The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles On page 316 of the novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman author John Fowles briefly interrupts the fiction to discuss with the reader his role as a novelist. He has come up with two very different endings to the novel and wishes to share both with his readers. However, he cannot give two storyline endings simultaneously, and if one comes before another, the final chapter will seem more potent than the first. In trying not to side with any particular characters he decides on a coin toss to decide which conclusion to give last. At this point Charles is on a train, and Fowles considers leaving him there to allow the reader the opportunity devise their own conclusion for the novel.
I can only assume that Fowles came up with both endings at roughly the same time, and each of them seemed as valid an ending as the other to him. Traditionally, it would have been up to him to chose one ending and make it final. However it seems he was not able, or did not want to chose just one of the endings to the novel. It would seem that Fowles is trying to be fair to all of the characters by including the various endings which satisfy all of them. Fowles comments that the job of a novelist is “to put two conflicting wants in the ring and describe the fight”, which is essentially what he has done.
However it is hard to decide for whom to fix the fight in favor of when one owns both fighters. Fowles also briefly mentions allowing “freedom of characters” in his writing. This concept is somewhat vague. To allow freedom of characters is to essentially allow the characters to do anything that the author thinks of. Why would a character ever not be able to do whatever the author thinks of ? There are no written rules that authors must conform to while writing a novel about how characters must behave, and that a character must stay in character.
The identity of the character is constantly changing as the novel progresses, constantly being updated since the reader has only a brief glimpse into the life of a character in the novel. I think it would be quite rare for an author to not allow his characters freedom (unless of course he is living in a country under dictatorship or communism, but that doesn’t count because the author doesn’t have freedom either so why should his characters). “The chief argument of fight fixing is to show one’s readers what one thinks of the world around one”. The author must fix the fight in favor of one side to make the writing a novel, to create the story with one’s views on the world implanted into it. Fowles however did not live in the world he is fixing the fight in and can only know about it from other readings or indirect information.
Fowles describes a story that has supposedly taken place over a century ago, and shows several views of another world by giving the novel two separate endings. Through this Fowles shows two separate views , by giving us two separate endings, which essentially changes his entire outlook on the world from one ending to another. One is more optimistic than the other, so he gives us an optimistic look at the world as well as a pessimistic view of the world in which the novel unfolds. The bulk of Fowles comments on what a novelist should be are somewhat contradictory to what he has done with his novel. He has said that it is the job of the author to describe the conflict after having chosen the outcome. However, Fowles himself seems to play quite an active role in The French Lieutenant’s Woman , often jumping in to give modern day references such as in the case of Mrs. Poultney and the Gestapo.
I believe this kind of writing is very beneficial for the reader. If the author has enough information about an era to convincingly write about it, and make references to modern times, it seems to give the reader a better understanding of the novel and make them feel more involved. Although Fowles has said that his job is simply to describe the fight it is somewhat more interesting when he slips back into the 20th century. In the many places in the novel when Fowles jumps in to the novel to explain or further describe something, he often gives away that even he does not know what is going to happen next. It is asthough he is discovering right along with the reader, as he imagines it the reader reads it.
I writing in this style may be beneficial to the novel. In this way the other does sub-consciously bias the novel towards the protagonist or antagonist, but makes the conflict seem realistic enough that it’s not beyond the realm of possibility for either of the sides to take control and “win” the novel. Through this style of writing, the novel has a more lifelike feel to it because people don’t get inside tips from an other as they live their real lives. Fowles seems to believe that the novelist should not be thinking or intentionally creating a plot, but rather to let one unfold and simply describe it. He makes it out to be as though authors have a peep-hole to another dimension though which they watch and write down everything they see.
Their job is simply to fix and convincingly report on a fight without showing too much bias for one side or the other as to not make it too obvious for whom the fight has been fixed. His views of what a novelist should be seem quite unique and somewhat idealistic.