The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles is our Reading group book for November

Published 50 years ago this month, Fowles’ lacerating take on the Victorians is a lot of fun

‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman is immensely interesting, attractive and human,” declared the New York Times in its front page review of John Fowles’ third novel, which came out 50 years ago this month. Since then, the book has been turned into a successful film (starring Meryl Streep) and sold hundreds of thousands of copies. But there’s another reason to read it in 2019.

The audacious conceit of The French Lieutenant’s Woman was that it was a novel of 1867 written a century later. Fowles had his Victorian characters act within the constraints of their own time period, but he judged them by the standards of the late 1960s – and made a point of telling us about it.

An easterly is the most disagreeable wind in Lyme Bay — Lyme Bay being that largest bite from the underside of England’s outstretched southwestern leg — and a person of curiosity could at once have deduced several strong probabilities about the pair who began to walk down the quay at Lyme Regis, the small but ancient eponym of the inbite, one incisively sharp and blustery morning in the late March of 1867.

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