In the spring of 1867, the year in which The French Lieutenant’s Woman is set, John Stuart Mill introduced a motion for woman suffrage into the British parliament. Although the motion failed, John Fowles calls attention to the date, 30 March 1867: it is ‘the point’ he says, ‘from which we can date the beginning of feminine emancipation in England’.1 In many ways, Fowles’s novel proclaims sympathy with what became the women’s emancipation movement later in the nineteenth century as it grew synchronously with other progressive movements towards individual freedom in politics, science and the arts. Yet, as a flood of feminist criticism inquires, was the novel a feminist statement with a feminist heroine? I believe, through examination of Fowles’s biography, papers and the original drafts of his novels, that Fowles intended to present women’s dilemmas with sympathy rather than a feminist perspective and that the feminist final vision of Sarah Woodruff was a happy accident.
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