Exploration of Selfhood in The French Lieutenant's Woman

The novel The French Lieutenant's Woman entails the exploration of Selfhood as a necessary measure to take on the path of cultivating an existential awareness. Without exploring selfhood, no existential awareness develops.

John Fowles (1926-2005)

To pave the way for the growth of self-hood one has to go beyond the barriers of the tradition, and the limitations of traditions must be transcended. If necessary one has to give a serious blow to the traditional definition of selfhood.

 Sarah Woodruff put on the mask of being a betrayed whore of the French Lieutenant. To defy the Victorian definition of Womanhood Sarah gave every impression of being a whore of the French Lieutenant. She led the life of an outcast. She deliberately lived a life of suffering. Living a life of suffering, she saw a glimpse of truth residing beyond the limitations of Victorian tradition. Sarah is of the conviction that one has to have lots of freedom to evolve. To evolve one must be ready to defy and breach the chain of tradition also. Suffering, if it heralds the growth of self, must be welcomed. Suffering is the harbinger of the evolution of manhood. Having these kinds of thought, we see, Sarah has already explored her selfhood and enjoying it.

Sarah saw in Charles no growth of selfhood. He was in the same Victorian mold of immaturity and hypocrisy. So she prepared a situation in which Charles could grow into manhood. She was simply creating a conducive atmosphere wherein Charles could build up an existential awareness. She had no intention other than creating an atmosphere in which he could fight for the growth of his manhood and selfhood. But many readers charge her for seducing Charles. It is not she who seduced Charles. It is he who seduced her. She had sincere intention to make him evolve to exist. Rather, he had a devilish desire to possess her. That is why she rejected him. By rejecting him she threw him into the world of lifelong suffering and loneliness. It is within this world of loveliness that Charles could evolve to exist. That is why he decided not to stay in England anymore and he travelled to America where he could be freer to search his selfhood. Hence, Fowles seems to suggest that we evolve to exist. Only the circumstances of suffering offer conducive climate for the growth of selfhood.