Causes of Unhappiness in Dickens’ Little Dorrit and Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman

  • Raymond J. WilsonIII
Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 62)


Alfred Schutz has said: “The place of man [is] in a cosmos that transcends his existence, but within which he has to find his way, his bearings” (Schutz and Luckmann, II, 243). The recognition of this uncertainty has driven some theorists toward a radical claim of the unknowability which underlies the sense of the postmodern. However, Schutz’s statement also contains, perhaps, the key motivation that leads to Phenomenology, to create a system of navigation for humanity in a cosmos that is too big and complex to be comprehended in total. Any puzzle, perhaps, verifies that we are in a situation where we must find “our bearings.” One such puzzle is provoked by the interesting parallels that exist between causes of unhappiness as presented by Charles Dickens in Little Dorrit and John Fowles in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, a book which is, in part, an investigation of what the life-world was like for the Victorians. In Little Dorrit, Dickens includes a chapter entitled “The History of a Self Tormentor,” a chapter title that is extradiagetic, imposed by the author on a first-person narration by a Miss Wade. Dickens’ chapter shows similarities to the descriptions given in Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman by the novel’s narrator and by its main female character, Sarah Woodruff; Fowles has an intradiagetic comment perform the task of labeling Sarah as a self tormentor. A Dr. Grogan tells how Sarah refused help and put herself in “a house she must know is a living misery” (126). Grogan identifies Sarah as one of a type he has seen in the medical literature: “It was as if she had become addicted to melancholia as one becomes addicted to opium” (127, Fowles’ italics). “Her sadness,” says Grogan, “becomes her happiness. She wants to be a sacrificial victim” (127). The interesting twist is that, while Dickens presents Miss Wade’s actions as perversely self tormenting, Fowles expects the reader to sympathize with Sarah’s parallel actions. Thus the emotional polarity switches when readers move between the two novels.


Finite Province Chapter Title Victorian Society Sacrificial Victim Seagoing Vessel 
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  1. Dickens, Charles. Little Dorrit (1855). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.Google Scholar
  2. Fowles, John. The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969). New York: Signet NAL, 1970.Google Scholar
  3. Fowles, John. The Magus: A Revised Version. Boston: Little, Brown, 1977.Google Scholar
  4. Schutz, Alfred and Thomas Luckmann. The Structures of the Life-World. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, Vol. I, 1973, Vol. II 1989.Google Scholar
  5. Todorov, Tzvetan. The Poetics of Prose (1971). Trans. Richard Howard. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Raymond J. WilsonIII
    • 1
  1. 1.Loras CollegeDubuqueUSA

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