The French Lieutenant's Woman

by John Fowles

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What are examples of historiographic metafiction in The French Lieutenant's Woman?

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John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman is conscious of itself as a narrative, as fiction, and this is the nature of metafiction. Let's look at some examples of how this plays out in the tale as the story refers to itself as story and explores the ideas of writing historical fiction.

We might think, for instance, of the narrator's role in the novel. There are times when he actually makes himself one of the characters in the story and talks about what he is going to write. He makes readers conscious that they are reading a story. Consider the narrator in the train compartment with Charles, trying to figure out what to do with his character. He recognizes at various points in the story that he is free to make his characters go where he wishes and do what he likes.

Notice, too, the false ending that Charles wants to happen. He wants to live happily ever after with Ernestina, and he wants Mrs. Poulteney to die and go to hell. But this is not at all what happens. Again, though, the narrator is calling our attention to the nature of story and making us wonder if sometimes false endings make their way into stories, even stories that are supposed to be true, because they are simply easier.

Finally, consider the two possible endings for the novel. This is highly unusual for a narrative, but it is a prime example of metafiction. The narrator gives us two possible endings: one that presents a hope that Charles and Sarah will be happy, and another that shows Charles leaving Sarah. Both endings are realistic, according to the narrator, and either could be true. We just do not know which, if either, is.

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