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The French Lieutenant's Woman

The French Lieutenant's Woman is a novel by John Fowles. The plot, so much as the reader can follow it, concerns the love affair between a Victorian gentleman and a woman who has been jilted by a French officer, scandalizing "polite society". But Fowles makes his plot entertwine on itself, laying it out linearly at first, only to have it curl back on itself, with a "that was what might have happened, or maybe this is what really happened." Along the way, he discourses on Victorian customs, the theories of Charles Darwin, and the poetry of Matthew Arnold.

In 1981, Hollywood undertook to make this convoluted story into a movie. Instead of trying to deal with the plot construction that Fowles had laid down, Harold Pinter, who adapted the work for the screen, decided to make his own sort of confusion. He did this by revealing a story within a story -- showing us the lives of the actors who portray Fowles's characters. The viewer frequently does not know if what he or she is seeing is the story, or the actors' lives being unfolded before us.

The movie stars Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. It was directed by Karel Reisz. It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Meryl Streep), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.