The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Lyme Regis
‘Primitive yet complex, elephantine but delicate; as full of subtle curves and volumes as a Henry Moore or a Michelangelo; and pure, clean, salt, a paragon of mass.’
John Fowles, The French Lieutenant’s Woman
The French Lieutenant’s Woman
In 1965 author John Fowles moved to a remote farm on the Undercliff, part of the South West Coast Path between Lyme Regis and Seaton. Surrounded by the wildlife of what is now the UK's largest nature reserve, Fowles was haunted by the image of a woman on the Cobb, whose "figure stood motionless, staring, staring out to sea."
The result? An image of a woman standing on the Cobb immortalised in fiction and film, the latter boasting Meryl Streep as its leading lady. She was The French Lieutenant’s Woman. The book has been hailed a masterpiece of modern fiction. The story of lovers, Sarah and Charles, separated by the morals of Victorian society. Sarah, the heroine of the title, flouts all convention and embodies Pre-Raphaelite style and thought. She leads Charles out of Victorian stricture, where he was engaged, and into the delights of a new era. The French Lieutenant’s Woman had an immeasurable effect on Lyme Regis.
Turning Back the Clock
During filming of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, the buildings were shrouded in greys and browns as the town was transformed into the Lyme Regis of 1867. Sheep roamed Broad Street as a farmer calls to his dog. Rubber cobblestones were laid over road markings, the bus shelter was thatched and the Cobb given fake boats. Locals were given bonnets and bowlers and Meryl Streep the great cape that has become the symbol of The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
The Undercliff Nature Reserve
Over the years this has drawn much attraction to the small coastal town of Lyme Regis and there is much for the visitor to explore. Follow The French Lieutenant’s Woman along the famous Undercliff nature reserve, which is nothing short of breath-taking. Following Ware Cliffs to the Undercliff, you will find the most beautiful view of the Cobb, described by Fowles as “quite simply the most beautiful sea rampart on the south coast of England.”
Tours of John Fowles’ Lyme Regis are available.