The Conclusions of The French Lieutanant’s Woman and the Author’s Clear Preference

April 29, 2019 by Essay Writer

In general, we as humans like a sense of closure in regards to literature; ambiguous endings are usually seen as an easy way out of a novel. However, in John Fowles’s novel The French Liutenant’s Woman, ambiguity does not stem from a lack of an ending, but rather two endings for the same plot. At first, it would appear that Fowles simply could not make up his mind and decide on one ending, and the simplest solution seemed to be to add yet another. Upon further examination, though, one cannot help but ask why he would, seemingly out of nowhere, tack on another ending when the first is perfectly adequate and would have been more than enough to satisfy a reader. It is clear, though, that Fowles obviously does not approve of this overly cliché and stereotypical Victorian ending to his novel, and therefore feels the need to add a second outcome to the lives of Charles Smithson and Sarah Woodruff, the “French Lieutenant’s…Woman” (9). This somewhat needlessly inserted ending poses a question to the reader: does Fowles truly believe in the possibility of his first ending? If he does, then what is the point of adding the second? Quite simply, because of the insertion of the second ending as a complete juxtaposition to the first makes it clear that Fowles favors the latter conclusion over the former. In essence, he clearly “fixes the fight” between the two endings in favor of the more Existential of the two. Throughout the novel, Charles faces several difficult choices in regards to his personal life. Upon that first fateful sighting of Sarah at the end of the Cobb, Charles must deal with the conflicting feelings that arise within himself about his present situation with his fiancée, Ernestina Freeman. It is clear that everything is not ok between him and his wife-to-be, though, when he tells his uncle, “I too have been looking for the right girl. And I have not found her” (17). Why does Sarah, a woman he does not even know, seem to have such a profound effect on his emotional state? Charles feels strongly for her, and through a few chance (and a few not so by chance) encounters, the pair seem to develop even stronger feelings for each other. Eventually, though, their infidelity is uncovered and Charles feels that he and Sarah should no longer see each other. It is through this separation that the two different endings come into play. The narrator, portrayed as a passenger in the same train car as Charles, reveals that there are two possibilities that could occur, and we as readers must thus deal with both.The first ending is presented as a very Victorian representation of lost love that has resurfaced through Charles’s dedication to his search for Sarah. His lawyer and friend, Montague, relays the message that Sarah has been found in London, and Charles, upon receiving her apparent address in the mail, immediately makes every effort to go and find her. She now goes by the name of Mrs. Roughwood, and is living in “A respectable family residence” where “She is presumably governess there” (439). He ventures to the house, and his recognition of Sarah is unmistakable: “Charles stood stunned. For this was the face he knew; a face he had even once listened to for an hour or more with Ernestina beside him” (442). The two begin conversing about their past selves and the progress they have made in each other’s absence. Charles fears that Sarah has moved on from him, but she unorthodoxly reveals that this is not the case when she presents him with their child, a girl named Lalage. When Charles realizes the child is his and that Sarah has remained relatively steadfast in her feelings towards him, he is overwhelmed with emotion:At last [Sarah] looked up at him. Her eyes were full of tears, and her look unbearably naked. Such looks we have all once or twice in our lives received and shared; they are those in which worlds melt, pasts dissolve, moments when we know, in the resolution of profoundest need, that the rock of ages can never be anything else but love, here, now, in these two hands’ joining, in this blind silence in which one head comes to rest beneath the other” (459). The pair does not marry, but seem to have come to a consensus that they will live their lives together as a loving family with their daughter. This ending is very Victorian in the sense of ending on a clichéd, happy note.The second ending to the novel, however, is a bit more interesting concept to grasp. It begins as the first, but instead of Charles and Sarah going on to lead a happy life together, Charles seems to see through Sarah’s façade and refuses any more contact with her: “And he saw finally that she knew he would refuse. From the first she had manipulated him. She would do so to the end. He threw her one last burning look of rejection, then left the room” (465). This ending is a total juxtaposition to the former ending. Existentialism plays an important role throughout this ending. Charles, now finally freed from the psychological and emotional holds of his relationship with Sarah, is able to make a conscious effort to find himself, and define who he is as a person. He realizes that he must go back to America to live out his life on his own. The way this ending plays out is strongly related to the epigraph by Karl Marx presented at the beginning of the novel: “Every emancipation is a restoration of the human world and of human relationships to man himself.” Charles emancipates himself from Sarah, and anything holding him back in England in general, to find himself anew in America. In the simplest way possible, Fowles clearly prefers this ending to the former; if he was satisfied with the first ending, he would not have even needed to conjure up another one to place after it. It would not be absurd to assume that Fowles wants his novel to be an existential one, because in the preferred ending the protagonist does end up departing on a journey of self-discovery and self-realization of his place in the world.Though one would love for all stories to end “happily ever after” and have the characters go on to live long and happy lives together, in all actuality, this is not the case. Fowles clearly realized this principle, and thus added a second ending to The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Through this addition, it is safe to assume that Fowles prefers the second, more existential, ending of his novel to the first, overly Victorian, ending. Though there is no definitive evidence for an authorial preference in regards to the conclusions of the novel, analysis of the final chapters of the book reveal that Fowles must indeed prefer the second ending to the first.

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