Tuesday, 18 December 2007


AUTHOR: John Fowles


DATE READ: December 2007

NOTES: As fresh and intriguing as on my first reading of this book. The Victorian age is brilliantly portrayed from the genteel pretensions of Lyme to the rough and tumble of the seedier parts of London. The main characters are strongly portrayed. Would-be paleontologist Charles is from a comfortable upper class background but condescends happily to become engaged to Ernestina who is a pleasant but shallow daughter of a prosperous middle class draper. But into their lives comes Sarah, the enigmatic woman who is rumoured to have been “ruined” by a liaison with French seaman.

Fowles is particularly good on the class war and social mores of the time: The attitude of society to Sarah is shocking as is the off-hand way in which servants are treated. When Ernestina’s father suggests that Charles join the drapery business he is truly aghast at the idea even though he has no career in mind.

Sarah remains ambiguous – we are left uncertain as to whether she is manipulative and self-absorbed or badly treated and depressed. Throughout the book she both irritates and evokes our sympathy.

The other central character is the writer himself. He drops in and out of the writing, discussing the motives of the characters and suggesting three different endings. This works superbly.

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