Abstract

Abstract:

This article argues that Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles and John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman use similar forms of narration to explore the gendered horizons of narrative possibility within Victorian realism. It asserts that Tess includes moments of intrusive commentary that construct counterfactual lines of plot, which several critics have called the optative, and articulates how these alternative plots simultaneously critique the generic conventions of the “fallen woman plot” and reveal its contingency. In turning to The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which explicitly references Hardy at several points, the article contends that the later novel extends Tess’s critical project in two ways: by metafictionally invoking and disrupting the generic constraints of the “fallen woman plot” and by transforming the foreclosed optative possibilities of Hardy’s heroine into realized options for its central female character, Sarah Woodruff. As such, Fowles’s novel creates a formal kinship with Hardy’s text in order to more explicitly undermine the narrative and social norms around gender and sexuality.

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