The renaissance 1485 – 1625 The English Renaissance was a cultural and artistic movement

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3.The old woman in the window

The old woman in the window across from Clarissa’s house represents the privacy of the soul and the loneliness that goes with it, both of which will increase as Clarissa grows older. Clarissa sees the future in the old woman: She herself will grow old and become more and more alone, since that is the nature of life. As Clarissa grows older, she reflects more but communicates less. Instead, she keeps her feelings locked inside the private rooms of her own soul, just as the old woman rattles alone around the rooms of her house. Nevertheless, the old woman also represents serenity and the purity of the soul. Clarissa respects the woman’s private reflections and thinks beauty lies in this act of preserving one’s interior life and independence. Before Septimus jumps out the window, he sees an old man descending the staircase outside, and this old man is a parallel figure to the old woman. Though Clarissa and Septimus ultimately choose to preserve their private lives in opposite ways, their view of loneliness, privacy, and communication resonates within these similar images.

4.The old woman singing an ancient song

Opposite the Regent’s Park Tube station, an old woman sings an ancient song that celebrates life, endurance, and continuity. She is oblivious to everyone around her as she sings, beyond caring what the world thinks. The narrator explains that no matter what happens in the world, the old woman will still be there, even in “ten million years,” and that the song has soaked “through the knotted roots of infinite ages.” Roots, intertwined and hidden beneath the earth, suggest the deepest parts of people’s souls, and this woman’s song touches everyone who hears it in some way. Peter hears the song first and compares the old woman to a rusty pump. He doesn’t catch her triumphant message and feels only pity for her, giving her a coin before stepping into a taxi. Rezia, however, finds strength in the old woman’s words, and the song makes her feel as though all will be okay in her life. Women in the novel, who have to view patriarchal English society from the outside, are generally more attuned to nature and the messages of voices outside the mainstream. Rezia, therefore, is able to see the old woman for the life force she is, instead of simply a nuisance or a tragic figure to be dealt with, ignored, or pitied.




Representative writers:

English writers:

  • William Golding – Lord of the flies

  • J. Fowles

American writers:

  • K. Vonnegut

  • Th. Pynchon

The second half of the 20th century was largely a period of peaceful prosperity. Despite fractious political and industrial disputes and a diminished role as a world power, the United Kingdom faced the challenges of post-industrialism and globalization with the same spirit of pragmatism that had seen it through earlier periods of historic change.

Other features are:

  • England had a diminished role as a world power; it had become a high-powered consumer society, increased salaries and more free time; it has a better quality of life; and there was a rise in the level of education.

  • A more tolerant attitude to social, religious and ethnic diversity

  • The emergence of a distinctive youth culture; young people started to reject the strict moral and social codes by which older generations lived

  • A general economic development


  • Postmodernism implies a movement away from and perhaps a reaction against modernism

  • Breaks away from the idea that man can achieve understanding through a reliance on reason and science

  • Playfulness with language

  • Experimentation in the form of novel: less reliance on traditional narrative form, less reliance on traditional character development, experimentation with point of view.

  • Experimentation with the way time is conveyed in the novel

  • Mixture of ‘’high art’’ and ‘’popular culture’’

  • Interest in metafiction, that is, fiction about the nature of fiction.


This novel is based on the nineteenth-century romantic or gothic novel, a literary genre which can trace its origins back to the eighteenth century. Although Fowles perfectly reproduces typical characters, situations, and even dialogue, the reader should always be aware of the irony inherent in Fowles' perception; for his perspective, however cleverly disguised, is that of the twentieth century. We see this both in the authorial intrusions, which comment on the mores of people in Victorian England, and in his choice of opening quotations, which are drawn from the writings of people whose observations belie the assumptions that most Victorians held about their world.

Fowles is concerned in this novel with the effects of society on the individual's awareness of himself or herself and how that awareness dominates and distorts his or her entire life, including relationships with other people. All the main characters in this novel are molded by what they believe to be true about themselves and others. In this case, their lives are governed by what the Victorian Age thought was true about the nature of men and women and their relationships to each other. The French Lieutenant's Woman of the title, for example, is the dark, mysterious woman of the typical Victorian romantic novel.

Sometimes the villainess, sometimes the heroine, such a woman was a symbol of what was forbidden. It is this aura of strangeness about Sarah Woodruff that first attracts Charles Smithson's attention. The story that develops around this pair echoes other romantic novels of a similar type, wherein a man falls in love with a strange and sometimes evil woman.

Structure, style and technique

In The French Lieutenant's Woman, John Fowles does not merely recreate a Victorian novel; neither does he parody one. He does a little of both, but also much more. The subject of this novel is essentially the same as that of his other works: the relationship between life and art, the artist and his creation, and the isolation resulting from an individual's struggle for selfhood. He works within the tradition of the Victorian novel and consciously uses its conventions to serve his own design, all the while carefully informing the reader exactly what he is doing. His style purposely combines a flowing nineteenth-century prose style with an anachronistic twentieth-century perspective.

Fowles is as concerned with the details of the setting as were his Victorian counterparts. But he is also conscious that he is setting a scene and does not hesitate to intrude into the narrative himself in order to show the reader how he manipulates reality through his art. Like Dickens, Fowles uses dialogue to reveal the personalities of his characters and often he will satirize them as well. 

Fowles does not recreate his Victorian world uncritically. He focuses on those aspects of the Victorian era that would seem most alien to a modern reader. In particular, he is concerned with Victorian attitudes towards women, economics, science, and philosophy. In this romance, Fowles examines the problems of two socially and economically oppressed groups in nineteenth-century England: the poverty of the working and servant classes, and the economic and social entrapment of women. While the plot traces a love story, or what seems to be a love story, the reader questions what sort of love existed in a society where many marriages were based as much on economics as on love. This story is thus not really a romance at all, for Fowles' objective is not to unite his two protagonists, Sarah and Charles, but to show what each human being must face in life in order to be able to grow.

Charles, it seems, is the actual protagonist of this novel, for he must travel from ignorance to understanding, by following the woman whom he thinks he is helping, but who in fact is his mentor. He must discard each layer of the false Charles: Charles the naturalist, Charles the gentleman, Charles the rake, and perhaps even Charles the lover, in order to find Charles the human being. The knowledge he arrives at is bitter, for he has lost all his illusions, as Sarah discarded hers sometime before. But the result itself is not bitter. Although Charles and Sarah are not reunited, for life's answers are never as simple and perfect as those of art, they both achieve a maturity that enables them to control their lives as long as they remember to look for answers nowhere but in themselves.

Fowles has taken two traditional romantic characters, a young hero and a mysterious woman, and has transformed them into human beings.

The novel is therefore actually a psychological study of an individual rather than a romance. It is a novel of individual growth and the awareness of one's basic isolation which accompanies that growth.


Class Differences

The stringent demarcation between classes - and sexes - in Victorian England is one of this novel’s central themes and is scrutinized and deconstructed constantly. Charles, who is one of the main protagonists, is cast as a gentleman and is deemed by society (and often by himself) to be superior to his servants, his bride-to-be, Ernestina, and Sarah. He is ranked higher due to the chance of birth and just misses out on reaching nobility when his uncle marries and produces an heir.

Each of the characters is shown to be aware of the rigid class distinctions and the narrative uses this theme to undermine the naturalization of these barriers. Charles, for example, is characteristically less intelligent than his supposed inferiors Sam and Sarah. He blanches at the thought of working in commerce for his future father-in-law as this is regarded as being below him by consensus in this class-bound society.
Both the class system and patriarchy confine Sarah. Although her education moves her up the social ladder away from her father who was a farmer, this serves to leave her in the limbo world of being fit for the role of only governess or companion. The society she is born into effectively marginalizes her twice: for being a woman and for being born into the working classes.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman uses an overtly twentieth-century perspective to critique this representation of Victorian England where duty and conformity take precedence over kindness and honesty.
The belief that one should adhere to convention is put into question by the hypocrisy of many of the main characters. Apart from Sarah, who is depicted as attempting to live by her own codes of behavior rather than society’s, others, such as Charles, Mrs Poulteney and Ernestina, are more concerned about how they appear to the outside world than in acting on their desires. The sense of duty, which in some measure is shown to be admirable, has become twisted as duty becomes more valued than the Christian ethos that informs it.

Loss of faith in authority

As though to undermine the strong thematic concern that exposes the adherence to conformity in this described society, there is a parallel theme that questions authority. This is brought about in a range of small ways, from Sam disobeying his employer Charles, to the depiction of Charles’s growing interest in Darwinism. The preference for evolutionary theories over creationism implies a questioning of the authority of the Bible. Sarah’s decision to be an outcast, rather than another governess who knows her place, also exemplifies this challenge to dominant thinking as does the insertion of the author in what appeared to be a realist text.


Although the novel is firmly set in the mid-Victorian period, it also contains 20th century sensibilities and perspectives. We can see the characters both as Victorians in their attitudes and behaviour, and also as people who occasionally glimpse a different perspective/time which gives them hope. This applies especially to Sarah, who "sees through" people with a very un Victorian directness, and to Charles who dimly perceives the shape of things to come as he speaks to Freeman and when he is in America. In FLW the characters are more important than the plot - a twentieth century literary device which enables us to understand events much more because we see the characters interior motives and thoughts unfolded as the novel progresses. Plot would have been the Victorian priority; the characters secondary to the narrative. Fowles blends plot and characterisation with a neat combination of Victorian and modern literary style.

The plot is rather cleverly stereotyped in Victorian fashion - romance, intrigue, misunderstanding, deceit, forbidden love, carnal desire, betrayal and a classic "triangle" between two women attracted to the same man. There are also villains, in the shapes of Mrs Poulteney and Mrs Fairley; rogues like the scheming widow Mrs Tomkins and a brace of lower class observers Sam and Mary, to comment and make mischief.

Sarah Woodruff - a poor, innocent (yes, she is) harshly treated woman, spurned by those who are better off socially, if not morally and Charles, the gentleman compromised by his chivalry are the "main" characters, but we must not forget Tina (Ernestina - should she have been Ernest?) who is wealthy and pampered. Does she really love Charles - or just the idea of his position - his country house - her own status as the wife of a gentleman, not the daughter of a tradesman? Should we pity her or despise her? Is she a victim as the others are victims?

Conventionally the novel seldom proceeds as we would expect it to. Charles is at first the pursuer and Sarah the pursued, but at the lowest ebb of his fortunes he is entrapped by the pursued - Sarah, and once compromised - deserted. The conventional ending is abandoned and Fowles takes us on through a dislocated time structure to two different, more twentieth century, outcomes. The seduction and consequent events are described in vivid, very un Victorian detail and we are given the choice of two alternative conclusions to the action (neither are "endings") - one Victorian, the other more "modern".

One of the most impressive aspects of the novel is Fowles ability to shift the characters and the reader back and forth between centuries. The present impinges on the past and vice versa throughout the story. This creates in us the "angst" of experiencing with Charles and Sarah the agonies of their decisions and choices, for we are never allowed to become detached from the events we see unfolding. Fowles himself at times appears and forces us, with him to participate in the action, inviting us to comment - to observe - to judge and to reflect on what happens.


Again, Fowles cleverly uses a number of different "voices" throughout the novel. There are several narrative presences and the identity of the story-teller is always ambiguous. He appears (it is tempting to think of him as a male, isn't it?) as a raconteur, an observer, and a "god" figure (or maybe a devil?). Sometimes he is the author, dropping into a familiar style and inviting us to share his creative illusory process, using the "I" pronoun.

The novel begins "in media res" (in the middle of things); and events are unfolded in retrospect as we go along. This can be confusing, but is also a technique which serves to increase the suspense and tension. Fowles keeps his reader guessing, as he himself is guessing, or so he tells us. Time is played with - events are shown as though in sequence, when in fact they are happening at the same time, in parallel; sometimes events which have already happened are not revealed until later on. Most strikingly, though, we are deliberately told by Fowles that he has "cheated" by creating three different endings and he even appears in an enigmatic disguise as an anonymous bearded character to turn back his watch and give us the last, existential ending.


Each chapter has at least one epigraph, taken mainly, though not exclusively, from Victorian literature (both fiction and non-fiction). The purpose of an epigraph is to set the tone for the chapter which follows.

Many of them are from the works of Alfred, Lord Tennyson and there are also examples from Thomas Hardy, Matthew Arnold, Charles Darwin, Charles Lyell, E. Royston Pike (1967) and the poet, Clough. He also alludes to Dickens, Eliot (George), Thackeray and Jane Austen.


The novel is written in a familiar style as though the narrator is conversing with the reader. It contains a mixture of straightforward prose narrative and dialogue and the dialogue does capture the tone of the Victorian period.

The imagery is vivid and taken from nature, persistently including animals and birds - preying and preyed upon. Mrs Poulteney is described as a "bulldog" , a "plump vulture" with an "eagle eye", and Mrs Fairley as a "weasel". Charles, visiting mrs P. is described as a "plump mouse dropping between the claws of a hungry cat".

Throughout the novel we have allusions to judgement, punishment, suffering and retribution.

On a more sensuous note, flower and plant imagery is included to emphasise the gentler settings associated with Sarah, especially on the common, where the two lovers further their doomed acquaintance. In fact Ware Commons is a kind of Garden of Eden, embodying the twin connotations of innocence and sin.

Parallel to the themes of nature we find colour strongly used, especially with reference to Sarah. She buys a brilliant green shawl, for the seduction scene, which contrasts with her red (Pre-Raphaelite) hair. When Charles meets her in the Rosetti house she is wearing red and blue and is flaunting bravely the colours of the "new" woman. This contrasts most sharply with the black which is her common costume throughout her time of ostracism in Lyme.


The novel is described as a definitive study of the sexual repression of the Victorian age. There is a strong sexual/sensual element in the story and the characters react as they do largely because of the sexual mores of the time. It is interesting to speculate as to how much Fowles exaggerates the reactions and attitudes of his main characters. I suspect that he is in fact quite accurate, as we know that he researched the period quite exhaustively.

Women of the middle and upper classes were sexually ignorant before marriage - some indeed remained so afterwards, except for the processes of childbirth, which can hardly be ignored! It was certainly not seemly for a female to invite sexual activity, or intercourse either before, or, one assumes, after marriage. There must have been exceptions, of course. It is unlikely that ALL Victorian women hated intercourse, but very probable than many of them found it at best distasteful and at worst terrifying. In the novel, we learn from Grogan that at least one couple he knew thought that the navel was the point of entry for sex!! Ernestina, who is typical of the time, will not even allow herself to look at her own naked body, or permit Charles to touch her except for the most chaste of kisses on the cheek, forehead or hand. Paradoxically, she imagines herself very much in love, preferring recitations of poetry and passionate entries (idealised) in her journal to real intimacy with her fiancee.

Ordinarily, a respectable female would not be allowed any contact before the engagement was announced with a man, without the presence of a female chaperone. Aunt Tranter is always near at hand even after Tina and Charles are engaged. There would not be any real education about what to expect after marriage, either. Women would most likely be counselled to "endure the inevitable" and regard it as their "duty" to submit to the husband's carnal desires. In a society where a wife became, literally, a chattel of the husband, her property becoming his automatically upon marriage, we cannot expect any real assertive behaviour on the part of the wife. Women were subordinate to their husbands - the marriage service still contained the words "to obey". Sex was a means of fulfilling the instructions at the beginning of the marriage service to procreate (have children). Enjoyment of sex for its own sake was not a requirement of marriage - indeed it was rather an indication of a loose moral character. Look what happened to Sarah, who was presumed to have chased after a man! Some women of course could indulge themselves in sexual sport, but they could not aspire to be classed as ladies if they were too obvious about it. The higher up the social scale, the more leeway a woman had to break the rules, as long as she did not cross over the unwritten rule of being indiscreet or unladylike. TOTAL hypocrisy, but true. Neither Tina nor Sarah have the luxury, though; Tina because of her upbringing in trade and her own naivety and Sarah because she is caught between classes.

The lower orders were much more fortunate. Mary the servant girl is basic, aware and sexually active with Sam. The prostitute Sarah has no inhibitions and few illusions about the realities of life. It is only the more "refined" species of society who have to observe the taboos and keep to the rules. Who has the most fun?

Gentlemen were in the fortunate (?) position of being able to indulge their instincts with women of a certain sort. Prostitution was rife at the time the novel is set. Clubs like the Terpsichore certainly existed, where gentlemen (were they?) could be entertained with sexual shows and intercourse, if they wished. Mistresses were common, although discretion was the watchword. (Women, too, especially those of the aristocracy could and did have lovers, again discreetly. The hypocrisy of the age is legendary.) Men were expected to be experienced, but they must never slip from their position of "gentleman". The most humiliating experience Charles undergoes is having to sign the breach of promise papers which describe him as no longer having the right to be considered a gentleman. It is probable that some men, though, were as ignorant as women about sexual relationships. If the wife was frigid, and many of them, alas, were; then a husband was not likely to find much pleasure in the marital bed - off to the club, then!! Charles has had women (ironically of course he "has" Sarah - he does not "make love" to her as we would understand it) but he is not what we would consider an experienced lover. His relationships with both the women in the novel are crippled - one by inhibition, the other by guilt. We must feel compassion for him - the more so as he considers himself to be rather advanced for the age, a "new man" of the Darwinian period.



William Golding was born on September 19, 1911, in Cornwall, England. After graduating from Oxford, he worked briefly as a theater actor and director, wrote poetry, and then became a schoolteacher. In 1940, a year after England entered World War II, Golding joined the Royal Navy, where he served in command of a rocket-launcher and participated in the invasion of Normandy. Golding’s experience in World War II had a profound effect on his view of humanity and the evils of which it was capable. After the war, Golding resumed teaching and started to write novels. His first and greatest success came with Lord of the Flies (1954).

Lord of the Flies tells the story of a group of English schoolboys marooned on a tropical island after their plane is shot down during a war. Though the novel is fictional, its exploration of the idea of human evil is at least partly based on Golding’s experience with the real-life violence and brutality of World War II. Free from the rules and structures of civilization and society, the boys on the island inLord of the Flies descend into savagery. As the boys splinter into factions, some behave peacefully and work together to maintain order and achieve common goals, while others rebel and seek only anarchy and violence. In his portrayal of the small world of the island, Golding paints a broader portrait of the fundamental human struggle between the civilizing instinct—the impulse to obey rules, behave morally, and act lawfully—and the savage instinct—the impulse to seek brute power over others, act selfishly, scorn moral rules, and indulge in violence.

Golding employs a relatively straightforward writing style in Lord of the Flies, one that avoids highly poetic language, lengthy description, and philosophical interludes. Much of the novel is allegorical, meaning that the characters and objects in the novel are infused with symbolic significance that conveys the novel’s central themes and ideas.

During the 1950s and 1960s, many readings of the novel claimed that Lord of the Flies dramatizes the history of civilization. Some believed that the novel explores fundamental religious issues, such as original sin and the nature of good and evil. Others approached Lord of the Flies through the theories of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, who taught that the human mind was the site of a constant battle among different impulses—the id (instinctual needs and desires), the ego (the conscious, rational mind), and the superego (the sense of conscience and morality). Still others maintained that Golding wrote the novel as a criticism of the political and social institutions of the West. Ultimately, there is some validity to each of these different readings and interpretations of Lord of the Flies.

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