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In this novel, Fowles is interested in the literary genre of the nineteenth-century romantic or gothic novel and succeeds in reproducing typical Victorian characters, situations and dialogue. But Fowles perception of the genre is touched with typical twentieth-century irony. His thematic concerns range from the relationship between life and art and the artist and his creation to the isolation that results from an individual struggling for selfhood.
Fowles’ aim is to bring to light those aspects of Victorian society that would appear most foreign to contemporary readers. Victorian attitudes towards women, economics, science and philosophy are tackled as minor themes within the main plot. Both women and the working-class are two groups that are revealed as being oppressed both economically and socially in a society that inhibits mobility for anyone who is not middle or upper-class and male. These are the social issues that Fowles explores within the guise of a traditional romance.
The general mood throughout the novel is somber and turbulent. From the initial chapter, the mood is set. A strong easterly wind is blowing and a storm is coming in. It is in such a setting that Charles and Sarah meet. The atmosphere suits Sarah’s enigmatic personality. Throughout the novel, she is presented as a dark, mysterious and intriguing figure. The reader are unconsciously aware that the lovers, Charles and Sarah, are doomed from the beginning. In several sections, the mood changes to one of irony and realistic recording of details. Fowles tends to comment on several unknown aspects of the Victorian era (e.g. prostitution) in an ironically realistic manner.