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Night Shade Message Boards » Hand, Elizabeth » Question about your comments on Fowles' Sarah Woodruff « Previous Next »

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Debbie McLeod
Posted on Sunday, November 28, 2004 - 07:07 am:   

Hi Ms. Hand,
I'm a graduate student in English Lit and am currently working on a project on The French Lieutenant's Woman. I noticed you associated Sarah Woodruff's name with the herb sweet woodruff, but I can't find any other reference to that. Is that an association you made or did you read it somewhere? I'll be happy to cite you as a source for my report.
Thanks much,
Debbie McLeod
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liz hand
Posted on Monday, November 29, 2004 - 06:37 am:   

Hi Debbie,

I honestly don't know if anyone else has made the association between Sarah Woodruff & sweet woodruff, or if I read it somewhere -- I made the connection because I grow sweet woodruff and have used it in making May wine. The herb has a faint sweet scent, but it's only after it's been dried that it really releases its fragrance, and it's the dried herb that's used in May wine. It's a woodland, shade-loving herb that's native to England (and Europe), and knowing Fowles' knowledge of woodland plants and animals, it seems likely that the choice of names was deliberate

Just FYI, to make May wine -- take 1 bottle white wine, a bottle champagne, fresh strawberries. Pick the sweet woodruff, flowers & leaves, and dry in an oven (or by hanging). If you use the oven, it won't take long -- the flowers & leaves are quite delicate. Combine all of the ingredients, let sit, chilled, for an hour or so, then drink, straining the woodruff first. Sadly, you will have to wait until May or June to make it, as that's when the herb flowers.

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Dave
Posted on Monday, November 29, 2004 - 07:08 am:   

I love it, literary insights and a recipe. Truly a renaissance woman. :-)
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Debbie McLeod
Posted on Tuesday, November 30, 2004 - 02:46 am:   

Thanks! One scholar thinks Sarah's name came from a Lyme Regis educator named Woodroffe, but I think it's from the herb, and I'm going to argue that in my paper. Fowles would certainly have known of the plant.

I really enjoyed your website and love your writing. I'll have to read more of your work.

Thanks again, Debbie
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liz hand
Posted on Tuesday, November 30, 2004 - 05:48 am:   

I *wish* I were a real renaissance woman -- but I can't sew or play the lute (or anything else)!

Thanks, Debbie. I don't know if you've read Fowles' journals, but (especially in the early years) he writes a great deal and in detail about various plants & birdlife in rural England. In the OED Woodroffe is an alternate spelling of woodruff, so it all probably just came together in JF's head.

I'd be interested in reading your paper when it's done.
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Debbie McLeod
Posted on Sunday, December 05, 2004 - 10:06 am:   

Thanks - I hadn't thought to check the OED and I should mention that. I have (finally) found one other author (Simon Loveday in _The Romances of John Fowles_) who writes that Sarah is named after "a wild plant" and he notes an association to "thorny wild things."

Interestingly, Loveday points out that the other French Lieutenant--falsely accused of rape by a woman thought to be hysterical & deceitful, and whose story is told to Charles--La Ronciere's name means "thick bramble bush" -- which is what Sarah gets caught on in the Undercliff. Fowles is so clever.

Sweet woodruff isn't thorny though, is it? I think I've found better associations between Sarah and the herb. I'll be happy to send my paper to you when I'm done.

I have read some of JF's writings about nature-thanks for the suggestion.
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liz hand
Posted on Monday, December 06, 2004 - 07:22 am:   

No, sweet woodruff isn't thorny -- quite the opposite. Smallish, roundish leaves, soft and mottled white and green, and very fine soft flowers.

That's very funny about La Ronciere -- clever man, our Mister Fowles!
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Taki Mitsu
Posted on Sunday, October 30, 2005 - 03:50 am:   

Hello all! I'm doing a paper on Sarah as an enigma. I love the natural and supernatural references to her. Fowles is a genius. Do you all think that comparing her to Calypso and the Virgin Mary as well as naming hr after a herb actually limits her as a character? The truly progressive Victorian novel pastiche would have represented her as more than a feminine archetype.
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liz Hand
Posted on Sunday, October 30, 2005 - 09:51 am:   

I dunno. Most of the women I know who've been compared to Calypso, an herb, AND the Virgin Mary have all turned out to be fairly complex individuals.

Just kidding. No, I don't think that limits her. Fowles is a product of his time, as any writer is, and subject to the same pressures of changing cultural and sexual mores. When TFLW first appeared, Sarah seemed like a fairly progressive character; now, she can be read as a more conventional product of a late-20th-century masculine writer's imagination. A lot of Fowles' attitudes towards women now seem rather dated, but I think there's a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater when one examines novels (and their authors) beneath the magnifiyng lens of gender politics, or post-structuralism, or feminism, or queer theory, or post/pre/non/moderism, or any other kind of academic ism. Sarah may be an enigma, but she's also a well-drawn character -- for good or ill, there are still Sarahs walking around today -- and that's why we enjoy reading about her.

If you haven't read Fowles' essays, collected in WORMHOLES, you should, in particular "Hardy and the Hag." I referred to this in an essay in Fowles (among other writers) that's archived on my website. A lot of the stuff in WORMHOLES is really brilliant. You may already be familiar with it, if you're writing about Sarah, but if not, check it out.

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