The Book : The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles

An easterly is the most disagreeable wind in Lyme Bay–Lyme Bay being that largest bite from the underside of England’s outstretched southwestern leg–and a person of curiosity could at once have deduced several strong possibilities 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.

For the longest time ever, I have had this strange misconception about the book, of it being something of an entirely different nature to what it actually was. And as a result of this, I never had the interest or intention to read the book at all. That is until two years ago, a friend insisted that I watch the 1981 adaptation (brilliantly portrayed by the sublime Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons), in order to put an end to my misconceptions. And I am glad I did. For not only did I enjoy the film adaptation immensely, but it had also renewed my interest in the book, and in the writer.

“It is all too easy to be transported into the world so vividly created for us by John Fowles, as he details the love affair between Charles Smithson and Sarah Woodruff, whilst simultaneously exposing the hypocracies of Victorian England. Haunted night and day by the face of ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ (Sarah Woodruff) Charles Smithson struggles to forget her and concede to a life with the entirely more conventional Ernestina Freeman. Theirs is the expected and typical Victorian pairing, but as the action progresses, Charles finds his initial curiosity towards the enigmatic Sarah developing into attraction and eventual desire. In his novel, Fowles powerfully depicts Charles’s inner conflict between head and heart, painfully illustrating the consequences of allowing the heart to overrule in such a repressed, hypocritical society.”

The Place : Lyme Regis, Dorset – England

The sleepy fishing village of Lyme Regis.

 

 

The famous Cobb (also featured in Jane Austen's Persuasion).
The only bookshop I managed to peek into.

Lyme Regis, often called the Pearl of Dorset, is a sleepy fishing village situated on the border between West Dorset and East Devon, right in the middle of the Jurassic Coast.  This is the back-drop upon which the story of The French Lieutenant’s Woman is told.

The Time : Summer of 2010

I had the wonderful opportunity of travelling to the UK with two other tavelling companions during the summer of 2010. Our journey saw us driving all the way from Dumfries (south west of Scotland) right up to Lands End which is the most westerly point in Cornwall (south west of England).

Since one of my travelling companions was the same one who made me watch the film adaptation of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and so happened our travel route would see us passing by Lyme Regis, of course we couldn’t miss out on the golden opportunity to stop and savour the atmospheric setting for both the book and film. We didn’t have time to explore much as we were rushing to make it to our next pitstop, Torquay (home to dame Agatha Christie), where we were to put up a night.  However, despite what little time we had strolling the Cobb and being accompanied by light drizzle together with the “most disagreeable easterly wind” blowing at us , Lyme Regis still managed to have left an indelible impression upon us. Enough to make us want to return to it again, someday. If for nothing else, at least there is the Herbies cheese burger that surprisingly turned out to be one of the best we ever had, to go back for! 😉

Throughout the trip, we also made the following stopovers :

Conwy, North Wales (where we went into the Smallest House in Great Britain!)
Llangollen (home to the famous Two Ladies of Llangollen)
Hay-on- Wye (Town of Books, need I say more?)
Brecon (known for its beautiful walks)
The Cotswolds
Stonehenge
Bournemouth
Thomas Hardy's cottage
Torquay (home to Agatha Christie)
Penzance (this station being the most westerly station in England, is truly the end of the line)
St. Michael's Mount
St. Ives
Minack Theatre (the most amazing open-air theatre ever!)
Lands End

And of the books that were related in one way or another to these places (ie: bought from, set in, read about, listened to….) I’ll leave that to another post, another day, another time.  😉

 

Note :

‘A Book… A Place… A Time….’ is (hopefully) going to be a recurring feature in this blog. In it, I hope to be able to relate books I’ve either read or planning to read, listened to, or watched an adaption of, to the places I’ve travelled to in the past, or hope to travel to in the future. Hope this idea will somehow translate well onto the blog. 🙂

 

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7 thoughts on “A Book… A Place… A Time…

    1. The Minack was truly an amazing experience, even though I couldn’t make out much head or tail of the operatic performance that was being shown that day (The Bartered Bride)! Sigh, the Philistine that I was (still am). And it was terribly cold once the sun has set and we had to brace the wind from the open sea. But all in all, it is still an experience not to be missed if you ever find yourself in that part of the world. And what I found to be even more amazing is the story of the lady (Rowena Cade) who was behind this vision of carving out a theatre on the rocky cliffs overlooking one of the most stunning coastlines in Cornwall, all the way back in 1931!

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  1. My husband and I have driven around most of England, but we’ve managed to miss quite a few of the places you visited. Now I want to go back and explore some more!

    I was a great fan of John Fowles when I was a teenager. I love The French Lieutenant’s Woman and The Magus. I think it may be time for a re-read.

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    1. I really feel that one can never really be “over & done” with England. Or even Wales & Scotland for that matter. There is just so much to see, to explore and to take in. Every little village, or town or city seems to have its own distinct & unique character and history, which I find to be endlessly fascinating. This was actually my third trip to the UK but the first time going down the south west coastline. And although I found driving through the Scottish Highlands to be an equally amazing experience too, I think that this may well be my favourite route so far!
      Did you manage to visit the Eden Project yet? I read your comment on Claire’s blog and found that you are into gardening and plants. So, I thought this might be of interest to you the next time you go back to explore. 😉

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      1. I haven’t been to England since 1999, when I went to the Chelsea Flower Show by myself. It was the only long distance trip I’ve ever taken alone. My cousin was supposed to go with me, but she got pregnant and was advised not to travel. I lugged a small stone lion’s head from the flower show back to the U.S. in my luggage (hmmm …I’ve just made the connection between ‘lugged’ and ‘luggage’!). So, I haven’t been to the Eden Project, but I’ve read about it. I don’t have a garden now, so my gardening reading has to suffice.

        Yes, I find England endlessly fascinating, too. I’ve been a confirmed Anglophile since I was a teenager. I love wandering off in the car and stopping in little villages. We’ve had so many amazing experiences there: going to a private gaming club in London with some newly met friends, eerie singing by an unseen choir in a Gothic church, seeing all of the Royal Family at once being chauffeured down a random street. We used to start out in London and then rent a car and go off on our own. One trip was around the north of the country, another around the south, but there’s always more to see. I think it’s time to go back!

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        1. The eerie singing by an unseen choir in a Gothic church sounds priceless, hahahaa…. Reading about your lugging back the stone lion’s head reminded me of my lugging back 30+ books which I had ordered from online UK sellers to be sent to my friend’s address in Scotland (to save me on shipping fees!). Gosh, it was truly one back-breaking feat!
          Yes, definitely time to go back. 😉

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