Interfacing Text and Paratexts: John Fowles´ "The French Lieutenant's Woman"

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2012

14 Pages



John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), a Victorian novel with 20th century outlook, is a wonder of contemporary fiction where Fowles has introduced novel techniques of experimentation and versatility of style making it a postmodern text. Fowles has woven in his oeuvre novel techniques like epigraphs, intertextual echoes, authorial digressions, intrusions etc through which the conflict between the Victorian and the Modern world is dexterously given expression. The present paper proposes to establish a link between the text and the epigraphs, and show thereby their interplay. The novel was published in 1969 but the time frame takes us hundred years back to the Victorian period, to the year 1867. In an analysis William Stephenson has quoted Cooper in this regard:

The novel’s telescoping of two centuries may be understood as Fowles’ effort to textualize, appropriate, and rewrite the nineteenth century itself. Under the auspices of that historical destabilization which the book effects, allusions to Victorian thinkers and scientists like Mayhem, Mill, Darwin and Marx abound. The narrator as authorial surrogate chooses, edits, and situates these quotations for his own purposes, and in so doing he constructs his own version of nineteenth century social and intellectual history. (Stephenson 61).

Fowles’ use of epigraphs is not merely to lend grandness to the style or just a pose at experimentation, rather they emerge as ‘paratexts’ and play an ‘intertextual’ role. To establish such paratextual and intertextual role is what the present paper will journey towards.

A paratext is a writing that lies at the fringe or margin of a text. A paratext transcends the bounds of the text and brings it into relation, either manifest or hidden, to other texts.

[…] the paratext is what enables a text to become a book and to be offered as such to its readers and more generally to the public. (Genette 1)

The paratext demands an alert reader, widely read and one who is alert to every ‘artful disruption, intrusion and lacuna’, observes Richard Macksey in his ‘Foreword’ to Genette’s Paratexts. Paratexts, according to Genette act as a borderline, is a “zone of transaction”, between the exterior and the interior and acts as a permeable membrane between the outside and the inside. The paratext gives the reader freedom to analyze the text and open up dimensions of interpretations. We may safely refer to Barthes in this regard and claim that the paratexts announce the “death of the author” and “the birth of the reader”. The author’s role is relegated to insignificance and the reader becomes all the more conspicuous.

Epigraphs are the finest instances of paratext. They go beyond the bounds of the text; sometimes is akin to it and at times deviate from it.

Unlike a preface, or a footnote, an epigraph almost always originates with a different writer from the text, thus formalizing the notion of the “intertextual event” and consciously admitting a polyphony of voices.(Bowen 69,emphasis original).

The epigraphs give commentaries on the plot and excite the reader to question the points of similarities between the text and the epigraph and its varied ramifications.

Talking about ‘intertextuality’ we may refer to Graham Allen who quotes Kristeva:

[…]any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another[…]. (Allen 39)

The intertextual resonance lends viability and dynamism to the work. They interact in the form of synonyms or antonyms.

The epigraphs become a particular kind of writerly comment upon the whole enterprise of the book, a palimpsest that holds out a false promise of direction to the reader-to the writer? - while it unfolds into the text its own prior context. As a result these paratextual voices, may, for the reader have a voice of their own. (Bowen 69)

Epigraphs play a major role in Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman . Each chapter begins with epigraphs which are not out of context but very much related to the chapter that follows. The epigraphs lend elitism to the text. It is worth noting that Fowles chooses extracts from Victorian texts to be used as epigraphs, and that the action of the novel is of 1867(Victorian); the conception of 1967(Modern).The Victorian Modern conflict is intensified by the use of epigraphs. Intertextual resonances are from Marx, Darwin, Arnold, Tennyson, Jane Austen and many others. Significantly, the man of science(Darwin)and social thinker(Marx)are posited alongside the men of fiction and poetry (Tennyson, Hardy, Arnold, Austen).The world of logic and reason and the fictional world of love, marriage, separation and reunion are excellently blend together by Fowles. The epigraphs do not generally interact with each other; they interact with the text and evoke plurality of meanings and semblances.

As already stated they are the paratexts and intertexts of the original text. In passing we may mention that the text itself is an intertextual inspiration from a French novel Ourika (1824) by Claire de Duras, and Fowles himself admits that the French novel was “the germ of The French Lieutenant’s Woman.” Here, I shall focus on a select few epigraphs from The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

The first epigraph is from Hardy’s poem “The Riddle”:

Stretching eyes west

Over the sea,

Wind foul or fair,

Always stood she


Solely out there did her gaze rest,

Never elsewhere

Seemed charm to be.

This poem connects to the woman described in the chapter of the novel. In the poem the anonymous ‘she’ is gazing out to the sea. Here also Sarah is ‘staring out to sea, more like a living memorial to the drowned…’ (The French Lieutenant’s Woman 11). The word ‘riddle’ is synonymous to the enigmatic character of Sarah. A contrast between the sea and the character is presented. While the sea represents flux, is an image of change, of protest and freedom; the land is the image of fixity and stability. Sarah standing on land and gazing out to sea represent her aspirations for freedom, her desire to escape from the clutch of Lyme Regis, very akin to the woman in the poem who felt ‘Never elsewhere(other than somewhere over the sea)/Seemed charm to be’.

The turmoil within her is represented by the image of flux in the epigraph. The paratext interacts with the main text and establishes a dialogic relationship between the two.

One aim of Fowles behind the presentation of the epigraphs is to highlight “conflicting polarities” (Bowen 73) and in so doing he presents epighaphs from such Victorian texts as Jane Austen’s Persuasion (1818). Epighaphs from the aforesaid novel is found in chapter 5, 10, 14, 28 of Fowles’ novel.

In chapter 5, the epigraph goes like this:

The young people were all wild to see Lyme.

In Persuasion, the ‘young people’ Captain Wentworth, Charles Musgrove, Mary Musgrove, Henriette , Anne Elliot were very anxious to visit Lyme Regis. Incidentally, Lyme Regis happens to the setting of Fowles’ novel as well. In Fowles’ chapter, we are introduced to Ernestina who is sent to Lyme to Aunt Tranter by her doting parents for improving her health, ‘but she always descended in the carriage to Lyme with the gloom of a prisoner arriving in Siberia’(33). While Ernestina feels a ‘prisoner’ in Lyme, the young people in Persuasion are ‘wild’ to see it. Significantly, we may take note of Louisa Musgrove in Jane Austen’s novel which bears a resemblance to Ernestina’s character and here we may conclude it as an ‘intertextual echo’. But there are differences. While Ernestina’s parents are always eager to send her to Lyme and she herself always reluctant; “Louisa, who was most eager of the eager, having formed the resolution to go, and besides having the pleasure of doing as she liked, being now armed with the idea of merit in maintaining her own way, bore down all the wishes of her father and mother for putting it off till summer …” (Persuasion 710).


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Interfacing Text and Paratexts: John Fowles´ "The French Lieutenant's Woman"
University of Burdwan
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Hasina Wahida (Author), 2012, Interfacing Text and Paratexts: John Fowles´ "The French Lieutenant's Woman", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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