Of all the books on my TBR shelf, I think The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles has been there the longest. I always meant to read it but I admit that I was put off by labels like "post-modern," "meta fiction," and the like. I think I bought the book shortly after the 1981 movie was released with the idea that I would read it first. That held true for the past 35 years--I still haven't watched the movie, but now I can...since I finally read the novel for my TBR Pile Challenge!
It turns out that it was extremely readable--great writing, interesting story, marvelous setting (Lyme Regis, 1867), troublesome characters, and a delightful narrator who not only didn't try to hide the fact that he was firmly planted in the 1960s but relished his puppet-master role. Sort of reminded me of Thackeray's narrator in Vanity Fair.
There's actually a lot to write about, but I think what I want to comment on in this post is inspiration. I really enjoy learning about the writing process and in particular what inspires, either consciously or unconsciously. In this case, I saw the subplot of Charles Smithson's relationship to his valet Sam to be a reworking of Mr. Pickwick's relationship to the loyal Sam Weller in Dickens' The Pickwick Papers.
Not only are both valets named Sam, as the narrator helpfully points that out, both masters are involved in the breaking of an engagement--one overtly and the other completely innocently.
Both Sams fall in love with servants encountered in the homes where their masters visit, and both have the gift of the gab, are energetic, wise to the ways of the world, and ambitious. The biggest contrast is that Samuel Weller is completely devoted to Mr. P and extricates him from countless predicaments, while Smithson's Sam betrays his master and sinks him completely in the face of his own self interest.
Just as The French Lieutenant's Woman can be seen as an ardently feminist book, I think it can also be seen as a paean on the undermining of the class system.
I really enjoyed it, so much so that I would actually like to reread it again. Maybe I will in a couple of years when I can count it as a classic!
|Meryl Streep as Sarah Woodruff, the French Lieutenant's Woman.|