The French Lieutenant's Woman

by John Fowles

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Discuss the point of view in The French Lieutenant's Woman.

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The point of view of this classic postmodern text is a very interesting area of discussion. On the one hand, there are elements of the omniscient narrator in the point of view in that the narrator is definitely external to the action and looking in at what is unfolding. However, at the same time, there are areas where the traditional omniscient point of view is not accurate when thinking about the narration of this book. One reason for this is the way that the narrator constantly intrudes into the action, identifying himself as the author and highlighting certain facts about the production of this text, such as when he refers to Austen's use of the Cobb in Persuasion and also describing a Henry Moore sculpture, which was carved many years after the time of the novel. Note the following example of authorial intrusion in the text:

The supposed great misery of our century is the lack of time; our sense of that, not a disinterested love of science, and certainly not wisdom, is why we devote such a huge proportion of the ingenuity and income of our societies to finding faster ways of doing things - as if the final aim of mankind was to grow closer not to a perfect humanity, but to a perfect lightning-flash.

Note that this quote talks about the time of the author rather than the time of the novel. Thus, whilst the point of view can be considered to be third person omniscient in some ways, the habit of the author of intruding his own thoughts and opinions into the narrative, indicated with his reference to the word "we" and "our," indicates that the author is a character in his own right, commenting upon the action and drawing the reader's attention to certain aspects of the story. In addition, it is problematic to describe the point of view as third person omniscient, as the author deliberately keeps certain characters from being explained and explored, the most obvious example being Sarah.

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