The French Lieutenant's Woman | Critical Essay by Magali Cornier Michael

This literature criticism consists of approximately 19 pages of analysis & critique of The French Lieutenant's Woman.
This section contains 5,415 words
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Critical Essay by Magali Cornier Michael

SOURCE: "'Who is Sarah?': A Critique of The French Lieutenant's Woman's Feminism," in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, Vol. XXVIII, No. 4, Summer, 1987, pp. 225-36.

In the essay below, Michael discusses Fowles's portrayal of Sarah Woodruff and the theme of feminism in The French Lieutenant's Woman, concluding that the work "falls short of being a feminist novel."

The figure of Sarah Woodruff in John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman has elicited a multiplicity of interpretations: Sarah has been described as feminist, symbol (especially of woman and of freedom), mythic figure, femme fatale, and various combinations of these. The most overt conflict among these interpretations is due to the difference in perspective between the critics who view the book as a feminist novel and those who make no such claims. The issue is more complex than this simple opposition suggests, however; and I see the critics of both camps as being partially correct. I attribute the many interpretations of Sarah and the partial validity of all of them to the fact that, although she has a speaking role and is thus a participant within the plot, she remains ambiguous. Sarah is the central figure rather than its protagonist. I see this ambiguity as stemming from the absence of Sarah's point of view, which is symptomatic of what I take to be the novel's internal contradiction: it wants to assert the theme of feminism and yet fails as a feminist novel.

Sarah is represented through a triple layering of voices which includes Charles', the male narrator', and Fowles' voices. Not only do Sarah's thoughts remain outside of the realm of the novel, but the perspective offered of Sarah is purely masculine. The novel's failure to realize Sarah as a character and human being in her own right, whether done intentionally or not, is due in part to its exclusive use of male views. The ideological nature of any perspective is undeniable and in this case the male perspective, which has been and still is dominant in western culture, brings to the novel all sorts of preconceptions and myths about women. Fowles seems to be aware of the limitations of male views about women since he brings these issues to the foreground, and yet his choice of narrative technique counters that impulse of masculine critique.

It could be argued that, by describing Sarah purely from an external position, the novel is presenting an honest view of male perspectives of women and not falling into the trap of projecting male thinking into Sarah's mind. My objection, however, is that Fowles is not explicit enough and thus relies too heavily upon the reader. He seems to assume that the reader will be able to see that the novel is depicting the imposition of male perspectives onto the portrait of Sarah. I have no great illusions, however, as to the capacity of most readers to step outside of their own masculine perspectives; and this includes female as well as male readers, since both are socialized within a patriarchal world. Fowles is not totally to blame, however, since he is himself a product of that same male-dominated culture. Because Sarah remains an ambiguous figure to the end of the novel and because Fowles does not make evident his critique of male ideology inherent in the representation of Sarah, many readers miss the irony and view Sarah precisely in the way the narrative presents her (proof of this can be found in much of the criticism and discussion of the novel). Fowles' failure to prevent this "straight" reading or misreading of Sarah and thus of the novel may suggest, however, that Fowles himself remains caught to a certain extent within the very ideological system he challenges.

It may be useful to begin by delineating what I find to be the undeniable presence of the issue of feminism or emancipation of women in The French Lieutenant's Woman. One way in which the issue of feminism is pushed to the forefront of the novel is by overt references to historical figures and events having a prominent place in the emancipatory progress of women: "Mrs. Caroline Norton" as "an ardent feminist" writer, "Florence Nightingale," "John Stuart Mill" and his argument that "now was the time to give women equal rights at the ballot box," the date of "March 30th, 1867" as marking "the beginning of feminine emancipation in England," the publication of "Mill's Subjection of Women," and the founding of "Girton College." This kind of emphasis cannot be ignored and in fact fully supports the notion that the novel wants to claim feminism as one of its central concerns.

There is also evidence that it is more specifically "Sarah's emancipation" that is "central to the novel" and that Fowles is working to depict Sarah as a woman who "gradually develops a feminist consciousness" [Deborah Byrd, "The Evolution and Emancipation of Sarah Woodruff: The French Lieutenant's Woman as a Feminist Novel," International Journal of Women's Studies (September-October 1984)]. The feminism, which Fowles wants to attribute to Sarah, is apparent in the words she is made to speak. Sarah proudly asserts her developing independence when she states that she has "married shame" because there was "no other way to break out of what I was" and that as a result she now has "freedom" and "No insult, no blame, can touch" her. Fowles has Sarah create her own fictions in order to emphasize Sarah's attempt to step outside of conventional patriarchal society and to define herself outside of male fictions about women. Charles not only sees in her "an independence of spirit" and "a determination to be what she was" but also observes that she transcends the conventional portrait of Victorian woman by being both "completely feminine" and full of overt "sensuality." By the end of the novel, Sarah's words—"I wish to be what I am"—and Charles' perception that she has gained a "new self-knowledge and self-possession" indicate the Fowles wishes to portray Sarah as having realized a feminist consciousness. It is evident that, although Fowles to a certain degree romanticizes Sarah's quest for a feminist consciousness by depicting her as an enigmatic and tragic figure, the novel does assert this theme of emancipation and of Sarah's development into "the New Woman." Even Charles is enlisted in support of the feminism theme when he denounces "masculine prejudice" and the "bias in society": "They are to sit, are they not, like so many articles in a shop and to let us men walk in and turn them over and point at this one or that one." Although these words and thoughts are attributed to Charles, they seem to contain a certain "doublevoicedness": I distinctly hear an authorial voice, Fowles' voice, within these pro-feminist discourses.

This notion of double-voiced discourse is delineated within [Mikhai] Bakhtin's theory of the novel and involves the notion that the author cannot remain completely outside the text. Charles' language supporting women's emancipation contains an intermingling of both Charles' and Fowles' voices and thus serves in part to express the author's intentions, although in a refracted way. Although this layering of voices occurs throughout, it is particularly evident here because throughout most of the novel Charles is portrayed as chauvinistic and unable to step outside of his masculine perspective, so that his assuming a feminist stance is immediately suspicious. Fowles also uses the narrator's assertion that Charles "began to understand" the basis of the emancipation movement to create the illusion that the language supporting feminism is Charles' own, although it seems clear that Charles remains caught within masculine ideology to the very end—Charles, for example, tells Sarah in the first of the final endings that she could remain everything that she was if she became "Mrs. Charles Smithson" without realizing that this name change is symptomatic of masculine dominance. All of this suggests that Fowles' orchestration of the text includes his attempt to give the issue of feminism a primary position and that as a result his own voice has been inserted into the narrative.

Fowles' authorial voice thus asserts itself within the text, and its importance cannot be overlooked. As orchestrator of the text, Fowles holds a degree of power and is an essential voice within the novel. When the narrator steps into the novel as a character in Chapter 13, a sharper distinction is created between author and narrator that emphasizes the layering of voices making up the text. The narrator's claim that "This story I am telling is all imagination" draws attention to the fact that ultimately the novel is a work of fiction created by Fowles, which subsumes the narrator's as well as the characters' fictions. There is thus a layering of fictions as well as of voices. The narrator's statement that, even if the notion that fictional characters possess autonomy is granted, ultimately "The novelist is still a god" foregrounds Fowles' role as orchestrator and its implications for the novel. Fowles as author is a god in the sense that, since he creates from within a certain worldview (Western, masculine, late twentieth-century), his characters can never be totally free. The reference to the "patriarchal beard" of the author figure described near the end of the novel is an appropriate description of both the narrator as posited author and of Fowles as actual author: both are caught within a male perspective. If the novel is created within a masculine ideology and only masculine perspectives are allowed inside the text, then it necessarily follows that its characters cannot transcend that male ideology.

Although, as I have asserted, the issue of feminism is central to The French Lieutenant's Woman, it does not follow that the novel is "an almost ideal feminist fictional work". The way in which the novel ultimately projects Sarah runs counter to the theme of feminism. Because Sarah's point of view remains absent from the text, Sarah remains objectified and never becomes a subject in her own right. Everything known about Sarah is mediated through the male perspectives of Charles, the narrator, and ultimately Fowles himself as orchestrator. That the arena of Sarah's mind is left outside of the novel is a strategic move on Fowles' part. It is clear that this absence is intentional, both because Fowles is too good of a craftsman not to have consciously planned out the use of point of view, and because the novel abounds with narrative statements which emphasize this very absence of any knowledge of Sarah's thoughts from the text. The claim that "Fowles provides sufficient information about Sarah's personality traits, values, and experiences for one to understand her character and history by the time one has finished reading the novel" (Byrd) is symptomatic of a naive reading which fails to question the author's motives and to identify the means by which the author is manipulating the narrative. The problem with Byrd's assertion may be due to her strong wish to read The French Lieutenant's Woman as a feminist novel. As a result of this desire, she in effect is reading her own version of the novel, which is very different from the one I read. It is apparent to me that an inherent contradiction in the novel is its need both to retain Sarah as an enigma and to give her the status of a character; and I would assert that it is the first impulse, to keep Sarah as an object of mystery, which ultimately takes precedence.

Everything points to and supports the view of Sarah as an object of mystery. The information about Sarah that the novel slowly unveils consists solely of first-hand accounts mingled with assumptions, which are delivered by the narrator and various characters, as well as of Sarah's actual speech to the extent that it is included in the text. Many critics fall into the trap of treating Sarah as if she were a whole character, discussing her feelings, motivations, and beliefs; but I find this highly problematic since Sarah's point of view is not present. Since Sarah is seen exclusively through the perspective of others, male others to be more specific, any attempt to attribute thoughts to her mind is pure interpolation. Sarah's independence as a subject or character is an illusion that must be questioned and broken.

The novel itself seems to challenge that illusion since both Charles and the narrator overtly discuss their lack of knowledge about Sarah aside from what they actually observe of her. The narrator stresses that his presentation of Sarah is based upon an external and thus limited view: "I report, then, only the outward facts." Throughout the novel, the narrator uses expressions such as "perhaps," "as if," and "it was hard to say" when he refers to Sarah, which underlines the notion that even as he describes or discusses Sarah, the narrator never knows "what was going on in her mind." The narrator in fact sharply displays his ignorance about Sarah when he asks, "Who is Sarah?" Charles likewise admits that Sarah remains unknown to him and that it is in fact "the enigma she presented" which "obsessed him": when he writes to Sarah he addresses her as "mysterious Sarah" and "my sweet enigma." This supports Woodcock's assertion [in his Male Mythologies: John Fowles and Masculinity, 1984] that "the preservation of her [Sarah's] mystery is essential to her function in the book." The plot seems to depend on Sarah's remaining an enigma, and the novel would have been a very different one if Sarah's perspective had been included. What is problematic and needs to be questioned is the relationship between Sarah as figure of mystery and Sarah as emerging feminist as well as its effect on the novel as a whole.

Not only do the narrator and Charles assert that they know nothing about Sarah's mind, but they (like many critics) interpolate her state of mind from her actions, expressions, and words. The illusion of Sarah as a full character is thus partially created through these interpretations of Sarah's mind, which often pretend or at least appear to be more legitimate than they really are. Because the novel sustains a continuous commentary on Sarah, the distinction between what is in actuality merely a distanced perspective of Sarah and Sarah herself becomes hazy. I would in fact assert that within the novel there is no representation of Sarah as an independent being. Charles' interpretations of Sarah are so varied and so inconsistent, ranging from Sarah as manipulator ("I have been led by the nose") to Sarah as an ideal and a symbol of "freedom," that it is clear that an objective portrait of Sarah is not to be found in his perspective of her. The trustworthiness of Charles' perception is also challenged by the text, which casts doubts on his interpretation of Sarah. When Charles goes to Sarah at the hotel in Exeter, for example, he distinctly says that "he felt her flinch with pain as the bandaged foot fell from the stool" and yet later is bewildered to and out that "there was no strained ankle." Because Charles is obviously taken in completely by Sarah's contrivance, the overall credibility of his view of Sarah is questioned. Charles' inability to understand what lies behind Sarah's actions and words, coupled with his admitted obsession with her as a symbol rather than as a specific human being, suggests that Charles' perspective of Sarah is biased, limited, and thus suspect.

The narrator's perspective of Sarah, which is more all-encompassing than Charles', is also thrown into question. The fact that the narrator is quickly revealed to be a twentieth-century male may serve as a warning (especially to feminist or pro-feminist readers) that the narrative will be biased accordingly. The narrator's perspective of Sarah is thus distanced in two ways, by time and by gender-specific ideology. He asserts a certain control over the information provided in the text, and at one point he even admits to having "cheated" by controlling how much or how little he revealed. The narrator's ironic statement in Chapter 13 that he "intended at this stage (Chap. Thirteen—unfolding of Sarah's true state of mind) to tell all" reveals the intentional absence of an accounting of Sarah's point of view and thus the narrator's manipulative powers. Within the narrator's discussion of the "autonomy" of characters in fiction, his particular emphasis on the fact that he must give the female characters "their freedom as well" is suspicious. The question that arises is whether a female character can be free within a work of fiction that denies her a point of view: I would answer in the negative, particularly since most readers come to the work with a perspective grounded in patriarchal society and thus male ideology and would therefore not necessarily interpret Sarah's lack of a point of view as a statement against male ideology.

The narrator's many intrusions into the narrative with his own commentary on the various situations and characters provide an internal bias toward what is presented. This happens, for example, when the narrator follows one of Sarah's speeches with a hint to the effect that Sarah is not telling the truth, thus introducing a suspicion against Sarah into the text: "That might have been a warning to Charles." The narrator in this way judges Sarah and makes that judgment a part of the perspective that the novel offers of Sarah. In the only extended scene that presents Sarah alone (the depiction of her arrival and settling at the hotel in Exeter), the narrator's presence is strongly felt as he presents all of her actions from an external and distanced position and never gets into her mind. His manipulation of the view of Sarah that he presents in this episode is made clear when he speaks of the gestures he has "permitted her" to make. Sarah's lack of independent existence outside of the perspectives of her offered by the novel is thus emphasized by Charles and the narrator's words; and this in turn implies that the orchestrator of the text, Fowles, chose to retain her as an enigmatic figure.

It is Charles then who is the novel's protagonist, despite the narrator's reference to Sarah as "the protagonist," in the sense that the plot follows his actions and reactions; and Sarah functions as the object of mystery around which the plot revolves. Sarah is in fact not present in many scenes, even though her image is central. In contradiction to [Thomas] Docherty's generalized assertion [in "A Constant Reality: The Presentation of Character in the Fiction of John Fowles," Novel (Winter 1981)] that Fowles does not subsume "character into function or pattern," I think that Sarah is a functional object. She functions, for example, as "the mystery woman who is both a male fantasy and the catalyst for male redemption" (Woodcock)—in both cases, woman is an object functioning for man—and as such Sarah's portrait deviates from a feminist one. Because Sarah is depicted exclusively through male perspectives (this includes women such as Mrs. Poulteney and Ernestina whose perspectives adhere to the dominant male ideology inherent in their society), her portrait remains a construct of masculine ideology and Sarah retains the status of object, figure, or symbol rather than of a whole female character.

The novel begins by presenting Sarah as a figure—she is both "the other figure" and "a figure from myth"—to which is then attached the symbolic names of "Tragedy" and "the French Lieutenant's Woman." This initial description of Sarah is overdetermined to the extent that she can never discard these associations with symbol, mythic figure, and Other. She is in fact not given an identity within society, "Sarah Woodruff," until the end of the fourth chapter. These symbolic and mythic representations of Sarah offered by the "fundamentally elitist and male" narrative voice(s) are inextricably caught within the dominant masculine ideology. Sarah is thus a male representation of a woman rather than an unbaised representation of a woman in her own right. As a male construct within a culture filled with male mythologies, Sarah also "stands for 'woman'—timeless, unchanging, mysterious" [Terry Lovell, "Feminism and Form in the Literary Adaptation: The French Lieutenant's Woman," in Criticism and Critical Theory, edited by Jeremy Hawthorn, 1984]. Male mythologies are powerful in that they are "myths of ideology at work within history for the perpetuation" of male dominance (Woodcock). If Sarah is constructed of male fictions, then the status of the theme of feminism in the novel becomes problematic and even questionable.

Fowles' use of male myths about women is blatant and pervasive throughout, and what needs to be questioned is the impact that the use of these myths has on the novel. Because of his emphasis on the theme of women's emancipation, the assumption can be made that Fowles intends to use the myths in order to break them open—whether he succeeds, however, is questionable. The development of the relationship between Sarah and Charles initially takes place within the setting of the "Undercliff," which is overtly and significantly described as "an English Garden of Eden." Fowles thus appropriates the Eden myth complete with its Adam and Eve figures, Charles and Sarah, and the valorization of the male; and this serves to predetermine both the outcome and the way in which the two characters will be regarded and judged. Sarah is in this way determined as Eve the temptress, and she is depicted as manipulating and finally seducing Charles. She thus comes off as a type of femme fatale, which is yet another male symbol: Charles sees her as "a woman most patently dangerous" and at one point describes "Her expression" as "calm, almost fatalistic." The emphasis on her sensuality further accentuates Sarah's definition as seductress: when Charles comes upon her asleep, he describes her as lying in "complete abandonment" in a way that was "intensely tender and yet sexual." Even Sarah's sexuality is described in terms that transcend the concrete and seem to be connected to male fantasy, as is exemplified by Charles' perception of Sarah as "a figure in a dream." The image of Sarah as sensual is thus a symbol of sexuality and of potential sexual fulfillment for Charles as well as an indication of her proclivity as seductress.

The mythic figure of Eve is just as much a helpmate as a temptress, however, and likewise Sarah illustrates both roles. In opposition to her negative role as seductress, Sarah also embodies a potential redemption for Charles. Charles sees in Sarah "some possibility she symbolized," "a glimpse of an ideal world" or "a mythical world," and "the symbol around which had accreted all his lost possibilities, his extinct freedoms." Sarah thus functions as a symbol of the freedom for which Charles is questing; and Charles' obsession is directed toward the ideal that Sarah represents rather than toward the concrete woman, except maybe for his sexual attraction to her (but even that is idealized). Toward the end of the novel, Charles himself seems to have perceived the dichotomy between Sarah and his idealization of her, although the masculine perspective inherent within that idealization is left undiscussed: Charles "became increasingly unsure of the frontier between the real Sarah and the Sarah he had created in so many dreams: the one Eve personified, all mystery." There is thus no mistaking the parallel between the mythical Eve and the figure of Sarah.

The use of male myths in the portrayal of Sarah does not stop with the Eden myth but rather includes, among others, references which link Sarah to Greek myths, "a siren" and "a Calypso," to Christian myths, "the Virgin Mary," and to scientific myths. The last of these is particularly striking and is epitomized by Dr. Grogan's use of clinical cases to categorize Sarah. Dr. Grogan lives within "that masculine, more serious world," and his chauvinism is all too apparent. Women are objects to observe and diagnose. His joking admission to Charles that he likes to watch "his feminine patients" bathing in the sea through his "brass Gregorian telescope" suggests that both his personal and scientific perspectives are grounded in masculine ideology and thus heavily biased. This view in fact reflects the general perspective of women depicted in the novel, in which men look at women and believe that they can adequately interpret their actions and thoughts. Dr. Grogan objectifies Sarah by labeling her with the clinical term of "obscure melancholia," which limits his view of her. Charles' own chauvinistic idealization of women surfaces in his horrified reaction to the case studies on melancholia that Dr. Grogan gives him to read: "that such perversion existed—and in the pure and sacred sex." It is evident from these case studies that there is a whole stockpile of male scientific myths about women, all of which attempt to explain women's non-conformist behavior in terms of illness.

The major question is whether Fowles' use of these male myths does break them open and divulge them as masculine constructions aimed at creating images of women that work to keep women subjected to men. I think that ultimately Fowles fails to invalidate these male myths. In his book Male Mythologies: John Fowles and Masculinity, Woodcock formulates this failure very well in his central argument that Fowles "promotes a realigned version of the very myth of masculinity he lays bare" because he "is caught within the limits of masculine ideology." It is too bad, however, that Woodcock undercuts himself and falls prey to the same problem he attributes to Fowles. After a perceptive analysis of Fowles' use of male myths in his fiction, Woodcock makes the peculiar statement that Fowles' "revision" rather than destruction of "male mythologies" ultimately does not "undermine the credibility of seeing in Fowles' work a potential critique of masculinity and male power" since Fowles does "expose a critical self-awareness" and a "desire to reveal male ideologies at work." I think that Woodcock's weak attempt to retain Fowles as a critic of male ideology must be a result of Woodcock's own inability to transcend masculine ideology. It is contradictory to assert that a novel that remains caught up in male perspectives and myths to its very end can still be regarded as a credible critique of male ideology. I believe that male myths and ideology must be made more explicit, maybe even rejected, and not just exposed in order to constitute a critique of masculine ideology in a world whose values and beliefs are steeped in that same male ideology.

Fowles' failure to discard the male myths he exposes is intrinsically connected to his choosing to use only male perspectives. One way in which a male myth about woman can be broken is through its invalidation by a concrete and independent being (most likely a woman) standing outside of male ideology, although the possibility is questionable since western writers are products of that very ideology. Fowles wants to represent the development of such a feminist consciousness and yet he does not give Sarah a voice. The actions of Sarah that are reported do suggest that she is a woman who rebels against patriarchal society by casting herself outside that society and thus outside masculine ideology. The problem, however, is that the Sarah who performs these revolutionary acts has no existence outside of the male perspectives that depict her.

An alternative means of breaking male myths, for which Fowles seems to have opted, is through irony. His use of male perspectives, which render Sarah as an object, can in this way be viewed as an exposure of male ideology. I do not think, however, that irony works very well in this case. Irony depends on a clear and stable set of commonly held values, standards, or beliefs so that a difference can be seen between what is asserted in the text and what is known to be "true" or "real." In Fowles' novel, the ironic presentation of the way in which women are viewed is not different enough from most readers' commonly held assumptions and views about women. I think that many readers living within modern western patriarchal society fail to see Fowles' text as a critique of male ideology simply because readers are as often as not caught within male ideology themselves.

The two endings that culminate the novel support the claim that the novel perpetuates rather than breaks open male myths. All of the critics whom I read valorize the second ending, except for Woodcock, and I find this problematic. I do not think that one ending is more probable or plausible than the other or that Fowles wishes his reader to choose between them. It seems naive to disregard the narrator's emphasis on the fictional character of any ending and on the author's manipulative powers: fiction only "pretends to conform to the reality," whereas the writer "in fact fixes the fight." Although the narrator explains that he will solve the problem by showing "two versions" of "the fight," it is clear that any version will be biased and that in this case both endings are suspect since they are created from and remain caught within a masculine perspective. The narrator's further claim that "the second [ending] will seem, so strong is the tyranny of the last chapter, the final, the 'real' version" cannot be ignored but rather should render the whole idea of the double ending suspicious.

I think that both endings are possibilities but that neither can be valorized, because both are products of a totally male view and as such are limited: in both cases, the scene is described from Charles' side by the male narrator. Woodcock makes the noteworthy claim that in the first ending, Charles "is both apparently open to learn and the continuing victim-perpetrator of his sex's mythologies," and that in the second ending, "Charles's misogynistical misconceptions about Sarah win the day." This suggests that Charles remains caught within male ideologies in both endings, which in turn implies that the portrait of Sarah remains to the end a male product. The second ending, which is so often declared the "true" ending, in fact appears almost more chauvinistic than the first. In the first ending, Charles at least feels Sarah's "intellectual equality" and feels "admiration" for her even if he still does not understand her. In the second ending, however, Charles feels "his own true superiority to her" and finds "himself reborn" after having left Sarah for good. Sarah, in this second version, functions only as the catalyst for his rebirth and accordingly drops out of the story after Charles leaves her. The very last image of Sarah is symptomatically one of Sarah as "Sphinx." Both versions of the novel's conclusion thus show signs of remaining bound within male ideology, which explains why Sarah never achieves the independent existence as a character that Fowles tries to delineate for her.

If Sarah's point of view had been allowed into the novel and yet not subsumed within male ideology, she might have become a full character with the potential to reveal the bias against women inherent in the dominant and male ideology. With no voice with which to express her thoughts, however, Sarah remains an image and never becomes a woman or a female character in her own right. Rather than breaking open male myths, Fowles ultimately reinforces them by giving Sarah no being outside of those very myths or fictions with which she is presented—she is nothing more than a symbol, an ideal, a mythic figure, an Other—and giving readers no overt indications that Sarah's portrait may be a critique of male perspectives of women. Fowles does not make his use of male myths explicit and seems to assume that readers will discover for themselves the critique of masculine ideology within the text, which neglects to take into account that many readers are themselves caught within male ideology (although I acknowledge that readers of literature are also to blame for this shortcoming). This failure to account for the potential difficulties and even impossibility of many readers to transcend their own male-dominated ideologies suggests that Fowles to a certain extent remains caught within male ideology himself. The novel ultimately fails either to allow a place for woman's voice, which could open up the potential for woman's self-portrayal outside of male ideology as well as initiate a critique of male ideology, or to make its inherent exposure of male myths and ideology explicit. Regardless of the central position that the issue of feminism as theme takes in the novel and of Fowles' exposure of male myths and ideology, if only feminist or profeminist readers can see the novel's feminism, then I think that Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman falls short of being a feminist novel.

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