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Publisher's Summary

At Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast, a young Victorian amateur palaentologist, Charles Smithson, is struck by a solitary figure standing at the far end of the Cobb, staring out to sea. It is Sarah Woodruff, known to the locals as 'poor Tragedy' since her apparent liaison with a French sailor who has since deserted her. Although Charles is already engaged to a young heiress, he is immediately beguiled and eventually infatuated with Sarah.
©1969 John Fowles;

Critic Reviews

"Paul Shelley's subtle presentation does full justice to Fowles' artful, mysterious tale....Never once does he lose the listener as the author moves between the past and present, commenting on Victorian customs, politics, and morays. And never once does he give away the novel's surprise ending. Enthusiastically recommended." (AudioFile)

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  • Overall

Great drama, great reader.

There was a big-time film version of this novel, with fine stars. I saw it but can't remember it. This presentation is one I will never forget. If you liked the film, which I dimly recall presents a romance between two cast members as well as the one in the film itself, I think you will like this much better. It is the most enjoyable and unusual writing about Victorian times I know of and the narration by Paul Shelley is perfection. Just be warned. This is not light reading and the ending may stun a sensitive soul. Like me.

26 of 26 people found this review helpful

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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 09-16-13

Writes with a sharp elegance that is breathtaking

The reason I am drawn to literature, to art, to books considered to be classics, is to watch some middle-aged, bearded man put on a pair of (excuse the flamboyant analogy) skates and suddenly pitch himself into the center of the ring and pull off a triple Salchow. I love risk-taking, experimental literature. With 'The French Lieutenant's Woman', Fowles is boldly moving in a lot of directions at once (pushing down fourth walls [Chapter 13], jumping forward and backward in time, throwing himself into the path of the protagonist Charles) and manages to control it all with a sharp elegance that is breathtaking.

He (re)creates a Victorian period novel and then deconstructs, dissects and parodies it while we watch. He bends into it elements of Darwinian and Marxist thought (two revolutionary Men who lived during this period, but are never displayed in the works of the Brontës, Hardy, Gaskell, Dickens or Trollope. Doing so, he subverts both the age and the novel. 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' is a work of genius and a book that teased and challenged me on almost every page as I read it.

39 of 40 people found this review helpful

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  • Walter
  • Monte CarloMonaco
  • 06-06-05

Very fine writing and reading

This is my first review of an audible book. Had to recommend it. Amazing story, remarkable insight into both the Victorian, and mid-20th century cultures. Best of all: this is truly an OUTSTANDING reader -- believable (accurate) accents, great pace and tone. The skills of both the author and the reader add up to sophisticated story telling at its very best. This is a book to return to again and again.

28 of 29 people found this review helpful

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  • connie
  • Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • 09-13-08

Clever, excellent listening

This is a must for fans of 19th century literature, and as far as I know (I hope that I'm worng), a unique novel. It's as though Fowles was channelling by turns Hardy, Eliot and Trollope with a controlled authentic sounding Victorian voice, interspersed with a postmodern wink and a nod to the "death of the author." It's a novel that I will pick up in print to catch some of the voice play.

The narration was excellent, too and suited the text so well. The narrator was one of those rare male readers who can "do" female voices - that is, distinguish among all the characters - without a silly falsetto or similar affectation.

I saw the movie back in the early 80s, but didn't really get it. Now I think I will watch it again and better understand what the screenwrtier was trying to do.

This should be a required close study for anyone who attempts historical ficition (esp. 19th century) - Perhaps then there might be better stuff passed off as "historical fiction."

19 of 20 people found this review helpful

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  • Dale
  • Washington, DC, USA
  • 05-03-05

A Stunning Novel

I have been listening to two Audible books per month for two years now. This is not only the finest book I have ever listened to, it is probably also the finest I have ever read. The story is compelling and the asides addressing the foibles of the Victorian era are genius. The narration is simply superb. I have tried reading the book several times over the years, and the intricacy of it on the written page always dissuaded me. Thank goodness I did not miss out on it any longer. A sensational listen.

25 of 27 people found this review helpful

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  • Robin
  • Knob Noster, Macau
  • 02-17-07

Victorian culture from 20th Century Viewpoint

As an audible listener for a number of years I have found that books of this length (over 17 hours) have the great potential of becoming tedious. This is NOT one of them. As other reviewers have mentioned this is a book that will keep you interested throughout, both because of the story itself, but also because of the narration. And the author's tendency to let the reader into his own mind and to understand the choices he makes in telling the story are quite engaging. One of the best aspects is not being able to quite predict what will happen next, even up to the very end.

14 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Metafiction meets realis

Fowles' novel is spectacular and the reading does it justice. It is metafiction in the guise of realism. The narrator's entries into the text and the fascinating ending contrast and play with the "truth-telling" function of traditional realism.

I'm a regular audible listener, listening to books during walks, and I extended my walks to get some extra listening time on this one.

13 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • Joe Kraus
  • Kingston, PA, United States
  • 02-18-14

Builds on Itself from Good to Great

What did you like best about this story?

I thought I knew where this was going at the start: in what seemed an interesting but conventional experiment, Fowles used the form of the Victorian novel to encompass the unspeakable passions of an early Modern one; that is, it felt like Jane Austen meeting D.H. Lawrence.I liked that part of the novel well enough, and the narration -- crisp and formal in an upper-class English fashion -- complemented it. I'd just finished reading Austen's Persuasion, so it felt all of a piece.

Then, and I do not want to spoil the wonder with too much detail, the novel turns into something altogether different. It leaps stylistically from 1840 to 1915 to 1970 in massive strides, and it rips you from one aesthetic/moral frame to another. It's disconcerting in what it asks of you, but the effect is brilliant: you're asked as a reader to experience the disorientation of its point-of-view character as he too confronts a radically transforming Victorian world view. And Paul Shelley somehow (and subtly) captures that transformation. I think the speed of his narration picks up, but I can't be certain even there. All I know is that his voice ceases to be as comforting and, at the same time as the bottom of the novel drops out, something in the overall sound becomes more insistent, harder to turn off.

As brilliant as all that is, the novel grows even more complex in its multiple attempts to answer the central mystery confronting that character. The book is both provocatively feminist and misogynistic at the same time; it feels as if it's anticipating your responses and then subverting them, too.

I knew the reputation of the book as one of the major accomplishments of the later 20th century, but couldn't know until finishing it that it lives up to it. I could have stopped half way through and admired it. I had to get to the end to realize how extraordinary an achievement it is.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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I had seen the movie which was okay, but the book has so many more layers. The entwining of the story, some history of social attitudes during the victorian era, and even some gentle humour make the whole experience a delicious feast that infuses with the sights and aromas of victorian rural England
If you have even the least interest in the victorian era, read this book. The narration is great too. Overall I award this book the the ultimate prize ...... 3 chocolate fish.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

Once I See Your Magic's Secrets, The Magic is Gone

You should know before reading this: I'm no fan of novels in which the author inserts him/herself by making crafty little comments that serve to remind me that he made it all up and/or to entertain the author by letting him toy with storytelling conventions. I come to a novel to read a story that speaks truth and to lose myself in another world, and the really good one make me learn something about myself or the human condition. To accomplish this desired result--call me old-fashioned--I need to be able to suspend my disbelief in the author's fantasies.

While I am intrigued by how writers create stories, I find it hard to see truth in fiction wherein the writer makes contemporary comments and otherwise reminds me that he made the whole thing up. I can only think of one novel in which I enjoyed this type of telling: Immortality by Milan Kundera. On the other hand, I didn't like his The Book of Laughter and Forgetting because he insisted on cogitating over telling the related stories as he was in the process of telling them.

To me, many novels of this ilk amount to a form of intellectual *manhood-measuring* exercises, whereby one author gets to show the others how smart, cute and clever he can be.

I try to come up with a good analogy, but the best I can do at the moment is saying it's like going to a Vegas magic show--knowing, obviously, it is not really magic, but enjoying it because the magician tricks my eyes into believing the impossible--only to have the Houdini show me how he is deceiving me as he performs the *magic*!!!

Here, the narrator tells a century-old story of a Victorian love affair in 1867. Charles Smithson, an up-and-comer of mainly middle-class means, is engaged to Ernestina, a well-to-do innocent vacuous young lady. Soon, he swoons over Sarah Woodruff, a beautiful and poor woman who was recently jilted by her lover, a French lieutenant, and whom the townspeople treat as a whore outcast. The story was intriguing as far as it went in fiction. Until Fowles began playing around and ruining the truth of the story for me.

Fowles gives the reader three different endings. I am not sure how I can fully spoil the ending unless I tell you....the 3 distinct endings. Yet, maybe the fact of three endings persuades you to read it since the chances are good that you will like at least one of three.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Liz
  • 07-05-15

Perfect Narrator

Would you listen to The French Lieutenant's Woman again? Why?

Yes, just to listen to Paul Shelley's beautiful reading - perfect timbre, mellifluous voice, good grasp of character and accent. For me, he is the best audiobook reader there is.

What other book might you compare The French Lieutenant's Woman to, and why?

Difficult to match John Fowles' mix of good story and high themes - perhaps Penelope Lively (Moon Tiger comes to mind) or A S Byatt when she remembers to be entertaining as well as erudite (Posession?).

Which scene did you most enjoy?

When Charles comes across the sleeping Sarah when he is out walking, although nothing beats the description of his first sight of her on the Cobb.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, too long and I wanted to savour the reading.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Linda Payne
  • 02-10-18

French l. woman

Annoyingly the chapters did not tie up so very hard to keep ones place.
Also the bookmarking did not work.
Frustrating read.

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  • The One Who Reads
  • 05-07-17

multi layered

A historical novel like no other : the enigmatic Sarah remains an enigma to the end and the two time perspectives of the story make for a fascinating and unsettling read.

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  • Ms
  • 06-17-16

Superb literature

This book is a work of genius. Thought provoking in its 'inbuilt ' philosophy of life. I couldn't get enough of it and I went through it quickly. The narrator is perfect for the story too. It just took me a wee while to get used to it.