The French Lieutenant's Woman Analysis

John Fowles

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Lyme Regis

*Lyme Regis. Old Dorset town on the English Channel. Its manners are old-fashioned, just the place for a conventional and traditional courtship. The novel opens on the Cobb, an ancient breakwater along the shoreline. There Charles Smithson and his intended bride, Ernestina Freeman, see the French lieutenant’s woman, Sarah Woodruff, staring longingly out to sea, evidently trying to find something more than Lyme can provide. Charles lives at the White Lion Hotel (now the Royal Lion Hotel) on Broad Street. Ernestina stays with her aunt a few yards to the north on the west side of that same street. Sarah is a servant in a house located on higher ground not far away. In 1867, at the base of Broad Street on the sea’s edge stand the Assembly Rooms where Charles and Ernestina attend a concert. Dr. Grogan’s rooms are also close to the sea, but farther west near the Cobb.

*Ware Cliffs

*Ware Cliffs. Also known as the Undercliff, a mile-long slope caused by the erosion of the ancient vertical cliff face, located at Lyme’s boundary, stretching west from where the Cobb juts out into the sea. Because the slope tilts toward the Sun, its vegetation is lush and exotic, appropriate to the values that challenge Lyme’s (and Charles’s) conservatism. Here, in stone outcrops, Charles hunts for fossils. Here, too, Sarah walks. In this romantic and erotic place, several miles from conservative Lyme, they meet. Walking back from their first encounter, Charles stops at a farm. That farm, which still exists, is where John Fowles himself lived when he began writing this novel.


*Wiltshire. County in England between Dorset and London where Charles’s uncle has his estate, Wynsyatt,...

(The entire section is 723 words.)

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Existentialism is a school of philosophical and artistic attitudes that investigates the nature of being. Its...

(The entire section is 426 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

The novel’s narrative is postmodern in that it focuses on the self-conscious act of the author telling a story....

(The entire section is 389 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Fowles playfully uses the techniques of the Victorian novelist in his so-called Victorian novel to advance the action and comment from a...

(The entire section is 349 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

John Fowles has always believed that the writer of serious fiction is committed to altering the society in which he lives. While not so...

(The entire section is 435 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

Late Nineteenth Century: A new term, the “New Woman” is used to describe the population of women who challenge traditional notions...

(The entire section is 386 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Research the treatment of women in England in the 1860s. How does Fowles depictions of Ernestina and Sarah reflect and challenge Victorian...

(The entire section is 118 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Fowles believes that the literary precedent for all his fiction, as well as for fiction itself, is the Celtic romance, which focused on the...

(The entire section is 226 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

No two titles are related stylistically in Fowles's fiction. In fact, it is difficult, often, to see the same authorial hand at work in the...

(The entire section is 147 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The French Lieutenant's Woman was made into a motion picture in 1981 with Fowles securing the right to veto anything of which he did...

(The entire section is 115 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

The Awakening (1899) is Kate Chopin’s masterful novel of a young woman who struggles to find self-knowledge and inevitably suffers...

(The entire section is 125 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

Fowles, John, The Aristos: A Self-Portrait in Ideas, Little Brown, 1964.

—, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Signet, 1970.

Huffaker, Robert, “Chapter 4: The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” in John Fowles, Twayne’s English Authors Series Online, G. K. Hall, 1999; originally published as Twayne’s English Author Series, No. 292, Twayne Publishers, 1980.

Pifer, Ellen, “John Fowles,” in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 14, British Novelists Since 1960, edited by Jay L. Halio, Gale Research, 1983, pp. 309–36.

Review of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, in Life, May 29, 1970, p. 55.

Review of...

(The entire section is 299 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Conradi, Peter. John Fowles. New York: Methuen, 1982. A general introduction to Fowles’s fiction. Brief discussion of the novel’s technique and themes.

Huffaker, Robert. John Fowles. Boston: Twayne, 1980. A general introduction to Fowles’s fiction. Focuses on the intrusive author, the novelist as character, and the alternative Victorian and modern endings of the book.

Olshen, Barry N. John Fowles. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1978. An introduction to Fowles’s fiction, focusing on the basic themes in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, including that of the breakup of Victorian culture...

(The entire section is 160 words.)