Books: Imminent Victorians

THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN by John Fowles. 467 pages. Little, Brown. $7.95.

Despite dialogue from today's cocktail parties and themes from tomorrow's headlines, too many contemporary authors still make convention do the work of invention. They are rewriting the 19th century novel without meaning to. In The French Lieutenant's Woman, John Fowles rewrites the 19th century novel and means every word of it. But his is a resourceful and penetrating talent at work on that archaic form. The result is more truly inventive and contemporary than a whole shelf of campus comings-of-age or...

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