Has there been a film version?
Yes, starring Meryl Streep. She won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Sarah Woodruff and was nominated for an Oscar.
Who are the important characters?
Charles Smithson – a gentleman who enjoys paleontology and fancies himself a forward thinker
Sarah Woodruff/Tragedy – a young woman who is called the “French Lieutenant’s Whore” in Lyme, she is quite independent but melancholy
Ernestina Freeman – an only child of a well off tradesman and Charles’ fiancee
Sam – Charles’ “man”, he assists Charles, but wants to own his own haberdashery
Mrs. Poulteney – Sarah’s employer, a very sour and bossy old woman
Mrs. Tranter – Ernestina’s aunt, a kind and gentle woman
Dr. Grogan – Charles’ friend and also a supporter of Darwin, the local doctor in Lyme
Mary – Ernestina’s personal maid and Sam’s girlfriend
What’s it about?
Charles Smithson has made himself a wonderful match in Ernestina Freeman. She brings enough money into their engagement to support both of them, though Charles doesn’t really need it as a gentleman. Charles is an amateur paleontologist and a supporter of Darwin – who is thought of as a heretic at this point in time; the Victorian era.
When Ernestina travels to Lyme to be with her aunt before the wedding, Charles is introduced to Sarah Woodruff, also known as the French Lieutentant’s Whore. Her melancholy demeanor and independent attitude intrigue him and he finds himself growing more and more interested in her story and her well being. Though Charles knows he shouldn’t be getting involved, he continues to meet with Sarah alone and suddenly finds he’s in love with her. He now has a choice to make: should he marry Ernestina and try to forget about the beautiful and enigmatic Sarah or should he do his best to pursue this elusive true love?
Why is this book a classic/bestseller?
I’m not exactly sure, to be honest with you.
Do you recommend I read this book?
It’s good, although the end is very confusing.
How did this book make your list?
I don’t remember. It was on some list or something or other.
Has it won any awards?
“The supposed great misery of our century is the lack of time; our sense of that, not a disinterested love of science, and certainly not wisdom, is why we devote such a huge proportion of the ingenuity and income of our societies to finding faster ways of doing things – as if the final aim of mankind was to grow closer not to a perfect humanity, but to a perfect lightning flash.” – p 18
“Charles did not know it, but in those brief poised seconds above the waiting sea, in that luminous evening silence broken only by the waves’ quiet wash, the whole Victorian Age was lost.” – p 81
The first half of this novel struck me as a more forward version of “The End of the Affair.” A man in a strict society is engaged to the perfect woman produced by aforesaid society but his heart is stolen by a fallen woman who stands for everything society disdains but who appeals to us as readers because of her beauty and independence. Same reason she appeals to him.
But anyway. This book does proceed very much like “Affair” except that it does it in a much more critical manner. It seems as if all through the novel, Fowles is taking a scientific look at just what made the Victorian Era click and what was wrong with it. Or what was right with it in some cases. Sometimes the scientific aspect got to be just a little much for me. I couldn’t tell what was Charles talking and what was the author and what was Dr. Grogan.
Fowles makes no bones about how hard it is to control characters if you want them to be truly realistic and often complains about how much trouble he has writing about Charles and Sarah. He even goes so far as to insert himself as a character in the book so he can examine his characters “in person.” This brings him to the conclusion that he cannot tell what would really happen with his characters, so he provides three separate endings for the novel. And if you ever read this book, I’d be interested in hearing your opinion on which would be most likely to be the truest ending.