The French Lieutenant's Woman
On page 316 of the novel " The French Lieutenant's Woman"
author John Fowles briefly interrupts the fiction to
discuss with the reader his role as a novelist. He has come
up with two very different endings to the novel and wishes
to share both with his readers. However, he cannot give two
storyline endings simultaneously, and if one comes before
another, the final chapter will seem more potent than the
first. In trying not to side with any particular characters
he decides on a coin toss to decide which conclusion to
give last. At this point Charles is on a train, and Fowles
considers leaving him there to allow the reader the
opportunity to devise his/her own conclusion for the novel.
I can only assume that Fowles came up with both endings at
roughly the same time, and each of them seemed as valid an
ending as the other to him. Traditionally, it would have
been up to him to chose one ending and make it final.
However it seems he was not able, or did not want to chose
just one of the endings to the novel. It would seem that
Fowles is trying to be fair to all of the characters by
including the various endings which satisfy all of them.
Fowles comments that the job of a novelist is "to put two
conflicting wants in the ring and describe the fight",
which is essentially what he has done. However, it is hard
to decide for whom to fix the fight especially since one
owns both fighters.
Fowles also briefly mentions allowing "freedom of
characters" in his writing. This concept is somewhat vague.
To allow freedom of characters is to essentially allow the
characters to do anything that the author desires. Why
would a character ever not be able to do whatever the
author thinks of ? There are no written rules that authors
must follow as to how their characters ought to behave, or
whether a character can step out of his role. The identity
of the character is constantly changing as the novel
progresses, constantly being updated since the reader has
only a brief glimpse into the life of a character in the
novel. I think it would be quite rare for an author to not
allow his characters freedom (unless of course he is living
in a country under dictatorship or communism, but that
doesn't count because the author doesn't have freedom
either so why should his characters).
"The chief argument of fight fixing is to show one's
readers what one thinks of the world around one". The
author must fix the fight in favor of one side to make the
writing a novel, to create the story with one's views on
the world implanted into it. Fowles however did not live in
the world he is fixing the fight in and can only know about
it from other readings or indirect information. Fowles
describes a story that has supposedly taken place over a
century ago, and shows several views of another world by
giving the novel two separate endings. Through this Fowles
shows two separate views , by giving us two separate
endings, which essentially changes his entire outlook on
the world from one ending to another. One is more
optimistic than the other, so he gives us an optimistic
look at the world as well as a pessimistic view of the
world in which the novel unfolds.
The bulk of Fowles comments on what a novelist should be
are somewhat contradictory to what he has done with his
novel. He has said that it is the job of the author to
describe the conflict after having chosen the outcome.
However, Fowles himself seems to play quite an active role
in The French Lieutenant's Woman , often jumping in to give
modern day references such as in the case of Mrs. Poultney
and the Gestapo. I believe this kind of writing is very
beneficial for the reader. If the author has enough
information about an era to convincingly write about it,
and make references to modern times, it seems to give the
reader a better understanding of the novel and make them
feel more involved. Although Fowles has said that his job
is simply to describe the fight it is somewhat more
interesting when he slips back into the 20th century.
In the many places in the novel when Fowles jumps in to the
novel to explain or further describe something, he often
gives away that even he does not know what is going to
happen next. It is as though he is discovering right along
with the reader, as he imagines it the reader reads it.
Writing in this style may be beneficial to the novel as it
does not bias the novel towards the protagonist or
antagonist, but makes the conflict seem realistic enough
that it's not beyond the realm of possibility for either of
the sides to take control and "win" the novel. Through this
style of writing, the novel has a more lifelike feel to it
because people don't get inside tips from one an other as
they live their real lives.
Fowles seems to believe that the novelist should not be
thinking or intentionally creating a plot, but rather to
let one unfold and simply describe it. He makes it out to
be as though authors have a peep-hole to another dimension
through which they watch and write down everything they
see. Their job is simply to fix and convincingly report on
a fight without showing too much bias for one side or the
other as to not make it too obvious for whom the fight has
been fixed. His views of what a novelist should be seem
quite unique and somewhat idealistic.
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