This month’s prompt in Katherine’s Classics Challenge 2012 is:
Jot down some notes about the chapter you’ve just read or one that struck you the most. It can be as simple as a few words you learned, some quotes, a summary, or your thoughts and impressions.
I’ve just started to read The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles. (I have read this book years ago and seen the film.) The first chapter is very short and sets the scene in a few paragraphs. The narrator is looking back to March 1867, presumably from the twentieth century. Three characters are present, none named in this first chapter, a man and a woman walking along the Cobb, ‘ a long claw of old grey wall that flexes itself against the sea’, and a solitary figure, standing at the end of the Cobb:
It stood right at the seawardmost end, apparently leaning against an old cannon-barrel upended as a bollard. Its clothes were black. The wind moved them, but the figure stood motionless, staring, staring out to sea, more like a living memorial to the drowned, a figure from myth, than any proper fragment of the petty provincial day.
The narrator is authoritative, contrasting the Victorian Lyme of a hundred or so years earlier with that of the present day and contrasting the style of dress and manners. There are literary and historical allusions, including the verse (quoted at the beginning of the chapter) from Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘The Riddle‘, and the vocabulary is also formal and academic. There are some unfamiliar words – just what I wondered are ‘dundrearies’ that the gentleman (for that is what is implied) was wearing:
… the taller man, impeccably in a light grey, with his top hat held in his free hand, had severely reduced his dundrearies, which the arbiters of the best English fashion had declared a shade vulgar – that is, risible to the foreigner – a year or two previously.
I had to look up this word – ‘dundrearies’ were long sideburns worn with a clean-shaven chin (a bit like Bradley Wiggins, who won this year’s Tour de France, maybe?). There is also a hint that there is more to this story than a love story, for there is also a ‘local spy’.
This first chapter promises an intriguing novel.