Last week, I randomly picked up a copy of The French Lieutenant's Woman, a favourite book of mine in late adolescence, and found I had to read it from cover to cover once more. It's a smashing book in its way, and a real testament to the power of the narrative voice: hard to imagine a narrative voice more pompously aware of its own importance (which was intentional, I believe, considering the structure of the ending) and yet not over-the-top to the point where it was too annoying to read, for me anyways.
Anyways, I'd loved it when I was 17 or 18 or whatever, but realized pretty quickly I hadn't understood it all that well. I'm not capable of judging if this was because of my way of reading back then (speed) or just my almost complete inexperience of life in a challenging form. I should probably re-read more books. Like the fucking Name of the Rose. Teenage Mistress La Spliffe and Mistress La Spliffe in her early 30s probably have quite different brains.
But what distressed me a little bit as I read is the realization of how teenage Mistress La Spliffe had projected herself onto the fairly blank-slate character of Sarah Woodruff. I think Fowles created her as a 'projectable' character - made her the age his female readers in the 60's were likely to be, gave her just enough definition to make her acceptable as a character - but really only defined her by her frustrations, and completely unknown by the characters around her. A woman who should have been about in the late 20th century, dropped into 1876; a real invitation to his readers to think through what it would have been like.
The thing is, I loved that book and misunderstood it so badly when I was a teenager that I think it marked my interactions with the male of the species for a few years afterwards. One does sometimes wonder why one used to be a bit of a bitch, and while I'm not blaming the French Lieutenant's Woman because no doubt it only gave some sort of reinforcement to something pre-existing in my own personality that had already accepted men are manipulable and disposable, I have a strong suspicion that pathologically projecting myself onto Sarah Woodruff didn't help matters.
Well, thank goodness for small mercies, at least I never took The Magus to heart.