How does John Fowles use particular landscapes and Essay

Published: 2021-06-29 01:52:24
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places to enhance and identify each character in ‘The French Lieutenants Woman’?John Fowles introduces the novel by giving an detailed descriptionof the ‘Cobb’ in Lyme Regis. He introduces Sarah at this point, describingher as ‘a living memorial to the drowned’ ‘a figure from myth’. In thissetting, we begin to form our own opinion of her character; solitary bychoice 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 andherself, and of course, as I have mentioned, on the ‘Cobb’, on which shewaits for her lover, ‘The French Lieutenant’ to return. We instantlyassociate these ‘wild’ places with her character, the darkness on the’Cobb’ somehow, in my opinion, reflects the darkness in her soul, and theerratic behaviour of the sea and the biting wind signifying the sharpnessand dominance in her personality. When we read about Sarah in Mrs Poulteney’s house, she always seemsrestrained and repressed in the indoors of the house, whether it is in thesadness of reading the bible. . .
‘Her’s was a very beautiful voice, controlled and clear, though alwaysshaded with sorrow and often intense in feeling. . . ‘ (Chapter 9, Page 61). . .
or in the way she seeks comfort and companionship from another, equallyas 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 forsolitude, 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 seeksseclusion and we again wonder why she is such a solitary person and why sheconstantly seems so sad.
. . ‘Later that night Sarah might have been seen. .
. standing at the open windowof her unlit bedroom. . .
if you had gone closer still, you would have seenthat her face was wet with tears. . . ‘(Chapter 12, Page 95/96)The hotel where Sarah stays in Exeter, ‘Endicott Family Hotel’ is quitedetailed in the description, rather like a movie camera tracking the scenefor 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 isrelatively comfortable, in fact, she is on a sort of holiday, the first inher lifetime.
‘ten shillings. . . a week. . .
must not think that her hotel was cheap. . . thenormal 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 anda pair of lovers’ I think stand for her feminity. The text says she looksclosely at the lovers, this shows that she is not a typical woman ofVictorian England, in fact she is very emotionally and sexually aware ofherself.
The Toby jug stands for her sense of humour and beauty, JohnFowles says that she ‘fell for the smile’. Her nightgown seems to me apractical purpose, as Fowles does not spend any time on this purchase, butsimply moves onto the dark – green shawl. The book says that is was moreexpensive than all her purchases put together, and so I think this ratherunusual acquisition is a very good example of her natural feminity, as thetext suggests. .
. ‘. . .
she pensively raised and touched it’s soft fine material against hercheek. . . 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 inwhich it is to be used (she wraps it around her ankle to make Charles thinkthat she has been injured) stands for her manipulative nature. There is nodoubt that however we see Sarah as a woman standing for freedom andequality, she can at times be dishonest, scheming and deceitful. Charles we also associate with many of the places we associate with Sarah,but for some different reasons. We first see Charles (and Ernestina) on the’Cobb’, together with Sarah. We somehow get the impression, without beingtold, that Charles is an outdoor person, but is encouraged by those at thesame social level as himself, that he should spend more time beingsociable, and not forever hunting for fossils.
‘Ware Commons’ is the main place where Charles goes to hunt for fossilsfor tests. He does this, in partly, to escape the boredom of aristocraticlife, but also, like Sarah, to be alone, away from having to socialise withErnestina, and her ‘set’. The way that it is described, at the beginning ofChapter 10, is lyrical and well illustrated. Before the encounter ofCharles and Sarah, there is much praise of the Renaissance in art, thescene on the Undercliff being Renaissance in texture and tone. This way ofdescribing the image is a little hint of what is to come at the end of thebook, with Sarah living in the infamous Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s (thepainter) house, a place rumoured to be full of indecency and ‘wicked’happenings.
Similarly, ‘Ware Commons’ is associated (by the occupants ofLyme) with the more undesirable members of the community, and for ‘immoral’happenings, and I think this reminds us that when Charles and Sarah meetthere, it is complete defiance of their world of which they live, and therespectability of Charles’s supposed character does not make a differenceto his actions. Sarah is the first person who has come into Charles’ lifeand shown genuine interest in his desires and dreams. As ‘Ware Commons’ arerenowned for the whereabouts of the outcasts of society, so we are remindedthat Charles and Sarah are two such ‘outcasts’, Sarah for her liaisons withmen above her station, and for being educated beyond her social standing,and Charles for his longing of independence, finding peace and escape fromthe restricting way of life in the arms of a kindred spirit: SarahWoodruff. Charles is also associated with Winsyatt House, which technically belongsto his Uncle, but is to be left to Charles. This house, I think, representsCharles’ longing for independence, and a lifefreefrommonetaryobligations. However, it also represents the ‘proper’ way of life whichCharles is expected to take after marrying Ernestina.
There is a point inthe novel when Charles visits this house, soon after in fact meeting Sarahon the ‘Undercliff’, a part of ‘Ware Commons’. He seems to forget Sarah,and their clandestine meeting, instead being overtaken with the sense ofduty and responsibility that comes with his social position. . . ‘Charles felt himself truly entering upon his inheritance. It seemed toexplain all his previous idling through life.
. . he had been waiting throughthis moment. .
. his call to the throne. . . the absurd moment in the Undercliffwas forgotten. Immense duties, the preservation of this peace and order,lay ahead.
. . duty – that was his real wife, his Ernestina. . .
‘ (Chapter 23, Page 192)Winsyatt House can also be reminiscent of Ernestina, but in a morematerialistic way. She longs to design the house, add furnishings anddraperies, and tend to the gardens, whilst Charles wants the house becausehe longs for independence. ‘She did not relish the prospect of eventually living at Winsyatt, thoughtit allowed her to dream. . .
her vast marriage portion should be spent exactly as she insisted – in a comprehensive replacement of all those absurdscrolly wooden chairs. . . she had been given no talent except that ofconventional good taste.
. . that is, milliners’ and furniture shops. That was her province; and since it was her only real one, she did not like itencroached upon. ‘(Chapter 22, Page 185/186)The contrast between the City and the Country is all too apparent in thisnovel. John Fowles shows the city (London) in all its busy selfishness ofVictorian property, such as in the way he describes Freeman’s emporium:’.
. . the yellow tiered giant. . . with it’s crowded arrays of cottons,laces.
. . seemed to stain the air around them. . .
so intense. . . ‘ (Chapter 38, Page 284)The way he describes Lyme Regis is quite different however.
From the firstpage he describes it with poetic language and this instantly gives itatmosphere. The characters that we associate it with are very much ‘athome’ in this setting, their accents and way of life typical of countryfolk. Mary, for example, is described by Fowles as being the prettiest ofthe three main female characters in the book. She is in a relationship withCharles’ manservant, Sam, however, when she moves to London, we are notsure she will struggle to retain the rosy-cheeked happiness of herpersonality in the city: ‘This idle and subtly proud young woman. . .
finds. . . banal elements of theLondon scene facinating and strange'(Chapter 57, Page 400-401)Her character is not suited to the city, we see her at her ‘best’ when sheis ‘free’ in the country with Sam. Mrs Poulteney can only be associated with Marlborough House.
Here, in thebasement kitchen the three fires are never allowed to burn out, surroundedby green walls. This, to me, reminds me of a hell, which John Fowlesdescribes the household that she runs as, and to which he sends the ominousMrs Poulteney to in an amusing fantasy. . . ‘”Make way. I am she.
Mrs Poulteney of Lyme Regis,” “Formerly of Lyme Regis, ma’am. And now of a much more tropical abode,”. . . and then she fell.
. . like a shot crow, to where her real master waited. ‘ (Chapter 44, Page 326)The railway is quite an important setting in the book, not for the plot,but for the way John Fowles uses it to tell us about his method ofstorymaking. When Charles is on his way to Lyme from Exeter, we see howFowles tells us about his choices of the plot, and even goes as far as totell us about his own character. I think this guiding of the book is ratherlike the journey on the train, a train takes you somewhere, here JohnFowles is telling us about his own choices in getting to the end of thebook.
The home of the prostitute Sarah is actually very fitting to the girl’spersonality. Even though she is poor, her heart is of a good nature, whichshe shows when Charles is sick and in the way she looks after him. Likewise, her home is shabby and fairly plain, but spotlessly clean, with abrass bed, said to shine so much it looked like gold. . .
like her heart. . . ” Everything in the room except the bed was shabby, but spotlessly clean.
The bed was of iron and brass, the latter so well polished it seemed like gold. . . “(Chapter 40, Page 299/300)The colony of Artists at the end of the book is a perfect description ofthe Pre-Raphelite movement that we can associate with Sarah. John Fowlesdescribes this house with not a lot of detail (most is given over to thedialogue between Charles and Sarah) but the little that there is impliesthat it is certainly no ordinary house. The tall building is made of brick,with many climbing flowers around it, which was entirely the opposite ofconventional Victorians gardens.
When we see Sarah again, she has changedso much that Charles hardly recognises her, as she has found a place wherethere is no fear of rejection in society. This all shows that the use of landscapes and places in ‘The FrenchLieutenant’s Woman’ is very helpful in creating and identifying character. Sarah is a wild character, and this wildness is shown through the places inwhich she chooses to haunt. Charles is a similar, but more sutblecharacter, we identify him with situations and settings, rather thanlandscapes.

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