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I read this book with more care this time around and came to it in a glow of goodwill after reading The Magus (thanks BR Womabat!).

The story was engossing and I did not mind the Author arriving from time to time to talk to me (normally I detest this), because I felt that at the bottom, the book spoke to me about control.

Charles arrives on the scene, seemingly in control of his life, belonging to a sex and class who feel destined to control events. By the end, this control has been usurped by nearly everybody, including Sarah, Sam and Mary, his uncle and his new bride, and Ernestina and her father.

In addition, the author demontrates that he is in control of his characters and even allows us some control to choose the ending. Although he states that the characters can also be in control themselves!

I had a great time watching Charles struggle and relected a lot afterwards about what degree of control we have (or do not have) over our lives.

Thanks for the choice Cornflower !

PS I had an old paperback in the house but chose to download the book to my Kindle. I'm a little sad to admit this ...

Dark Puss

No cake for me and perhaps none at all as I failed to read the last two CBG, however I have read this one.

I liked this novel, but was also at points irritated. I found the modern references off-putting and although I found the author's discursions interesting it is a hard thing to do well enough not to leave this reader feeling like skipping them. On the other hand it is a well written and interesting novel, I was very taken with the Darwinian references and the juxtaposition of the realisation of the reality of species evolution in general with the stuggles of the protagonists to evolve in their views and morals. I was surprisingly upset (though obviously it was hardly new to me) by the appalling way in which women were regarded as possessions of their male relatives/husbands/the courts in that era. I admired Sarah's absolute desire not to be possessed.

I found both of the two endings unsatisfactory, both rather trite in their different ways. I had not read this book before (nor have I seen the film), but I did read The Magus as a teenager and loved it.

There are many similarities in the way in which historical mimicry and "metafiction" are used in Fowles' books and some of the work of Angela Carter. May I recommend the relevant chapter in Pamela Cooper's book The Fictions of John Fowles, University of Ottowa Press 1991.

Julie Fredericksen

I can't believe I am only the third person to comment on this book, since I believe it to be about 5:00 p.m. Saturday in Scotland as I write this.

Aarrgh, Experimental Novel. I am putting TFLW in the same place I put The Good Soldier - in the donations box.

I agree with Sandy that the story was engrossing, but only to a certain point. If only Mr. Fowles had left himself out of the book. First he is only a commenter, then he appears as an actual character - first as the bearded traveler on the train. And finally he steps in to tell us that he will be giving us two endings to choose from. Like Dark Puss, I found both endings to be unsatisfactory.

Also unsatisfactory was the lack of (any revealed) motivation for Miss Woodruff's/Roughwood's actions. Was she addicted to melancholia? Was she really crazy or was she just jerking Charles' chain because she could? Did she really hate men? Why did she let on that she was a fallen woman? Why did she keep leaving him? Why did she keep him twisting in the wind when she did - as she finally reveals - know he was looking for her.

And finally, why did she tell Charles that the existence of the child "will explain ... my real nature far better than I can myself. She will explain that my conduct towards you is less blameworthy than you suppose"? I myself found no explanation there.

Like Dark Puss, I enjoyed the references to Darwinism and science. I truly appreciated the very, very important setting of the novel in Lyme, and the all too brief references to paleontologist Mary Anning.

Charles kept referring to Miss Woodruff as a "remarkable woman". If you want to read about a truly remarkable woman, read "Remarkable Creatures" by Tracy Chevalier, a novelized account of Anning's life. Then you will realize the importance of Lyme Regis, get an overview of the debate over science versus religion and learn how women were treated in the scientific world (not well, I'm sure you already know).

And if you want to read a really good - and not experimental or frustrating - novel about the plight of Victorian woman, read "The Crimson Petal and the White" by Michel Faber.

Mr Cornflower

I have to say I'm with Julie on this one. Reading this novel felt like being cornered by the biggest bore on campus at a History Faculty drinks party circa 1971. Paradoxically my frustration would have been less intense had the core of the narrative been less skilfully handled; Fowles the novelist is so good I want to shout at Fowles the narrator to get out of the way. It is not a novel to which one can be indifferent, and the bits I liked I liked very much, but there was just far too much clever dick self indulgence.
The novel, said Stendhal, is a big mirror taking a walk down the road; in this case the author has spent too much time admiring his own reflection.

Dark Puss

Julie, thank you for the recommendation of "The Crimson Petal and the White". When I've finished reading Vol 3 of 1Q84 I'll see if my library has it available.

Julie Fredericksen

PS - I forgot to add this question: If she did deliberately set out to ruin him, why????


Ahem: !


I’m with Julie, Dark Puss and Mr. CF. I found the book to be both admirable and frustrating. Despite the title and the three endings, Sarah remains an enigma. The main specimen under the author’s microscope is the pathetic Charles; Sarah is just a catalyst to further examine his behavior. I didn’t mind the intrusions of the author too much, although it did seem like often he was saying “aren’t I clever”. I felt in part that Fowles was posing the question as to who gets to play god in fiction, the author or the reader?

I certainly enjoyed much of the book and think it is an excellent book group read, because it raises all sorts of questions and debatable points to think about. For example, the book was published in the late sixties and seemed to make the point the society had sloughed off the fetters of the Victorian era. Reading this book almost 50 years after it was written, I am not sure we have, however, really and truly. I also liked the quotes from Marx which fit in well with the side story of Charles’ manservant, Sam.

I agree also with Julie that the Crimson Petal and the White is a good book which gives the reader, without digressing from the narrative, the constraints of women under Victorian society. Another good example of this is Affinity, by Sarah Waters. But I don’t think this was Fowles’ intention. The real focus was Charles and how even he, with all his advantages, was ultimately similarly restricted and how his “species” of upper class dilettante was becoming extinct due to both external and internal forces.


I think there are at least two possible answer's to your question Julie. Either because she was, as Dr. Grogan suggested, mentally unbalanced or because she saw it as a sort a feminist triumph.

Dark Puss

Apologies (again)! Peter

Susan in TX

Well, I'm sad to report that I'm with Julie on this one - very relieved that it was a library book and that I hadn't spent any money on it. One of the most irritating things to me (which Dark Puss) already mentioned, was the way Fowles kept referencing the modern day '60s. Inserting yourself into your narrative is a hard thing to do, and I didn't think that he pulled that off with any success either. The multiple endings didn't do anything to answer my questions about Sarah, and I'm afraid I shut the book with more of a "so glad that's over" than with any sort of satisfaction. I almost quit early on, but kept thinking I would warm to it. Alas, such was not the case.
Oh well, I am undaunted, and looking forward to The Good Earth which I've never read. :) Happy weekend to all!


Initially I groaned when I saw that TFLW was to be our bookclub selection this month. I failed to read it many years ago and I hated the movie. But I picked it up and finally finished it this morning and I am glad that I did.

I agree with all that has been written. I didn't mind the author making an appearance,I was surprised at first and while I thought that Mr Cornflower may have been a teeny wee bit harsh with Mr Fowles, I found myself agreeing with him. In my copy of TFLW there is an interview with Mr Fowles and he does fit the image Mr Cornflower has of him. As I was reading through it I found that I was rolling my eyes at his answers, thinking that he has a healthy ego and high opinion of himself.

Like Julie, I found the lack of explanation of Sarah's actions to be the most frustrating. The conclusion I came to was that Sarah, for all of her education and cleverness, was stuck in the position as a mere governess. She loved the attention her notoriety gave her. No one could ignore her, she was something of a celebrity. She was noticed, dressed in black and standing staring out to sea. Of course it isolated her even more but perhaps that was the trade off for her reputation, which in Victorian England was everything, particularly in small communities like Lyme.

I also think that she was yanking Charles' chain a little because she could. What better way to feed her ego than to have a man like Charles chasing after her, particularly as he was already engaged to a rich and pretty girl with all the right connections. She had no intention of conforming to the social mores, that would have spoilt the adventure, though it would seem as though she had landed quite nicely on her feet, in one of the endings. Maybe she had let herself be found in the end.

All things to think about as there is no explanation for her behaviour. I find that I agreed with Ruthiella - that in the end it is Charles that is the endanger species, I was disappointed with either ending, it was like the author himself couldn't make his mind up which way to go.

Despite it's many faults and frustrations the book was certainly better than the movie, as is nearly always the case.

B R Wombat

It's very interesting to read the opinions here. My twopennyworth is that Fowles is only interested in his male characters (as is true in The Magus, much as I like that book) and Sarah is simply a device used to display Charles like a fossil specimen. It's this failure to write "proper" women characters that, I think, is Fowles's ultimate weakness.

B R Wombat

I'm glad you liked The Magus, Sandy. A much more enjoyable book, I reckon.

Julie Fredericksen

Well said, Mr. C!

Julie Fredericksen

Anji, you make some excellent points regarding possible reasons for Sarah's behavior.


For those fellow readers interested in John Fowles I recommend the two volumes of John Fowles: The Journals published in 2004 and 2007 by Vintage.
They show a complex,fairly egotistical and self-absorbed person who nevertheless wrote extraordinarily well.The journals cover the day-to-day toil of making a living as well as encompassing the big ideas that he explores as a writer. JF doesn't always come out as particularly likeable in his dealings with family,friends and lovers but reading the diaries is an absorbing and intimate glimpse into the life of this fascinating writer. PS Yes I did enjoy re-reading TFLW many decades after the first time and think it is still relevant in the ideas it explores.

Susie Vereker

The Crimson Petal & the White is available on Kindle, by the way, Dark Puss.
(Cornflower, sorry not to have joined in today, bt my tbr list is long and I remembered vaguely I didn't much like this bk or film originally)

Dark Puss

Thank you for that information Susie.

Barbara MacLeod

Very well said! This is basically how I felt about the book as well. It's a good story spoiled by the author's voice telling me things some of which I already knew, e.g. some of the customs of the age.

I realise it is a stylistic device and that is fine but I found I was quite engrossed in the story and did not like being pulled out of it. In the same way, I enjoy listening to the radio; I am away in another world ... and I hate it when I am interrupted!

Barbara MacLeod

Yes, I am looking forward to The Good Earth too. I just wanted to mention that I am having trouble tracking down a copy as no library seems to have any of her books. Dear me ... a sign of the time?!

adele geras

Reading all these comments, I am reminded of a) how much I loved TFLW when I read it as a very young woman. Not at all sure I'd still like it. Maybe it's 'clever clever' in a way that can only be appreciated by the YOUNG?? When we think all that postmodern stuff might have something to it...Mind you, I often quite like authors addressing me in mid-novel! I didn't read it again and I think I might leave it as a kind of golden memory. But may I still have some cake anyway?


I'm afraid I have to agree with the well-expressed negative comments by many (most?) of the above. I particularly disliked the modern intrusions. Is it always difficult to like a book when you can't stand the protagonist?
Surprisingly, I did actually read it to the end but was glad to press the button to dismiss it from my ebook list! Not having read the book or seen the film back in the day, I sought out a few extracts of the film and much as I appreciate Meryl Streep's acting talents in other works, I'm glad I didn't invest in the DVD, as just the excerpts annoyed me.

Moving on.


You may have some cake!


Thankyou for that recommendation, Jill.


Thankyou for the recommendation, DP.


It seams I'm not alone in finding the authorial voice irritating. I've not managed to finish it yet as a result, I've decided to put it to one side for the time being to read 'The Good Earth'

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