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The French Lieutenant's Woman

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  47,992 ratings  ·  1,757 reviews
The scene is the village of Lyme Regis on Dorset's Lyme Bay..."the largest bite from the underside of England's out-stretched southwestern leg." The major characters in the love-intrigue triangle are Charles Smithson, 32, a gentleman of independent means & vaguely scientific bent; his fiancée, Ernestina Freeman, a pretty heiress daughter of a wealthy & pompous dry goods me ...more
Paperback, Vintage Classics, 470 pages
Published 2009 by Vintage (first published 1969)
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Mauri I was quite mature as a 12-year-old, reading books that were rated for older readers, but I can definitely say that I personally would not have enjoye…moreI was quite mature as a 12-year-old, reading books that were rated for older readers, but I can definitely say that I personally would not have enjoyed this book as much as a 12-year-old as I did as a 20-year-old. It's not necessarily about the erotic scenes, but more about the complexity of relationships, feelings and struggles with social expectations that the characters in the book experience, that I could not have related to as well as a very young girl. (less)

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Average rating 3.87  · 
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Jul 21, 2010 rated it liked it
With a title like The French Lieutenant’s Woman it’s gotta be a romance novel with a cover featuring some Fabio-like male model in a 19th century French army uniform that’s ripped to pieces to expose his abs as some buxom wench showing a lot of thigh clings to him, and he waves a sword in the air? No?

Oh, so it was the basis for some award winning movie with Meryl Streep back in the ‘80s? Then it’s got to be some boring-ass lame period piece with all kinds of proper English folk walking around wi
Steven Godin
Mar 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I happen to come across two versions of this novel at the same time, this one, and one featuring Meryl Streep on the front cover. I was always going to pick this one, as when I think of Meryl Streep The Deer Hunter immediately comes to mind, and the last thing I wanted when picking up this book each day and seeing her face was to think of Linda, the Vietnam War, and Christopher Walken's sad demise playing Russian roulette. This is afterall a book about Victorian sexual repression on the south co ...more
I think the greatest strength of this book is the utter uniqueness of it. I don't think I've ever read a book like it. It is set in the Victorian year of 1867, and yet, the sensibility of the book is thoroughly grounded in the 1960s (when it was written). The language, metaphors, and focus of the book all come from the 1960s, and the actions of the characters are all given the lens of the highly visible author- who is in fact one of the major characters of the book (much in the style of Thackera ...more
Vit Babenco
Apr 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like times, like manners… And the times were puritanical…
The copulatory theme was repeated in various folio prints in gilt frames that hung between the curtained windows. Already a loose-haired girl in Camargo petticoats was serving the waiting gentlemen with Roederer’s champagne. In the background a much rouged but more seemingly dressed lady of some fifty years of age cast a quiet eye over her clientele.

John Fowles recreates the atmosphere of the Victorian era with an enviable thoroughness and
“I am infinitely strange to myself.”
― John Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Woman


The reason I am drawn to literature, to art, to books considered to be classics, is to watch some middle-aged, bearded man put on a pair of (excuse the flamboyant analogy) skates and suddenly pitch himself into the center of the ring and pull off a triple Salchow. I love risk-taking, experimental literature. With 'The French Lieutenant's Woman', Fowles is boldly moving in a lot of directions at once (pushing down f
Nov 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Here: the sheer power of the Victorian novel, exploded & revamped. John Fowles invites you into an experiment he is conducting himself, & stick with it you must: the great puppeteer takes a story 100 years old, writes his characters and HIMSELF into the plot, right smack in the middle of Darwinian enlightenment and the empty floral vase that is Victorian Europe. So much to witness in this enjoyable metaphysical romp!

Like, for instance, the satellite characters. Yeah, I began a crush on Sam, our
Simona B
Sep 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“Because.... because, I do not know, I live among people the world tells me are kind, pious, Christian people. And they seem to me crueller than the cruellest heathens, stupider than the stupidest animals.”

The French Lieutenant's Woman is a baffling book. It baffled me and I have no doubt it has left a trail of baffled readers behind it. I wonder why no one has blurbed it with “The French Lieutenant's Woman, proudly baffling people since 1969” yet. It would be the most honest blurb in history fo
Ian "Marvin" Graye


A woman stands at the end of a deserted quay and stares out to sea. She is waiting for a novelist to return from a voyage to America. His ship comes into view. She sees him. He sees her, too. She will feature in the novel that he will one day write about what he saw from his point of view.

Historical Fiction

Superficially, “The French Lieutenants Woman" appears to be a work of historical fiction set in England in the period between 1866 and 1869.

However, it can also be read as a p
If you like Thomas Hardy, this is a must-read! Set in southern England, around 1868, Fowles (1926-2005) evokes the Victorian times and morals in a splendid way. In the first place it is a love story, but with a bonus: every now and then Fowles reminds the reader that this story is not quite his invention. His characters, he claims, have a mind of there own, and he's as eager as we to see what happens.

Now, all this is beautifully written and done, but... at the end Fowles presents 3 different en
Aug 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
All writers create worlds that do not exist – so there should be no qualms that this novel recreates a world, a very Victorian world, a world populated with its own people, all now long dead, that had its own writers and chroniclers, all also now very much dead, that had its own ideas and tendencies and fears and preferences and prejudices, all of which we can no longer now really hold as our own, should there? (Or was the gap too long for you to remember that the subject of that sentence was so ...more
Jun 20, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Once You Show Me Your Magic's Secrets, The Magic is Gone
[3.5 rounded up to 4]

You should know first off that I'm no fan of novels in which the author inserts him/herself by making crafty little comments that serve to remind me he made the damn thing up and/or to entertain the author by allowing her to toy with the conventions of storytelling.

I come to a novel to read a story that speaks truth and to lose myself in another world, and I hope the novel is a really good one that provokes me to me le
I thoroughly enjoyed this book! The story wasn't what I expected it to be at all. I expected the story to be similar to Madame Bovary and the writing style of the author to be more Victorian, seeing as the story was set in that era, but it's actually quite modern. This book made me an instant fan of John Fowles. He writes very intelligently and although he plays the role of narrator in the 19th Century, his perception is that of a 20th Century writer, which makes the book even more interesting. ...more
The writer slides a blank sheet of paper into his typewriter. His fingers hover over the "asdfjkl;" like a pianist ready to tackle the Moonlight Sonata. Then he withdraws them and gazes pensively into the distance at the grey sea and even greyer sea wall keeping its salty waters at bay. He had had a vision in his head of a woman walking by the sea, all shrouded in the cloak. Something about her called to him. He wants to start writing but something is stopping him.

Now you might wonder what it i
Xavier Guillaume
Dec 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Literature nerds like me
Recommended to Xavier by: James Sarver
Sarah is one of the most remarkable female characters of modern literature. She's a mixture of Jane Eyre, Hester Prynne, and Ophelia, a woman who has experienced much hardship, yet is strong and steadfast, like a sad statue, and slightly mad. Although, I'm torn, is it inaccurate to call Sarah mad? I suppose one could write a whole academic paper on that topic alone. She's not crazy to the Ophelian point where she belongs in a mental institution; perhaps, today we would just label her as having d ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Let’s call it 3.25 stars. This novel is basically one big gimmick. Fowles writes well and has done his research, so he pulls off the gimmick fairly well. But it is still a gimmick, and the story itself isn’t strong enough to stand on its own. This review will contain some SPOILERS.

The story consists of a simple love triangle involving Charles (the gentleman), Ernestina (his proper young fiancée) and Sarah (the mysterious “fallen” woman). It makes a thin plot for a 467-page book; what sets the bo
Roman Clodia
May 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Neo-Victorian seems like a modern genre (The Crimson Petal and the White, Fingersmith) but Fowles did it earlier (1969) and decisively. Here he gives us a pastiche of the Victorian courtship-and-marriage story while simultaneously deconstructing the genre, Victorian culture and the ideologies which both forged and challenged the age.

In the foreground is the eminently-acceptable betrothal of Charles and Ernestina, she the heiress of an upmarket tradesman (we find out late in the book that he see
Jun 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: john-fowles
You do not even think of your own past as quite real; you dress it up, you gild it or blacken it, censor it, tinker with it…fictionalize it, in a word, and put it away on a shelf—your book, your romanced autobiography. We are all in the flight from the real reality.
K.D. Absolutely
Aug 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2012)
Definitely an engaging read because of the way it is crafted. John Fowles is the implied narrator that is revealed in the end and through a toss of coin presents two possible endings to the story. I have read 1,200+ books so far and I have not seen anything like this until this book. This alone firms up my belief that this book deserves its inclusion in the Time 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century and its seemingly permanent inclusion in the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.

Sarah Woodruff
Susan's Reviews
I remember that my first reading (as a very young teen) of John Fowles The French Lieutenant's Woman left me stunned (and somewhat baffled!)
Three alternative endings! Total Mind Bender: will the real ending please stand up?!

No matter, I still loved the book, despite my inability at such a young age to understand the stylistic gold mine hidden beneath its depths. When I had to read it again in university, I was able to appreciate Fowles' modern version of a Victorian novel a whole lot more.

I have now read the first three books written by John Fowles, in the order of publication, without even trying. I love when things like that happen.

What I adore about Fowles is that he wrote these novels that seem like mere novels on the outside, but on the inside they are filled with art and beauty and some incredible genius. At first I thought this one would be straightforward in comparison to the first two books (The Collector and The Magus), and initially I had some trouble getting into the
Nov 19, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic book, and not at all what I expected. I was expecting a contemporary Victorian novel - perhaps a "Scarlett Letter" written in the 1880s. Imagine my surprise upon finding out that, in fact, its this weird, fascinating, post-modern version of a Victorian novel written in the 1960s. So cool. The author narrates his story in an unusual way; it's funny because he goes out of his way to make you remember that it's not just a story, but a story he made up and that he is telling, complete with ...more
Lars Egler
Feb 29, 2008 rated it liked it
I know this book is supposed to be all quirky post-modern/Victorian and that lots of people think it's amazing. Me... not so much. I just got the impression that the author was just a little too pleased with himself and his interjections into the story itself. While I recognize the merit/intelligence of said exposition, I guess I just really wanted a good, straight-forward fiction and not a lesson on the dichotomies of the Victorian psyche or the sly referneces to god, destiny, the power of the ...more
Oct 20, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm considering having t-shirts made.

They will either be a hodgepodge of John Fowles quotes that I find tremendously thought provoking and profound, a tour date of the freaky head-trips his books have put me on, or quite simply I (Heart) John Fowles.

I don't like this book nearly as much as the other two I've already read this year The Magus or The Collector, and I still think it's better than most everything else out there.

Part of this stems from the fact that I, like Fowles, am a Literary nerd
I know that I read this one many years ago but couldn't remember very much about it. I appreciated it more with this second reading many years later. An unusual delivery with the story set in Victorian times with a modern day twist. Charles Smithson, a man torn between his future marriage and duty to Ernestina and his lust for the more earthy and forbidden Sarah Woodruff, the French Lieutenants Woman. Poor Charles torn between his wallet, position and his heart. When reading this novel I felt mo ...more
Leni Iversen
Jan 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001books
Fabulously researched and well written novel exploring the changing social mores, the repressions, and the double standards of the British in the 1860s. The atmosphere and dialogue of Victorian novels are perfectly done. It is only when the author decides to remind us that he is writing from a later time that the reader notices. (And the erotic scenes which, brief as they are, would never have been included in a novel of that era.) I especially enjoyed these meta aspects. In chapter 13 Fowles de ...more
Jan 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: metafiction, 2016
I guess I thought this book would be weirder. It's hyper-aware of itself - its narrator, coming at you from the presentish day, keeps pointing out his own Victorian cliches as he writes them, and he makes it clear that he's perfectly willing to go back and change his own story. (The book in fact ends three different times and ways.) But he doesn't actually end up unreliable. He changes his story, but doesn't subvert it. And the story itself doesn't hold water for me: Sarah Woodruff's attraction ...more
W.D. Clarke
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, favourites
If you are a fan of George Eliot, this one is for you, especially if you like your 19C conventions (reverently) blasphemed, (playfully) messed with, and (nostalgically) interrogated & put through their paces. How did we become what we are now, from what our ancestors were then?—is what this novel asks us to work through for ourselves. And if we have gained, what have we lost, forgotten, elided or exaggerated about these peculiar (and peculiarly contradictory) forbears of ours? Why do we insist u ...more
Apr 01, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book was both admirable and frustrating. It never seemed to end (and that is only in part because it actually has three endings). Part Victorian melodrama, part sociological study; I felt like the author was looking at the characters from under a microscope. Occasionally he takes time to lecture on the specimens all the while reminding the reader that it just fiction and deliberates if it is he or the reader who is the post-modern deity who determines the story. The story has three main cha ...more
Jan 21, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to C. by: Glenda
I loved the post-modern aspects of this, which I thought were very well done. I was less enthusiastic about the story, which appeared to be told by an arrogant twat who thought he knew what women were about and who spent a lot of time criticising Victorian sensibilities while simultaneously (but more subtly) regaling us with his own, more pernicious brand of 1960's sexism. However, I haven't read enough Victorian literature to know how much of it was Victorian and how much of it was Fowles', so ...more
Jan 03, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Many years ago I was aware of John Fowles as an author and thought I should read something by him. At the time there was a lot of discussion about The French Lieutenant’s Woman and it was frequently being included in literature classes. I never got around to reading anything by Fowles back then, but I never completely lost interest in him as an author. So 2020 was the year. Early on I read The Collector and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was surprised at how readable Fowles was. For some reason I had ...more
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John Robert Fowles was born in Leigh-on-Sea, a small town in Essex. He recalled the English suburban culture of the 1930s as oppressively conformist and his family life as intensely conventional. Of his childhood, Fowles said "I have tried to escape ever since."

Fowles attended Bedford School, a large boarding school designed to prepare boys for university, from ages 13 to 18. After briefly attendi

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