Six Degrees of Separation: from The French Lieutenant’s Woman to The Lieutenant

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles, a book I read and loved years ago but now I’ve forgotten most of the details – I’ve been meaning to re-read it for years.

The French Lieutenant's Woman

But what I do remember is that it is a book with an alternative ending and what I first thought of for my first link is a book with no ending – The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. It begins with a scene in an opium den where Jasper lies under the influence of several pipes of opium, trembling and almost incoherent from the visions that came to him.


Drood by Dan Simmons is also full of opium induced nightmares. In this book Drood is horrific, a half-Egyptian fiend who takes laudanum by the jugful. I didn’t enjoy this book – it’s too long, too wordy and full of unlikeable characters, but it does contain some vivid descriptions – the slums of London, the train accident at Staplehurst and the fantastical “Undertown” with its miles of tunnels, catacombs, caverns and sewers.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning: a biography by Margaret Forster reveals that from an early age Elizabeth took a tincture of opium (laudanum) prescribed to her for various illnesses, including ‘nervous hysteria‘. Elizabeth had a beloved spaniel, Flush, who shares her sickroom.

Dumb Witness (Hercule Poirot, #16)

Agatha Christie also had a much loved dog and dedicated Dumb Witness to him. Poirot investigates the death of Miss Emily Arundell. The ‘dumb witness’ of the title is Bob, Emily’s wire-haired terrier. After Emily fell down the stairs, tripping over Bob’s ball, she was convinced her relatives were trying to kill her.

TNow We Shall Be Entirely Freehis brings me to Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller in which the main character, Captain John Lacroix, also takes opium and meets an Emily – Emily Frend, who is losing her sight. Lacroix, unable to face the memories of the horrors he experienced at the battle of Corunna is being tracked by Corporal Calley and a Spaniard, Lieutenant Medina, who have been ordered to kill him for his part in the battle.

The LieutenantMy final link is to another book about a lieutenant and also linking back to the start of the chain. It’s The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville, based on real events and set in 1788, about Daniel Rooke, a lieutenant and an astronomer with the First Fleet when it lands on the shores of New South Wales. Rooke gets to know the local Aboriginal people, and forges a remarkable connection with one child, which will change his life in ways he never imagined.

I like the circularity of this chain beginning and ending with books about lieutenants and containing a third book about yet another lieutenant. The chain passes through time and place from England in the 19th century to Australia in the 18th century, connected by the endings of books, opium addicts, a love of dogs and characters called Emily. I have read all the books except for The Lieutenant, which is one of my TBR books.

Next month (February 2, 2019), the chain begins with Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.

23 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from The French Lieutenant’s Woman to The Lieutenant

  1. I like the tightness of your links Margaret. And woo hoo, I have read The lieutenant. A good book I thought. The biography of Browning would be great.

    But, I had to laugh, because of your reference on my post to thinking about Persuasion. Your first link on alternative chapters would almost have worked for Persuasion too, as we know that Austen discarded her first ending chapters and replaced them with a new one.

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  2. This is a fabulous list, Margaret. I always find it particularly satisfying to be able to end up where one started. Re Elizabeth BB – have you read Lady’s Maid by Margaret Forster, which is about Elizabeth and Robert’s elopement, written from the point of view of the maid? I probably read it c20 years ago, but it was very memorable. And I really like the sound of The Lieutenant – another one for the TBR! 🙂

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    1. Your EBB link reminded me that I watched the 1957 movie The Barretts of Wimpole Street, way back when in my teens, one rainy Sunday afternoon. I was amazed by the love story and elopement at the time & now cannot believe I have never looked into the story more! Thanks for the nudge 🙂

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    2. Thanks, Liz – I was pleased to end up with The Lieutenant especially as it was totally unprepared or expected. I have read Lady’s Maid, years ago, and I loved it – as you say it’s very memorable.

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  3. I need to reacquaint myself with The French Lieutenant’s Woman, too, Margaret. You’ve got a really interesting and effective set of links here! I especially like the dog-related link – that’s so clever!

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    1. Thanks, Margot! I was pleased to find the dog-related link and to fit an Agatha Christie into my chain. I wish I had more time to re-read books – but there are so many other newer books to read that I often forget about the ones I want to re-read.

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  4. Great chain – and I like the way you brought it full circle at the end. I really enjoyed The Mystery of Edwin Drood, despite it being unfinished. I agree with you about the Dan Simmons book, though. I wasn’t very impressed, but I do remember the atmospheric descriptions.

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  5. Well done on bringing your chain round in a circle – a necklace! I didn’t know Bob the dog was dedicated to Agatha Christie’s own dog! I love Bob – he’s the star of that novel for me… 😀


  6. Wow, that was quite a journey! I find the Victorian opium thing quite fascinating so will be looking up some of the books you’ve mentioned. Funny how Drood divides people, I loved it but know loads of people like you who did not, and I understand why. LOL! I watched David Suchet’s The Dumb Witness a week or so ago. Excellent and such a lovely dog in it.


  7. Exquisite linking there, Margaret! And some very interesting drug themes emerging, as well as lieutenants.


  8. I’m full of admiration for your idea of linking via the dogs. I haven’t read the Margaret Forster bio of Elizabeth BB but like other commenters here really enjoyed Lady’s Maid. I read it at a time when anexoria wasn’t even heard of…


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