Fowler, Marian (Elizabeth) 1929-
FOWLER, Marian (Elizabeth) 1929-
PERSONAL: Born October 15, 1929, in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada; daughter of Robert Daniel (a car dealer) and Dorothy Gertrude (a school teacher; maiden name, Maconachie) Little; married Rodney Fowler, September 19, 1953 (divorced, 1978); children: Timothy Evan, Caroline Jane. Ethnicity: "Canadian." Education: University of Toronto, B.A. (with honors), 1951, M.A., 1965, Ph.D., 1970. Religion: Protestant. Hobbies and other interests: Travel, bird-watching, antique collecting.
ADDRESSES: Home—503-77 Clair Ave. E, Toronto, Ontario M4T 1M5, Canada.
CAREER: Clarke, Irwin & Co. (publisher), Toronto, Ontario, Canada, promotion writer, 1951-53; T. Eaton Co. (department store), Toronto, Ontario, Canada, advertising copywriter, 1953-54; homemaker, 1954-71; York University, Downsview, Ontario, Canada, course director and lecturer in English and Canadian studies at Atkinson College, 1971-82; full-time writer, 1982—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Governor-General's Gold Medal, 1951; Canadian Biography Award, Association for Canadian Studies, 1979, for Redney: A Life of Sara Jeannette Duncan.
The Embroidered Tent: Five Gentlewomen in Early Canada, Anansi (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1982.
Redney: A Life of Sara Jeannette Duncan, Anansi (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1983.
Blenheim: Biography of a Palace, Viking (New York, NY), 1989.
In a Gilded Cage: From Heiress to Duchess, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1994.
The Way She Looks Tonight: Five Women of Style, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Hope: Adventures of a Diamond, Ballantine (New York, NY), 2002.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Framed in Gilt: The Strange Death of Stanford White.
SIDELIGHTS: Best known as a biographer, Canadian author Marian Fowler has written absorbing accounts of the lives of several interesting people. In her popular 1987 book Below the Peacock Fan: First Ladies of the Raj, she profiles the consorts—one sister and three wives—of four of India's governor-generals or viceroys during British Colonial rule. Joanna Motion of the Times Literary Supplement noted, "The idea of writing the story of these eminent Victorian women was an excellent one…. Fowler moves easily andreadably through the vignettes and social set-pieces of this high domesticity." Despite the fact that Fowler focuses on these four women because they resided in India during Queen Victoria's reign, some critics have objected to her choice of only four "first ladies" when the British presence in India lasted nearly two hundred years. Audrey C. Foote observed in the Washington Post Book World, "It seems a shame Fowler did not complete the story with a fifth chapter on the last vicereine, Edwina, who helped Lord Mountbatten to dismantle the Raj and finally liberate India."
William French claimed in his appraisal for Toronto's Globe & Mail that Below the Peacock Fan exceeds mere historical recounting: "One of the virtues of Below the Peacock Fan is that it's more than four mini-biographies," French noted. "Fowler examines the experience of the four women in the context of the whole history of the British in India, and her book, intended or not, becomes a scathing indictment of imperialism." French, who described Fowler as "perceptive and tough-minded," admired the author's achievement, remarking that her "prose is as colorful as her subject, and her narrative is thoroughly documented."
In 1989 Fowler issued another biography, this time detailing the story of Blenheim Palace, one of the oldest and largest castles in England. Commissioned by the first duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, after he was awarded a thousand acres of land by Queen Anne in reward for his 1704 military victory against the French at the Battle of Blenheim, the palace was designed by architect John Vanbrugh and has become the ancestral home of the Spencer-Churchill family. Blenheim: Biography of a Palace "is an unusual book that is partly the history of a famous family, partly a chronicle of changing domestic attitudes and manners among the English aristocracy during the past 250 years, and partly, and the subtitle suggests, the biography of a building," commented Witold Rybczynski in the Globe & Mail. As the reviewer added, "The result is a vivid historical account which … illuminates a neglected subject—the way that the genius of a place forms the fortunes of its inhabitants."
Continuing to focus her writings on the elite world of the "haves" rather than the "have-nots," Fowler penned The Way She Looks Tonight: Five Women of Style. In it she examines the lives of legendary women Wallis Simpson, Elinor Glyn, Marlene Dietrich, Jackie Onassis, and the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, through the prism of their dress. Although Nomi Morris in Maclean's called Fowler's literary conceit "an original and entertaining device," the critic also questioned "the use of dress as the key to emotional life."
Fowler brings yet another inanimate object to life in her biography Hope: Adventures of a Diamond. In this 2002 book Fowler chronicles the history of this famous bauble, from its creation through its travels in the hands of thieves, through its possession by owners that included a king, an actress, and an heiress, to its place in the collection of owner Harry Winston, the man who donated it to the Smithsonian Institution. Gilbert Taylor in Booklist commented that "Fowler's bemused tone and satirical digs make for an entertaining account," while Carol Herman in a Washington Times review deemed Hope an "enjoyable, voyeuristic romp."
Fowler once told CA: "My writing career began late in life. I work long hours at my desk partly because I am very ambitious to make my name as a writer, but mainly because for me writing is a joyous and rewarding activity.
"I am interested in the kinds of social and psychological accommodations women have had to make to conform to accepted female roles. I began with a doctoral dissertation on Jane Austen, in which I looked closely at women's roles and behavior in early nineteenth-century England. I began to wonder how such upper-middle-class women, taught to be decorative and docile, adapted and developed when suddenly transplanted to a rough Canadian frontier society.
"This interest sparked my first book, The Embroidered Tent: Five Gentlewomen in Early Canada, in which I examine the remarkable effects a Canadian wilderness setting had on five genteel women raised in Britain. Next, I wrote a biography of a nineteenth-century Canadian woman who was an intrepid and daring journalist, feminist, and novelist. She, too, experienced sudden cultural displacement, having spent her married life in India trying desperately to adapt and to write novels. While working on that book, Redney: A Life of Sara Jeannette Duncan, I became intrigued by the whole era of the British Raj in India and decided to write a book on five of the viceroys' wives and the ways in which India changed them, resulting in Below the Peacock Fan. The effect of a house on its inhabitants was my next project, resulting in Blenheim: Biography of a Palace."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 15, 1996, Barbara Jacobs, review of The Way She Looks Tonight: Five Women of Style, p. 385; February 15, 2002, Gilbert Taylor, review of Hope: Adventures of a Diamond, p. 980.
Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 29, 1987; August 20, 1988; December 16, 1989.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2002, review of Hope, p. 28.
Library Journal, October 1, 1996, Elizabeth Mellett, review of The Way She Looks Tonight, p. 108; January, 2002, Dale Ferris, review of Hope, p. 122.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 1, 1991,p. 10.
Maclean's, November 11, 1996, Nomi Morris, review of The Way She Looks Tonight, p. 93.
Publishers Weekly, September 2, 1996, review of The Way She Looks Tonight, p. 100; December 24, 2001, review of Hope, p. 50.
Quill & Quire, January, 1984; June, 1987, p. 33.
Times Literary Supplement, March 16, 1984; October 23, 1987, p. 1160.
Washington Post Book World, December 27, 1987,p. 7; January 1, 1989, p. 12.
Washington Times, March 31, 2002, Carol Herman, "If Only the Big Blue Diamond Could Talk," p. B6.