Thursday, February 5, 2009

February Book - The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles

The blurb on the back of this book says that "Not only is it the epic love story of two people of insight and imagination seeking escape from the cant and tyranny of their age, The French Lieutenant's Woman is also a brilliantly sustained allegory of the decline of the twentieth-century passion for freedom"

Dearie me, we have had a run of them lately, haven't we? Is it just coincidence that this book is set near the Chesil Bank (see p232) or did Ian McEwan (On Chesil Beach) take his inspiration from this book? That would also account for the multiple endings and author-narration in Atonement.

Let's hope that next month is a page-turner.

(Of course, if your viewpoint differs from this, feel free to post about it!)

Here are some discussion points I have adapted from and some adapted from their list of generic questions

  1. Overall—how did you experience the book while reading it? Were you immediately drawn into the story—or did it take a while? Did the book intrigue, amuse, disturb, alienate, or irritate, you? Who skipped ahead to the ending? Who was waiting to watch the movie?
  2. Charles Smithson (Fowles is playing here with James Smithson, the founder of the Smithsonian museum) is hunting fossils and meditating on Darwin's challenge to the old scientific order when he stumbles upon a new species—Sarah Woodruff. How does the idea of a new vs. old order pervade this book in terms of its characters and in terms of Fowles's reworking of fiction?
  3. What is your attitude toward the book's different endings? What is Fowles trying to do? Which ending do you prefer or is there another ending you wanted to read? What endings are possible in a love story...a happy ending, a tragic ending, or boring together-forever future...or something else?
  4. Are you willing to give up on a narrator's or writer's authority to control events of a story? Are you comfortable or uncomfortable with that idea? You might also consider Ian McEwan's Atonement—how that story also offers competing versions of "reality."
  5. Freedom from societal conventions is an overriding theme in this novel. How do the each of the characters respond to the social constraints of Victorian society? How does Fowles, as an author, confront the constraints of traditional storytelling?
  6. Discuss the characteristics of Charles, Tina, and Sarah. Is Charles worthy of Sarah?
  7. Were there any other characters that caught your fancy?
  8. Can you pick out a passage that strikes you as particularly profound or interesting?