Existentialism in The French Lieutenant's Woman
One of the definitions of great literature lies in its multiple ways of representation to convey its message. The use of existentialism in The French Lieutenant's Woman does not stand alone but instead is integral to the novel's theme and is related to its genre as a metafiction.
The first character to display the existentialist philosophy is Sarah Woodruff. She makes the choice to stay in Lyme despite her publicly known disgrace from the affair with the French Lieutenant. She refuses to run away from Lyme, the place where she first met Varguennes, because if she did she would be no different than the group of "so many women who have lost their honour become in great cities" (Fowles 123). By running away, Sarah would be giving herself up to the fate of the dishonored women-either becoming a prostitute or living in perpetual self-denial. Instead, Sarah opts for the painful path of staying in Lyme and continuing to write epithet for herself.
Charles is the second character to create his own meaning in life by not keeping his engagement with Ernestina. In Chapter Forty-three, the novelist depicts what life would be like had Charles follow the "moral, decent, and correct" thing to marry Ernestina:
He had done the moral, the decent, the correct thing; and jet it seemed to betray in him some inherent weakness, some willingness to accept his fate, which he knew . . . would one day lead him into the world of commerce; into pleasing Ernestina because she would want to please her father, . . . he stared at the countryside they had now entered and felt himself sucked slowly though it as if down some monstrous pipe. (288)
The narrator of this novel attempts just the same kind of work as Sarah and Charles. By following the novelist's own vision, he has creates a new road for literature, not following the path the tradition has prescribed for him. Therefore, like Sarah and Charles who have found new meaning in life because of their own choices the writer of metafiction creates his own significance in the literary field by his own choice.
Fowles, John. The French Lieutenant's Woman. London: Pan, 1987.