The French Lieutenant's Woman Critical Overview
by John Fowles

Start Your Free Trial

Download The French Lieutenant's Woman Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

Soon after its publication in 1969, John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman became a critically acclaimed best seller in England, America, and France. Critics enthusiastically praised its rich storytelling along with its innovative style.

Literary scholar Ian Watt, in his review of the novel for The New York Times Book Review, declared it to be “immensely interesting, attractive and human” and expressed “awe, at such harmonious a mingling of the old and new in manner and matter.” He found the themes “both richly English and convincingly existential.” A reviewer for Life enjoyed Fowles mixture of existentialism with the previous century’s sensualism, which results in “a novel of such riches that it meets the oldest, simplest, and least fashionable test of excellence. You never want it to end.” The New York Times review insisted it “signals the sudden but predictable arrival of a remarkable novelist.”

The novel continues to receive critical attention and high praise. Ellen Pifer writes, “Fowles’s success in the marketplace derives from his great skill as a storyteller. His fiction is rich in narrative suspense, romantic conflict, and erotic drama.” She praises Fowles’s ability, so evident in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, “to sustain such effects at the same time that, as an experimental writer testing conventional assumptions about reality, he examines and parodies the traditional devices of storytelling.”