The French Lieutenant's Woman


The general popularity of The French Lieutenant's Woman has inspired several responses to the novel, most notably other authors' work and adaptation into film and theatre.

Literary response

The most prominent response to the novel is A.S. Byatt novel, Possession (1990). She describes her novel as deliberately responding to the model of postmodern metafiction that critics highlight in The French Lieutenant's Woman. Byatt described her motivation for responding in her essays in On Histories and Stories, saying:

Fowles has said that the nineteenth–century narrator was assuming the omniscience of a god. I think rather the opposite is the case—this kind of fictive narrator can creep closer to the feelings and inner life of characters—as well as providing a Greek chorus—than any first–person mimicry. In 'Possession' I used this kind of narrator deliberately three times in the historical narrative—always to tell what the historians and biographers of my fiction never discovered, always to heighten the reader's imaginative entry into the world of the text.[40]


The novel was adapted as a 1981 film, written by playwright Harold Pinter and directed by Karel Reisz. The production staff included composer Carl Davis and the cinematographer Freddie Francis. The film starred Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons with Hilton McRae, Jean Faulds, Peter Vaughan, Colin Jeavons, Liz Smith, Patience Collier, Richard Griffiths, David Warner, Alun Armstrong, Penelope Wilton and Leo McKern. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards: Streep was nominated for Academy Award for Best Actress and the film was nominated for Academy Award for Best Writing, but both lost to On Golden Pond.[41] Streep won a BAFTA and a Golden Globe for best actress.[42][43] The film's music and sound both won BAFTAs, despite not winning the Oscar.[42][44] Pinter was nominated for a Golden Globe for best script and the work as a whole in the category Best Motion Picture – Drama.[44]

During 2006, the novel was adapted for the stage by Mark Healy, in a version which toured the UK that year.[45]

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