“The French Lieutenant’s Woman is both a formal imitation of the Victorian novel and an elegant endeavour at assessing the historical and mental difference between such a story and a modern reader.” John Fowle’s 1969 novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman , experiments with textual techniques and strategies to produce a postmodern pastiche of the Victorian romantic novel. Emerging in the 1960s, postmodernism is both the continuation and development of modernism. The literature of this period represented a break from nineteenth century realism as modernist literature had, yet emphasized manipulation of existing forms and styles. Fowles interweaves the historical backdrop of Victorian society, the intrusive narrative voice and the uncertainty of multiple endings to break the fictive illusion which brings the novel from objectivity of modernism into the subjectivity of postmodernism to transform the ideas and experience of the reader.
Fowles sets his novel in context of conservative Victorian society, and his use of intertexuality and his focus on certain aspects of Victorianism, namely the idea of the “fallen woman”, create a postmodern parody. Intertexuality and allusion in The French Lieutenant’s Woman is an important element in its recognition as a postmodern text, and Fowles uses this narrative technique to provide further commentary to his novel. He begins each of his chapters with an epigraph, an excerpt taken from notable Victorian literature, reports or medical documents. This technique reinforces the idea that it is set in Victorian England, and also foreshadows the events in the chapter. For example, the epigraph to Chapter 12 is from Tennyon’s poem “In Memoriam”, “ And was the day of my delight/ As pure and perfect as I say?” This rhetorical question in this epigraph hints at Charles’ engagement to Ernestina, questioning whether his intentions are true, or perhaps only dictated by the mere need to marry. The alliteration in “pure and perfect” references Ernestina’s obvious Victorian values, which exemplified her as a perfect woman of the time. Another point of intertextuality is the reference to Victorian medical perspectives towards women is notable in the text, exemplified by Dr Grogan’s diagnosis of Sarah and his attempt to convince Charles that she is in fact ill and unsafe, an example of female hysteria. As for Charles to love a “fallen woman”, is contrary to the typical Victorian romance in which the female protagonist was a pariah of virtue and untouchable. “That girl, Smithson, has a cholera, a typhus of the intellectual faculties[…] You are not to blame that upon yourself…” The doctor’s dismissal of Sarah’s actions as an illness demonstrate the sexual repression of the time towards women, as desire or forwardness could be diagnosed as a disease. The contextual reference that Dr Grogan gives of the trial of Emile de La Ronciere in 1835 further emphasises the misunderstanding of “female hysteria”, which forged links between female desire and illness. By using frequent references to Victorian literature and parodying it’s conventions, Fowles’ reinforces to the reader that his novel is not a self sufficient text, but rather is a text influenced by literature and ideas of the past.
As an example of historical metafition, Fowles uses the intrusive narrative voice also influences the act of reading, reinforcing the fictionality of the novel and allowing the reader to compare and contrast 20th century perspectives to his representation of the past. Fowles frequently addresses the reader directly so one is constantly aware of the presence of the narrator, and this is exemplified throughout the novel. In chapter one, the narrator gives an extended commentary on the comparison between the Victorian era and his own eras, offering