Biswas 1 Shruti Biswas
19 November, 2018
Identifying the Patterns of Time and Space in John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman
Space and time, their immensity and their limitations, has been fascinating people all around the world. Issues pertaining to the concept of space and time have indeed been pivotal to philosophy from its very inception. The concept of ‘Space-time’ or ‘Chronotope’ has been increasingly used instead of just temporal or spatial analysis of narratives. According to Bakhtin, “The Chronotope is the fusion of temporal and spatial indicators in the narrative” (The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays 84). Literary time is displayed in a certain way in accordance with the literary trend, genre, individual author’s style and the type of a text. Temporal structure, literary time and plot development are connected and attached to each other in literary texts of different types. Literary time is different from the real one due to plot dynamics, text characters and description of events. Ricoeur in his book Time and Narrative states that, “The activity of narrating a story correlates with the temporal character of human experience. Thus, time is articulated through a narrative mode, while narrative acquires its full meaning when embedded in temporal existence” (50).
In John Fowles’ novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman, the features of time and space seem to be oriented towards the correspondence with social rules, norms and values. The emotional repression, unfulfilled dreams and thwarted ideals are to a great extent reflected in the notion of space and time in the novel. These desires are representations of achieving freedom and the very existence of the individuals living in the society. Bakhtin in his essay acclaims that “Each of the novels analyzed displays its chronotope, intersecting space and time, exposing the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature” (The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays 84). Fowles portrays the Victorian space at a time of great social upheaval and vicissitude by including characters from all social castes in his novel. Space seems to be restricted to the interior, from which the main characters are impelled to the constrictions of the society. The
characters in this novel appear to have created a space assigned by the walls of the society and this sort of imprisonment is further constituted through the obstruction of movement in the open space.
Fowles’ treatment of space and place in The French Lieutenant’s Woman
Role of space within the novel form have been examined by many literary critics for locating the settings of novels that can only operate in specific places. Space is an internal force that shapes the novel’s plot and structure. Fowles employs the setting of his novel in England and his world is of the interiors in relation to space and place. The action of the story unfolds in Lyme Bay Cobb, Lyme Regis and then to many other places like London, Exeter, New Orleans and Dorset. Almost all the major characters in the novel experiences embarrassment, expectations, anger, agitation, existential crisis and discomfort in small but very intense spaces. The social boundaries and spaces are of utmost importance to the individuals as they impose an order for acting in the social environment accordingly. A. Giddens writes, “We can only grasp time and space in terms of the relations of things and events; they are the modes in which relations between objects and events are expressed” (A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism 31). This novel estimates that the public space or the social space is stifling for individuals like Charles Smithson and Sarah Woodruff. It mainly emphasizes the conflict that why people should follow the physical space imposed by traditions and customs. The opening sentence determines the temporal location of the action:
An easterly is the most disagreeable wind in Lyme Bay— Lyme Bay being that largest bite from the underside of England’s outstretched south-western 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 (The French Lieutenant’s Woman 1).
The narrative technique establishes a feeling of magnitude and installs the reader into the fictional world of Fowles’ story. However, the events related to the story of the novel might be influenced by Fowles’ own residence in Lyme, 1967, the year of the novel’s origin. With the charming system of roads of Lyme Regis, its paths, streets, grey cliffs masked by dense
woods, wild engulfing channel waters and caves evokes the reader to feel a gradual process of engagement into an imaginary life-like world.
As the plot of the story proceeds, it can be found out that the individuals Charles and Sarah constantly strive to achieve existential freedom throughout the novel. The aspirations of Charles and Sarah for the freedom of life’s movement is integrated with the spiritual and psychological requirement to change the Victorian practice, which they regard limiting the direction of individual spaces in their lives. There are multiple spaces to create freedom for the self and the junction of these spaces construct an intertwined network that heads towards the transcendences of self. Sarah feels completely out of place in the society and she wishes to make it appear that she is living as the fallen- woman in the society. She accepts the fact that her choice to marry Shame, by following the French lieutenant, gives her liberation that other people cannot comprehend: “What has kept me alive is my shame, my knowing that I am truly not like other woman and I think I have a freedom they cannot understand” (The French Lieutenant’s Woman 171). Sarah uses another sense of falling and converts the falling action of a ‘whore’ woman into freedom.
On the other hand, Charles Smithson confronts himself and estimates his own life in an underground of interior space. He evaluates in the spatial imagery of his own instant situation and about the truth that is essential for his survival in the dark labyrinths of life. This novel combines the idea of time with the image of space and man can live only in present time to delve into the strange and dark labyrinths of life. So, time and life are assumed to be an underground room of present existence. Charles advances through the inner space to an existential junction in a series of confrontation scenes. His experiences through his inner space of existentialism are an intellectual and emotional journey of transference as a victim of the Victorian age. Charles and Sarah do not communicate with each other at all in their first meeting. Next, it can be noticed that Charles confronts her on a deserted place where she was sleeping. When they meet another time, he begins to feel the gravity of her. After that, their meeting in the under cliff occurs as Charles looks for fossilized tests and suddenly finds her staring at him. Therefore, gradually Charles emerges as a mutation away from the conventions and organized church morality into an existential, humanistic and realistic person. Consequently, he comes out from this dark, empty, inner space into a distinct free man of his own identity and reality.
Fowles’ technique of dislocating the Time in The French Lieutenant’s Woman
The novelistic structure and narrative devices in Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman challenge readers by stressing on the diverse forms of time. This novel focuses on the inconsistent nature of time, like the temporal flux, instability, and illusion. Fowles creates a theme around this concept of time by complicating the temporal representations in ways that disorient readers and asks what readers ‘know’ about time. The plot of the novel escorts the readers in identifying their disorientation and addressing their confusion. Susana Onega and Jose Landa have defined narrative as “the semiotic representation of a series of events meaningfully connected in a temporal and causal way” (Narratology: An Introduction 3). Fowles’ life works displays a dedication to readers’ engagement and heuristic discovery by employing Post-modernist techniques that engage in history and exhibits relevance to contemporary readers’ time. Time in the novel can be divided into four distinct stages or levels, that is the time of the narrated events in 1860s, the next being the century between the time of narration and the time of narrated events, the third stage of time can be the diverse references to art and literature in the novel and the last being the time of fossils and nature. Time is created in order to ‘fit’ the duration onto space. According to Bergson, “The duration assumes the illusory form of homogeneous medium, the connecting link between space and duration is simultaneity, which might be defined as the intersection of time and space” (Time and Free Will 110).
The novel is both a nineteenth-century and a twentieth-century novel. Fowles challenges the expectations of time by incorporating the conflation of time and the co-existence of two centuries. Thus, in this way he dislocates time in his novel by questioning and subverting expectations of time. This enhances the readers to recognize their expectations of novels and their discomforts when he restructures the novel. Readers expect certain boundaries, and because Fowles’ novel depends greatly upon the Victorian setting, the inclusion of the modern disorients, because it fails to uphold temporal and realistic boundaries. It can be assumed that the references to the historical entities points to a relationship between history’s real time and the characters, thereby blurring the relationship between the characters and history. Fowles’ references to Victorian entities blur the distinction between the characters and the historical time. This enables the characters to allow a place in real historical time with the real historical referents. The narrator in the novel
chooses to write in a discourse unsuitable with the historical time, and yet Fowles’ representation is more accurate of the historical time. He shows this disjointedness between the historical truth and the historical representation by applying the time-gap between the nineteenth-century Victorians and readers. He gazes on how history is an endeavour by humanity to make sense of time, and his frequent shifting between historical perspectives disorients. He reveals the unbounded nature of universal faults that periods throughout time and illustrates the petrified time as a consequence for Charles if he does not act as the Existentialist.
Fowles tries to generate a space for his characters by providing them freedom for steeping out of their interior spaces. The evolutionary characteristics of Charles and Sarah break through the boundaries of the Victorian social infrastructure. They continuously define and redefine the constraining boundaries of their own individual impressions. The most interesting feature of the novel is Fowles’ capacity to shift the characters and reader back and forth between centuries. The readers are consciously told by Fowles that he has ‘cheated’ by concluding three different endings and he even appears in the novel as one character, who turn back his watch and gives the last existential endings. Fowles keeps his reader guessing as if he himself is guessing. This technique gives way to participate in shaping the work and this enables each reader the freedom to choose the ending he or she likes. There are several narrative presents in the novel and the identity is always ambiguous and Fowles very craftily uses number of ‘voices’ throughout the novel. This novel dramatizes many of the social structures of Victorian England, stressing on the great changes in social issues related to the emergence of a wealthy and powerful commercial class, the demise of the aristocracy and the beginnings of female emancipation.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin. Ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson ; M. Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981. Print.
Bergson, H. Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness. Trans. F. L. Pogson. Mineola: Dover Publications Inc., 2001. Print.
Fowles, J. The French Lieutenant’s Woman. London: Jonathan Cape and Co., 1969. Print.
Giddens, A. A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism, Volume 1, Power, Property and the Stage. London: Macmillan, 1981. Print.
Onega, Susana and Landa. G.A. Jose, Narratology: An Introduction, New York: Longman, 1996. Print.
Ricoeur, P. Time and Narrative. Volume 1. Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press, 1984. Print.