The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles


I read some thoughts by John Fowles, concerning his novel The French Lieutenant's Woman. He said he had the image during the autumn of 1966 of "A woman who stands at the end of a deserted quay and stares out to the sea." Back in the 80s I saw a film with Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep, made after the book. I forgot most of the story, in fact I forgot almost everything. Except one scene, a woman standing at the end of the quay, her dress caught by the wind. She seemed lonely and I remember thinking she must have been waiting for someone. In my memory she looked like a person waiting.

The French Lieutenant's Woman is a postmodern novel. Fowles wrote a book, based on Victorian novel, with the perception of the twentieth century. Each chapter opens with an epigraph from an important 19th century text, which draws attention to the questions regarding society, economy, religion, science. There are a number of footnotes and narrator's interventions as well as irony which is often not perceived as such. Fowles writes about his process of writing and his relationship to his characters. He even inserts himself into the story on two occasions. I really enjoyed this novel, but I think I should read it again in not just read it but study it. I don't think there's anything random in either the epigraphs he chose or why his characters behave as they do. 

There's a lot of material for thought regarding traditional Victorian view of women. About Ernestina Fowles writes: "He could not be angry with her. After all, she was just a woman." Or what the doctor says about Sarah: "You must not think she is like us men, able to reason clearly, examine her motives, understand why she behaves as she does."  Or about obedience, an expected virtue in a woman: "[...] male vanity lay in being obeyed; female in using obedience to have the ultimate victory."

Fowles covers a lot of different themes, but what I found the most appealing was ambiguity. Do we really get to know all the facts? Do we really need to know them? Does the French Lieutenant really exist or if he does, is he really that important as we are led to believe. I wanted to like Sarah, her independence, her passion to be different, but somehow I couldn't. I didn't dislike her either. Sarah is a self-constructed mystery. Many things she says about herself are make believe. Or are they? At one time she says: "What has kept me alive is my shame, my knowing that I am truly not like other women. I shall never have children, a husband, and that innocent happiness they have. And they will never understand the reason for my crime." What we later learn puts her words in a different perspective, much more ambiguous.

What I liked the most were multiple endings. Which one was the right one? Is it really important? We get to choose the ending, but do we have to. I didn't, I just left it as it was, and it felt right.

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Pred časom sem prebrala nekaj misli Johna Fowlesa o njegovi knjigi Ženska francoskega poročnika. Govoril je o tem, da je jeseni leta 1966 imel vizijo ženske, ki stoji na koncu zapuščenega pomola in strmi v morje. V osemdesetih sem videla film, ki so ga posneli po knjigi. V glavnih vlogah sta bila Jeremy Irons in Meryl Streep. Večino zgodbe sem pozabila, pravzaprav sem pozabila skoraj vse, razen enega prizora: ženske, ki stoji na koncu pomola, medtem ko njena obleka valovi v vetru. Zdela se mi je osamljena in spominjam se, da sem pomislila, da je videti, kot da bi koga čakala.

Ženska francoskega poročnika je postmoderen roman. Fowles je napisal knjigo, ki sloni na viktorijanskem romanu, vendar s vpogledom iz dvajsetega stoletja. Vsako poglavje odpre navedek iz pomembnih besedil  devetnajstega stoletja, ki se nanašajo na različne teme: družba, ekonomija, religija, znanost. V knjigi najdemo opombe pod črto in različne intervencije pripovedovalca, kakor tudi ironijo, ki pa je na prvi pogled velikokrat ne prepoznamo. Fowles piše o svojem procesu pisanja in o odnosu do oseb v romanu, na dveh mestih pa celo vključi samega sebe v zgodbo. Knjiga mi je bila zelo všeč, vendar mislim, da bi jo morala prebrati znova. Pa ne samo prebrati ampak proučiti, saj menim, da nobena stvar ni tam naključno.

Velikokrat mi je dalo misliti, ko je pisal o viktorijanskem razmišljanju o ženskah. O Ernestini napiše, da Charles ni mogel biti jezen nanjo, saj je navsezadnje samo ženska. V pogovoru z zdravnikom je ta Charlesu položil na srce, da ne sme misliti, da je Sarah sposobna jasno razmišljati, analizirati svoje vzgibe in razumeti zakaj počne to kar počne, kot so to sposobni početi moški. Dotakne se tudi ubogljivosti, ene od lastnosti, ki se pričakujejo od žensk. Pravi, da moška nečimrnost leži v tem, da se jih uboga, medtem ko ženska v tem, da ubogljivost uporabijo zato, da na koncu zmagajo.

Fowles obravnava številne teme, vendar se mi je najbolj mikavna zdela nejasnost. Ali res izvemo za vsa dejstva? Pa jih moramo poznati? Ali francoski poročnik resnično obstaja in če obstaja, je res tako pomemben kot mislimo. Želela sem si, da bi mi bila Sarah kot neodvisna ženska, ki želi biti drugačna od drugih, všeč pa mi ni bila. Po drugi strani ne morem reči, da je nisem marala. Sarah je skrivnost sama po sebi in to takšna, ki se je ustvarila sama. Marsikaj kar reče o sebi preprosto ni res. Morda pa je, kdo ve. Na neki točki v zgodbi reče, da jo je pri življenju držal občutek sramu in zavedanje, da ni taka kot druge ženske. Nadaljuje, da nikoli ne bo imela otrok, niti moža, niti malih radosti, ki jih imajo one. One pa nikoli ne bodo razumele razlogov za njen zločin. Kar izvemo kasneje, njene besede postavi v drugačno luč, veliko bolj nejasno.

Najbolj mi je bilo všeč, da zgodba nima enega konca ampak tri. Kateri je pravi? Je res pomembno? Lahko si izberemo konec, vendar ali res moramo? Nisem si izbrala konca in mislim, da je tako prav.





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