcendental in that it transports the reader from the modern day to the Victorian; he doesn’t just recount the facts, he takes the reader on a historical journey. One scholarly author that contradicts this idea is K.R. Ireland, who argues, “In the case of FLW, particularly, the omnipresent prefatory epigraphs, means that even immediate continuous phase chapters can not in practice be more tightly linked than these “retards” permit” (Ireland 404).  In his judgment, this type of sequencing into another chapter deteriorates from the narrative voice because it adds a significant length to each chapter, and furthermore, the length of each chapter causes the plot to be lost.  What Ireland does not consider, is the artistic element that these epigraphs stimulate to develop an illusion of a new world situated around the Victorian time period.  “The novel asks the reader to see absolute ontological parity between the world of the imagination and the world of life” (Tarbox 97). As Katharine Tarbox explains, trying to submerge into a different world may be challenging for some readers, but once the readers fully place themselves into the imaginary world of Fowles, they can more fully understand his characters.  The epigraphs and insight to the Victorian time period appeals to a great variety of readers because it releases them from their modern world and into Fowles’ reconstructed mid 1800’s era. 

Through Fowles’ style of writing, he is able to develop strong human relationships between the characters and the readers, allowing them to become active participants in the story. Thus the readers are able to further connect and step out of their own worlds and into the world of the characters. As Katherine Tarbox states, “I am proposing that this novel is an anatomy of the relationship between human cognition and narrative, and that it naturally implicates itself in this relationship as well” (Tarbox 88). As this quotation explains, the novel provides a relationship between the readers and the narrator, which subconsciously connects the relationship to the...
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