How does John Fowles use particular landscapes and places to enhance and identify each character in ‘The French Lieutenants Woman’?


John Fowles introduces the novel by giving an detailed description of the ‘Cobb’ in Lyme Regis. He introduces Sarah at this point, describing her as ‘a living memorial to the drowned’ ‘a figure from myth’. In this setting, we begin to form our own opinion of her character; solitary by choice and independent yet melancholy at the same time.


We begin to associate Sarah with places of the outdoors, for instance, on ‘Ware Common’ which becomes a regular meeting place for Charles and herself, and of course, as I have mentioned, on the ‘Cobb’, on which she waits for her lover, ‘The French Lieutenant’ to return. We instantly associate these ‘wild’ places with her character, the darkness on the ‘Cobb’ somehow, in my opinion, reflects the darkness in her soul, and the erratic behaviour of the sea and the biting wind signifying the sharpness and dominance in her personality.


When we read about Sarah in Mrs Poulteney’s house, she always seems restrained and repressed in the indoors of the house, whether it is in the sadness of reading the bible…


‘Her’s was a very beautiful voice, controlled and clear, though always shaded with sorrow


and often intense in feeling…’


(Chapter 9, Page 61)


…or in the way she seeks comfort and companionship from another, equally as lonely, maid called Millie…


‘They knew it was that warm, silent, co-presence in the darkness that mattered’


(Chapter 19, Page 156)


‘Ware Commons’ is another place which reminds us of her longing for solitude, as she tells Mrs Poulteney…


‘That is why I go there…to be alone’


(Chapter 12, Page 94)


‘…I wish for solitude…’


(Chapter 12, Page 95)


So again, we are reminded that ‘Ware Commons’ is where Sarah seeks seclusion and we again wonder why she is such a solitary person and why she constantly seems so sad…


‘Later that night Sarah might have been seen…standing at the open window of her unlit bedroom…if you had gone closer still, you would have seen that her face was wet with tears…’


(Chapter 12, Page 95/96)


The hotel where Sarah stays in Exeter, ‘Endicott Family Hotel’ is quite detailed in the description, rather like a movie camera tracking the scene for the viewer. John Fowles tells us that the hotel was not cheap, and her ‘room’ was in fact two rooms, therefore we can be certain that Sarah is relatively comfortable, in fact, she is on a sort of holiday, the first in her lifetime.


‘ten shillings…a week…must not think that her hotel was cheap…the normal rent for a cottage was a shilling a week…’


(Chapter 36, Page 266)


The objects she buys are in a way symbolic for the things she stands for. The teapot with the ‘pretty coloured transfer of a cottage by a stream and a pair of lovers’ I think stand for her feminity. The text says she looks closely at the lovers, this shows that she is not a typical woman of Victorian England, in fact she is very emotionally and sexually aware of herself. The Toby jug stands for her sense of humour and beauty, John Fowles says that she ‘fell for the smile’. Her nightgown seems to me a practical purpose, as Fowles does not spend any time on this purchase, but simply moves onto the dark – green shawl. The book says that is was more expensive than all her purchases put together, and so I think this rather unusual acquisition is a very good example of her natural feminity, as the text suggests…


‘…she pensively raised and touched it’s soft fine material against her cheek…and then in the first truly feminine gesture I have permitted her (note the deliberate determination to remind us of his control and to stress that we are merely reading fiction) moved a tress of her brown – auburn hair forward to lie on the green cloth…’


(Chapter 36, Page 269)


Her most unusual buy is a roll of bandage, which, for the purpose in which it is to be used (she wraps it around her ankle to make Charles think that she has been injured) stands for her manipulative nature. There is no doubt that however we see Sarah as a woman standing for