1. Compare the characters of Sarah and Ernestina. In what ways are they affected by Victorian attitudes towards women? In what ways do their different social and economic status affect their experiences?
2. Compare the lives of Sam, Mary, and other members of the working class with those of their employers. What social attitudes do they have? In what ways do their attitudes diverge?
3. Discuss Charles. In what ways does he avoid learning about who he is? For example, discuss his interest in paleontology or his desire to help Sarah.
4. Why does Charles decide to go to the brothel and then change his mind? Compare this with his experience with the prostitute Sarah. What do his reactions mean? Discuss whether it would be possible for a man to idealize some women, while he might feel no guilt about exploiting others. What attitudes towards women would this foster?
5. Why does Fowles give the novel two conclusions? Do you consider them to be equally viable options, or is one more of a conclusion than the other?
6. How is Charles changed by his romance with Sarah? Is it a change for the better or for the worse?
7. Why does Sarah allow herself to be called "the French lieutenant's whore" when in fact she never had sex with him? Why in fact did she start the rumor at all, since she was the one who first mentioned it to her employer, Mrs. Talbot?
8. Compare this novel with a popular romance or a gothic novel, either of the nineteenth century or the present. What conventions of these novels does Fowles adopt? What does he change or discard?
9. Compare this novel with a novel by Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, or Charles Dickens.
10. Discuss the two long poems quoted from by Fowles in his novel.
11. Read the other poems referred to in the opening quotations. What light, if any, do they throw on your understanding of either the novel or Victorian attitudes towards life.
12. Is Fowles too one-sided in his description of people in the nineteenth century? Discuss.
13. What is Fowles saying about the novel as an art form? Does he practice what he preaches?
14. Read Fowles' The Collector and The Magus. Are their themes and characters similar in spite of differences in plot and setting? Discuss.