The French Lieutenant's Woman as a Metafiction

The French Lieutenant's Woman by English writer John Fowles was published in 1969. It was an immediate success. The novel is set in the nineteenth Century romantic literary genre with the plot of 1867 seen through a twentieth century perspective. It deals with the love story of Sarah Woodruff and Charles Smithson, a paleontologist and follower of Darwin.


John Robert Fowles



Besides, the novel is concerned with social injustice drawing our attention to the gulf between the rich and the poor, to the lot of women and to the male chauvinism that ensured the law, of patriarchal society.

 The given novel The French Lieutenant's Woman is not a fiction that presents the illusion of reality as an actual experience. Instead, it is a meta-fiction that makes the readers aware of the illusion. Meta-fiction means, literally, fiction about fiction. It is generally used to indicate fiction, which includes any self-referential element.  It makes the structure and creation of the novel as important a feature as its story telling capabilities by calling attention to itself. On account of such innovative style, readers see the novel as a piece of imagination having nothing to do with the immediate reality.

The novel, highly includes the qualities of meta-fiction. It, on the one hand, talks about the functionality of fiction and on the other hand talks about the structuralism of its narrative structure with the same token. There are a lot of meta-fictional qualities in the novel from beginning to the end of its formulation. Sometimes the narrator says about what his position in a particular situation and what actually he is going to do. The narrator himself is one of the fictional characters and he himself gives the information about the fictional quality to the reader, which is one of the most important meta-fictional qualities in the novel. The narrator no longer is narrator in some of the parts of the novel. The narrator himself says that he is narrating; he himself is author in the fiction. His technique of giving his own identity being inside the whole fiction is one of the most important aspects of the quality of meta-fiction. He also says that he is free to take his character wherever he goes and lies. The speaker says that he is the creator of his own character and he can control his character according to his own interest. It is also another meta-fictional quality of the novel.

 As a writer John Fowles says that he has to stop his hero from moving closer to Sarah emotionally. It is an example of writer's commendation about his own novel. This sort of commendation by the writer about his own fiction being inside the fictional world is another striking element discussed in this novel as meta-fictional level. Another meta-fictional element is that John Fowles's hero Charles sometimes goes beyond the control of the author. As the situation demands he moves on so, the author sometimes loses his control over his own hero. This sort of information has also been given by the author being in the fictional world. One of the most striking techniques used in the novel is an omniscient narrative in which the main narrator knows the detail about the position and situations of his/ her characters. This technique has highly served the aspects of meta-fictional quality in the novel.

His use of perspective of literary omniscience becomes evident when he says in chapter 13. I am free to let my characters do whatever they like to do. I am free to let them go with whatever they like to go. This statement of Fowles in chapter 13 shows that John Fowles is making cautious use of literary omniscience unlike his contemporaries. Like his contemporaries Fowles makes an experimental use of more of impersonal narration. But he says no novelists, however experimental in his writing continue to stand in the perspective of an authorial detachment delimits the narrative vigor of the novelist. Hence the perspective of authorial detachment should be avoided for the time being because no novelist can make its use continuously. Having avoided the limitations of the modernist mode of impersonal narration, the novelist has to intrude into the narrative structure. Thus, according to Fowles a novelist has to make a simultaneous use of an intrusive authorship and the literary omniscience. Since The French Lieutenant's Woman's is centered primarily round this major debate in the chapter 13, it is a brilliant example of a successful meta-fiction. He interrupts into the narrative progression. He says that narrative progression can end in the line of happy ending to cater to the taste of Victorian readers if Charles Smithson marries Ernestine. But later on he rejects this line of narrative progression thinking it as a too naive ending. Then he makes Charles break his engagement with Ernestine. Having broken his engagement with Ernestine he moves towards Sarah. At this moment on the path of narrative progression Fowles intrudes into the narrative structure and offers a set of endings. He proudly says his novel has two endings. One ending satisfies the longing of the Victorian readers. In this ending Sarah accepts Charles as her husband. There is another ending, which is shocking to Victorian readers, but pleasing to postmodern readers. In the second ending Sarah does not accept him and leaves him in the world of eternal loveliness so that he could evolve and asserts his existential self-more vigorously. The novel The French Lieutenant's Woman is framed with an open and because Fowles is tentatively indecisive in giving the final conclusive ending.

Influenced by this age and radical thoughts in circulation, John Fowles admitted finally that it is risky and ridiculous for a writer to live in the throne of omniscience. The concept regarding the death of the author has become so relevant and practical that authorship has to reject the objective, omniscient point of view. Foucauldian and Barthian concept has enabled to claim for further position. That is why John Fowles has provided multiple endings. He abstained from imposing a monolithic and single ending. By providing more than a single ending John Fowles has experimented with the nature of the ending. He wrote The French Lieutenant's Woman to discuss the traditional nature of ending in fiction. Therefore The French Lieutenant's Woman is a brilliant piece of meta-fiction. John Fowles sets The French Lieutenant’s Woman in Victorian time. He, surprisingly enough, employees a heroine Sarah Woodruff, who has a typical postmodern cast of mind. By employing a postmodern heroine Sarah in a novel set in Victorian times, John Fowles is actually producing a postmodern version of a Victorian novel. To produce an experimental version of a traditional novel is analogous to writing a meta-fiction. So The French Lieutenant's Woman is meta-fiction. So there are different elements of meta-fiction throughout the novel. The different narrative mode of fiction has presented the novel in the context of 20th century mode of narration. The used technique of narration has kept the novel in the position of a brilliant example of meta-fiction. Fowles's mode of narration has presented the novel as the meta-fiction by interring the writer into the world of fiction. After all Fowles's novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman is fiction about fiction, meta-fiction.