The possessive in its title points to the theme of emancipation that pervades The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Fowles has fashioned a richly detailed evocation of a particular time and place that happen to precede the period in which he was writing by exactly one hundred years. The French Lieutenant’s Woman is not only a historical novel, providing a convincing excursion back into mid-Victorian England, but also a novel very much about history, about the relationship of the individual to the forces of a particular time and of time.
In providing a confrontation between 1967 and 1867, two moments he portrays as possessed by remarkably similar preoccupations, Fowles is intent on providing a double liberation: from the claustrophobic confines of his fictive 1867 and from what he sees as the parochialism of 1967. Most of The French Lieutenant’s Woman is deliberately set in the Wessex area that Thomas Hardy used a century earlier in naturalistic novels portraying the individual as a helpless victim of vast, indifferent forces. Fowles’s novel is a throwback to earlier literary styles in its chattiness and in its fatalistic mechanisms. As a pseudo-Victorian novel written in 1967, it seeks to transcend the residual tyranny of Victorianism.
As omniscient, and irreverent, narrator, Fowles flaunts his independence of space and time, his ability to move freely back and forth through history and into and out of the fictional...
(The entire section is 494 words.)