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On the Intertextual Relationship between the French Lieutenant’s Woman and Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Author ChenRuiHong
Tutor ZhangJingSheng
School Shandong Normal University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords intertextuality existentialism fatalism Darwinism feminism
Type Master's thesis
Year 2007
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John Fowles (1926-2005) is generally regarded as one of the finest English novelists in the 20th century. His reputation as an important contemporary author rests on novels that combine mystery with realism and existentialism. The French Lieutenant’s Woman is considered as the most popular novel among John Fowles’s works, through which we can have an insight into the traditional English novel as well as the modern or postmodern novel which frequently parades the possibilities of intertextuality. Until now, critics have applied various theoretical tools available to search the rich values contained in the novel and generated a huge collection of critical works and articles, especially on its feminism and human authenticity themes which are much like those of Thomas Hardy, a great novelist at the end of 19th century England. But few critics have adopted the theory of intertextuality to carry out a comprehensive study on the intertextual relationship between Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the masterpiece of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex novels, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman to conduct a comparative study so as to see different writers’documentations of a common existential topic under the same Victorian Age. This thesis aims to probe their intertextual relationship which has not yet aroused adequate critical attentions.This thesis sets off with a brief introduction to the life of John Fowles and his novel in question that enjoys the most popularity—The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Despite a mass of valuable critical assertions and theses on it, The French Lieutenant’s Woman is still open to interpretation in the light of Intertextuality. In chapter two, the origin and development of intertextuality are outlined, on the basis of which, this chapter is also devoted to reading and interpreting the intertextual relationship between The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Tess of the d’Urbervilles in terms of story plots, and character patterns. The third chapter of the thesis traces John Fowles and Thomas Hardy’s world views conveyed in the two novels, namely existentialism and fatalism. Because of different social visions and historical backgrounds, Hardy casts an overwhelming pessimistic atmosphere over his novel, while Fowles’s existentialism is rather optimistic. It is this difference that makes Tess of the d’Urbervilles a subtext of The French Lieutenant’s Woman to foreground Fowles’s existential freedom and choice. In order to probe into the significance of Fowles’s application of intertextuality, chapter four and five carry on a detailed comparison between Sarah and Tess for they are epitomes of their creators. In chapter four, a detailed study of Sarah as a Darwinian survival and a new species is carried on, as a contrast to Tess who is a victim of Darwinian fate. Chapter five focuses on analyzing Sarah as a new woman rejecting Victorian conventional morality and advocating freedom and independence, defying Tess’s fate as a victim of the conventional culture. The thesis thereby concludes that Fowles foregrounds his existential freedom and choice in The French Lieutenant’s Woman by challenging Hardy’s pessimistic fatalism and his characters tragic fate in Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

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