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Free Study Guide-The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles-BookNotes
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Chapter 1


The initial chapter begins with an extensive description of Lyme Bay in 1867. The narrator observer informs the reader that since that time very little has changed in Lyme. He compares it to a tiny Greek island, Piraeus. It is picturesque place a dozen or so houses, sloping meadows and wooded hills. From the perspective of an outsider looking in, the narrator informs the reader that he is the local spy. He uses his telescope to spy on two people taking a walk along the Cobb. The two people seem to be well-dressed and from the upper class. The young lady is dressed in the height of fashion, which the narrator says was a revolt against the crinoline and large bonnet commonly worn by Victorian women. The man too is expensively clothed.

The narrator/spy then shifts his telescope to the other figure standing at the end of the Cobb. Dressed in black, the figure is staring out to sea. She is a woman who appears distressed.


The novel begins with a quote from Thomas Hardyís "The Riddle" and is an apt description of the French Lieutenantís Woman and the reader. She is portrayed as a singular figure, alone against a desolate landscape. This image piques the readerís curiosity.

Chapter 1 gives an extensive, detailed description of Lyme Bay. The narrator makes it a point to insist that very little has changed in Lyme Regis since the nineteenth century to the present day. The narrator deftly moves between the two centuries and comments on the present day events in the same tone in which he comment on the Victorian period. That is, he adopts a rather formal, stiff Victorian tone while narrating the events in the novel yet the content of what he says is contemporary.

The narrator is in the persona of John Fowles, the author. His authorial intrusions are very pointed and sometimes biased. He comments on Charles and Ernestinaís dress sense, saying both appeared fashionable, especially Ernestina who has adopted a more provocative style of dress. For instance, Ernestinaís skirt is shorter than the accepted length, and she wears a pork-pie hat instead of a large bonnet. Her sense of fashion is alien to a place like Lyme Regis, which is provincial and rooted in conventions. This gives the reader a sense that Ernestina may be less conventional than a typical Victorian woman yet whether her adventurous dress sense matches her ideas will soon be seen.

The narrator plays the role of participant and observer. It is through his lens, metaphorically seen in the use of his telescope, that the characters and situations are wrought. He provides insight and information about the characters as well as providing authorial commentary about the setting.

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