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John Fowles

John Fowles

John Fowles (born 1926) was an award winning post World War II novelist of major importance. While his works are reflective of literary tradition reaching back to Greek philosophy and Celtic romance, he was very much a contemporary existentialist, and his writings received both popular and critical acclaim.

John Fowles was born on March 31, 1926, to middle-class parents living in a small London suburb. He attended a London preparatory school, the Bedford School, between the ages of 14 and 18. He then served as a lieutenant in the Royal Marines for two years, but World War II ended before he saw actual combat.

Following the war, Fowles studied French and German at New College, Oxford. He later referred to this period as "three years of heaven in an intellectual sense," and it was during this time that he was exposed to the Celtic romances and the existential works of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. After graduating from Oxford, Fowles began a teaching career that took him first to France where he taught English at the University of Poiters and then to Spetsai, a Greek island, where he taught at Anorgyrios College. It was on Spetsai that Fowles met Elizabeth Whitton. Three years later, on April 2, 1954, they were married in England.

Fowles continued to earn a living through a variety of teaching assignments until the success of his first published work, The Collector, allowed him to retire with his wife and her daughter to Lyme Regis in Dorset. He continued to live in this quiet sea-coast town—intentionally isolated from English literary circles—where he wrote, gardened, and pursued his interests in natural and local history.

It was not until Fowles was in his early 20s that he began his writing career. After translating a poem by Pierre de Ronsard he was able to overcome that fear of self expression that he once suggested is common to all Englishmen. Fowles' first serious attempts at writing took place on Spetsai, amidst the natural splendors of the Greek landscape. His experience of the mystery and majesty of this island was a powerful influence. Not only did he write poetry, which appeared later in his collection Poems, but this setting also provided the inspiration for The Magus, a work that would obsess the writer for many years. Leaving Greece was a painful experience for Fowles, but one that he saw as having been necessary to his artistic growth. "I had not then realized that loss is essential for the novelist, immensely fertile for his books, however painful to his private being."

While back in England and teaching in a variety of positions in the London area, Fowles worked on several manuscripts but was dissatisfied with his efforts and submitted none for publication until 1963, when The Collector appeared. The Collector is the story of Frederick Clegg, a poorly educated clerk of the lower-class and an amateur lepidopterist, who becomes obsessed with a beautiful young art student, Miranda Grey. Clegg wins a large sum of money in a football pool, enabling him to carry out a plan of kidnap and imprisonment. The narrative shifts, with the first part of the book told from Clegg's point of view and the second recounting the imprisoned Miranda's perspective. The characters of Miranda and Clegg, set in opposition, embody the conflict that Fowles, reaching back to Heraclitus, finds central to mankind—the few versus the many, the artistic versus the conventional, the aristoi versus hoi polloi. As Fowles noted, "My purpose in The Collector was to analyse, through a parable, some of the results of this confrontation." This theme, as well as a concern with freedom and authenticity and parallel realities, recurred in later novels. Miranda, according to Fowles, "is an existential heroine although she doesn't know it. She's groping for her own authenticity."

The commercial success of The Collector enabled Fowles next to publish The Aristos: A Self-Portrait in Ideas. As the title suggests, this volume consists of a collection of philosophical statements covering diverse areas but aimed at proposing a new, ideal man for our times—the Aristos. The publication of this book at that time probably owed something to the fact that The Collector, in spite of its popular reception, was denied critical consideration by many who failed to look past its thriller format.

Fowles' next published work, The Magus, was, according to its author, "in every way except that of mere publishing date … a first novel." Using Spetsai as his model, Fowles created the island of Phraxos where Nicholas Urfe, a young English schoolmaster, meets Maurice Conchis, the enigmatic master of an island estate. Through a series of bizarre "godgames," Conchis engineers the destruction of Nicholas' perception of reality, a necessary step in the achievement of a true understanding of his being in the world. While The Magus was first published in 1965, Fowles issued a revised edition in 1977 in which he had rewritten numerous scenes in an attempt to purify the work he called an "endlessly tortured and recast cripple" which had, nonetheless, "aroused more interest than anything else I have written."

Fowles was at work on a new manuscript when in 1966 he envisioned a woman in black Victorian garb standing on a quay and staring out at the sea. She "was Victorian; and since I always saw her in the same static long shot, with her back turned, she represented a reproach on the Victorian Age. An outcast. I didn't know her crime, but I wished to protect her." The vision recurred, became an obsession, and led eventually to The French Lieutenant's Woman, a Victorian novel in manner and mores, but contemporary and existential in viewpoint. Fowles' rejection of the posture of omniscient narrator exhorted both characters and readers to grapple with possibilities and to grow through the pursuance of mystery which "pours energy into whoever seeks the answer to it." The novel was made into a popular film of the same name in 1981.

In 1974 Ebony Tower, a collection of stories, appeared. The work was televised 10 years later. The title story is a concise re-evocation of the confrontation between the pseudosophisticated man of the world with the reclusive shaman who shatters his poorly conceived notions of reality, a theme more broadly enacted in The Magus. This volume contains a translation of a 12th-century romance written by Marie de France, and in a personal note preceding this translation Fowles paid tribute to the Celtic romance, stating that in the reading of these tales the modern writer is "watching his own birth." Fowles' original title for this collection was Variations while these stories are original and unique, they are connected to each other and to the earlier works by an underlying sense of loss, of mystery, and of a desire for growth.

Daniel Martin, perhaps the most autobiographical of Fowles' novels, draws upon his early experiences of the Devonshire countryside as well as his later involvement in the Hollywood film industry. It appeared in 1974 to mixed reviews. While some critics faulted its rambling structure and lack of narrative suspense, others regarded it as a more honest, straightforward recounting of personal confrontation with one's own history. Mantissa (1982) though more cerebral, demonstrated a continuing concern with the artist's intrapersonal conflicts.

In 1996, a new edition of Fowles' essay The Tree was published, and along with it the essay The Nature of Nature, written some 15 years later when the author was approaching 70, suffering from a crippling illness and taking what one reviewer described as "a more immediate look at last things." In The Nature of Nature, Fowles wrote, "Illness has kept me even more alone than usual these last two years and brought me closer to being, though that hasn't always been very pleasant for my body. What has struck me about the acutely rich sensation of beingness is how fleeting its apprehension … the more you would capture it, the less likely that you will."

While Fowles' reputation was based mainly on his novels and their film versions, he demonstrated expertise in the fields of nature, art, science, and natural history as reflected in a body of non-fictional writings. Throughout his career, Fowles committed himself to a scholarly exploration of the place of the artist in contemporary society and sought the personal isolation and exile that he felt essential to such a search. While his roots in Western culture were broad and deep, he earned a reputation as an innovator in the evolution of the contemporary novel. He was a spokesperson for modern man, steeped in science, yet ever aware that what he more deeply needs is "the existence of mysteries. Not their solutions."

Further Reading

Non-fiction works by John Fowles included Shipwreck (1974); Islands (1978); The Tree (1979); and The Enigma of Stonehenge (1980). For further insights into the life and works of John Fowles see H. W. Fawkner, The Timescapes of John Fowles (1984), which contains a forward by Fowles himself; Robert Huffaker, John Fowles (1980); Barry Olshen, John Fowles (1978); and Peter Wolfe, John Fowles (1976).

Additional Sources

Loveday, Simon, The Romances of John Fowles, St. Martin's Press, 1985.

Pifer, Ellen, Critical Essays of John Fowles, G.K. Hall, 1986.

Tarbox, Katherine, The Art of John Fowles, University of Georgia Press, c1988.

Salami, Mahmoud, John Fowles' Fiction and the Poetics of Post-modernism, Associated University Presses, c1992.

Aubrey, James R., John Fowles: A Reference Companion, Greenwood Press, 1991.

Foster, Thomas C., Understanding John Fowles, University of South Carolina Press, c1994. □

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Fowles, John 1926–2005

Fowles, John 1926–2005

(John Robert Fowles)

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for SATA sketch: Born March 31, 1926, in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England; died November 5, 2005, in Lyme Regis, Dorset, England. Author. Fowles was a popular British author best known for his post-modernist novels The French Lieutenant's Woman and The Magus. After a shaky early education, during which he dropped out of the Bedford School at age fifteen due to a nervous breakdown and then briefly attended Edinburgh University, Fowles untertook two years of compulsory military service from 1945 to 1947. He then enrolled at New College, Oxford, to study French, finally completing a B.A. in 1950. During the early 1950s, he taught for short periods at the University of Poitiers, at a school in Greece, and at Ashridge College. He settled down at St. Godric's College, London, where he taught from 1954 to 1963. That year, his first bestseller, The Collector, was published. He followed this with two novels that would gain him even more acclaim: The Magus (1966; revised edition, 1977) and The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969), the latter winning the W.H. Smith Literary Award and the Silver Pen Award. All three novels would be adapted to film, with The Magus featuring a script by the author. These novels were not only popular with the general public, but critics praised them as well, citing the author's unabashed experimentations with narrative and plot structure. Fowles, however, disliked the fame that accompanied the popularity of his novels, and he became known for his efforts to avoid the public at any cost. He most enjoyed spending time in his garden, appreciating the flowers, birds, and butterflies there. After the 1960s, he wrote less fiction, releasing the short-story collection The Ebony Tower (1974) and three more novels: Daniel Martin (1977), Mantissa (1982), and A Maggot (1985). He also penned a poetry collection, Poems (1973). The majority of Fowles' later output, included essays, histories, translation work, and his published journals. He spent his time quietly in Lyme Regis, where he served as honorary curator of the museum there from 1979 to 1988. After that time poor health, including heart problems, and the death of his first wife in 1990, affected his work. His last works were his two-volume The Journals (2003, 2005).

OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:

BOOKS

Fowles, John, The Journals, Jonathan Cape (London, England), Volume 1, 2003, Volume 2, 2005.

PERIODICALS

Chicago Tribune, November 8, 2005, section 2, p. 11.

Los Angeles Times, November 8, 2005, p. B10.

New York Times, November 8, 2005, p. A29.

Times (London, England), November 8, 2005, p. 58.

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Fowles, John

John Fowles, 1926–2005, English writer, b. Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, grad. Oxford, 1950. A complex, cerebral writer and a superb storyteller, Fowles was interested in manipulating the novel as a genre. His central philosophical proccupation involved the conflict between free will and determinism. His first published novel, The Collector (1963; film 1965), is a study of a clerk who is psychologically impelled to kidnap and murder—that is, "collect" —a girl to whom he is attracted. The Magus (1966, film 1968, rev. ed. 1977) tells of its young protagonist's struggle with the powerful and mysterious title character, the ruler of a Greek island who has garnered a cult following. His best-known work, The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969; film 1981) is a multilayered "Victorian" novel that has three alternate endings; it reflects a modern self-consciousness about 19th-century England and the form of the novel itself. Fowles also wrote The Aristos: A Self-Portrait in Ideas (1964) and other nonfiction works; The Ebony Tower (1974), a collection of stories; and the novels Daniel Martin (1977), Mantissa (1982), and A Maggot (1985).

See his The Journals, Vol. I, 1949–1965 (2005), Vol. II, 1966–1990 (2006); biography by E. Warburton (2004); D. L. Vipond, ed., Conversations with John Fowles (1999); studies by P. Wolf (1979), D. Pifer, ed. (1986), C. M. Barnum (1988), K. Tarbox (1989), P. Cooper (1991), T. C. Foster (1994), J. Acheson (1998), and W. Stephenson (2003).

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Fowles, John (Robert)

FOWLES, John (Robert)

Nationality: British. Born: Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, 31 March 1926. Education: Bedford School, 1940-44; Edinburgh University, 1944; New College, Oxford, B.A. (honors) in French 1950. Military Service: Served in the Royal Marines, 1945-46. Family: Married Elizabeth Whitton in 1954 (deceased 1990); married Sarah Smith in 1998. Career: Lecturer in English, University of Poitiers, France, 1950-51; teacher at Anargyrios College, Spetsai, Greece, 1951-52, and in London, 1953-63. Awards: Silver Pen award, 1969; W.H. Smith Literary award, 1970; Christopher award, 1981. Honorary fellow, New College, Oxford, 1997. D. Litt., Exeter University, 1983; University of East Anglia, 1997. Address: c/o Jonathan Cape Ltd, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA, England.

Publications

Novels

The Collector. London, Cape, and Boston, Little Brown, 1963.

The Magus. Boston, Little Brown, 1965; London, Cape, 1966; revised edition, Cape, 1977; Little Brown, 1978.

The French Lieutenant's Woman. London, Cape, and Boston, LittleBrown, 1969.

Daniel Martin. Boston, Little Brown, and London, Cape, 1977.

Mantissa. London, Cape, and Boston, Little Brown, 1982.

A Maggot. London, Cape, and Boston, Little Brown 1985.

Short Stories

The Ebony Tower: Collected Novellas. London, Cape, and Boston, Little Brown, 1974.

Plays

Don Juan, adaptation of the play by Molière (produced London, 1981).

Lorenzaccio, adaptation of the play by Alfred de Musset (producedLondon, 1983).

Martine, adaptation of a play by Jean Jacques Bernard (producedLondon, 1985).

Screenplays:

The Magus, 1968.

Poetry

Poems. New York, Ecco Press, 1973.

Conditional. Northridge, California, Lord John Press, 1979.

Other

The Aristos: A Self-Portrait in Ideas. Boston, Little Brown, 1964;London, Cape, 1965; revised edition, London, Pan, 1968; Little Brown, 1970.

Shipwreck, photographs by the Gibsons of Scilly. London, Cape, 1974; Boston, Little Brown, 1975.

Islands, photographs by Fay Godwin. London, Cape, 1978; Boston, Little Brown, 1979.

The Tree, photographs by Frank Horvat. London, Aurum Press, 1979; Boston, Little Brown, 1980; published as The Tree; The Nature of Nature: Two Essays, with woodcuts by Aaron Johnson. Covelo, California, Yolla Bolly Press, 1995.

The Enigma of Stonehenge, photographs by Barry Brukoff. London, Cape, and New York, Summit, 1980.

A Brief History of Lyme. Lyme Regis, Dorset, Friends of the LymeRegis Museum, 1981.

A Short History of Lyme Regis. Wimborne, Dorset, Dovecote Press, 1982; Boston, Little Brown, 1983.

Land, photographs by Fay Godwin. London, Heinemann, and Boston, Little Brown, 1985.

Lyme Regis Camera. Stanbridge, Dorset, Dovecote Press, 1990;Boston, Little Brown, 1991.

The Man Who Died: A Story (commentary) by D. H. Lawrence. Hopewell, New Jersey, Ecco Press, 1994.

Wormholes: Essays and Occasional Writings, edited and introduced by Jan Relf. New York, H. Holt, 1998.

John Fowles and Nature: Fourteen Perspectives on Landscape, edited by James R. Aubrey. Madison, New Jersey, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1999.

Editor, Steep Holm: A Case History in the Study of Evolution. Sherborne, Dorset, Allsop Memorial Trust, 1978.

Editor, with Rodney Legg, Monumenta Britannica, by John Aubrey. Sherborne, Dorset Publishing Company, 2 vols., 1981-82; vol. 1, Boston, Little Brown, 1981.

Editor, Thomas Hardy's England, by Jo Draper. London, Cape, andBoston, Little Brown, 1984.

Translator, Cinderella, by Perrault. London, Cape, 1974; Boston, Little Brown, 1975.

Translator, Ourika, by Claire de Durfort. Austin, Texas, Taylor, 1977.

*

Bibliography:

"John Fowles: An Annotated Bibliography 1963-76" by Karen Magee Myers, in Bulletin of Bibliography (Boston), vol. 33, no. 4, 1976; John Fowles: A Reference Guide by Barry N. Olshen and Toni A. Olshen, Boston, Hall, 1980; "John Fowles: A Bibliographical Checklist" by Ray A. Roberts, in American Book Collector (New York), September-October, 1980; "Criticism of John Fowles: A Selected Checklist" by Ronald C. Dixon, in Modern Fiction Studies (Lafayette, Indiana), Spring 1985.

Manuscript Collection:

University of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Critical Studies:

Possibilities by Malcolm Bradbury, London, Oxford University Press, 1973; The Fiction of John Fowles: Tradition, Art, and the Loneliness of Selfhood by William J. Palmer, Columbia, University of Missouri Press, 1974; John Fowles: Magus and Moralist by Peter Wolfe, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Bucknell University Press, 1976, revised edition, 1979; Etudes sur The French Lieutenant's Woman de John Fowles edited by Jean Chevalier, Caen, University of Caen, 1977; John Fowles by Barry N. Olshen, New York, Ungar, 1978; John Fowles, John Hawkes, Claude Simon: Problems of Self and Form in the Post-Modernist Novel by Robert Burden, Würzburg, Königshausen & Neumann, and Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, Humanities Press, 1980; John Fowles by Robert Huffaker, New York, Twayne, 1980; "John Fowles Issue" of Journal of Modern Literature (Philadelphia), vol. 8, no. 2, 1981; Four Contemporary Novelists by Kerry McSweeney, Montreal, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1982, London, Scolar Press, 1983; John Fowles by Peter J. Conradi, London, Methuen, 1982; Fowles, Irving, Barthes: Canonical Variations on an Apocryphal Theme by Randolph Runyon, Columbus, Ohio State University Press, 1982; The Timescapes of John Fowles by H.W. Fawkner, Rutherford, New Jersey, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1983; Male Mythologies: John Fowles and Masculinity by Bruce Woodcock, Brighton, Harvester Press, 1984; The Romances of John Fowles by Simon Loveday, London, Macmillan, 1985; "John Fowles Issue" of Modern Fiction Studies (Lafayette, Indiana), Spring 1985; The Fiction of John Fowles: A Myth for Our Time by Carol M. Barnum, Greenwood, Florida, Penkevill, 1988; The Art of John Fowles by Katherine Tarbox, Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1988; Form and Meaning in the Novels of John Fowles by Susana Onega, Ann Arbor, Michigan, UMI Research Press, 1989; John Fowles: A Reference Companion by James R. Aubrey, New York, Greenwood Press, 1991; Point of View in Fiction and Film: Focus on John Fowles by Charles Garard, New York, P. Lang, 1991; John Fowles's Fiction and the Poetics of Postmodernism by Mahmoud Salami, Rutherford, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1992; Something and Nothingness: The Fiction of John Updike and John Fowles by John Neary, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1992; Understanding John Fowles by Thomas C. Foster, Columbia, University of South Carolina Press, 1994; John Fowles by James Acheson. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1998; Conversations with John Fowles, edited by Dianne L. Vipond. Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1999.

* * *

John Fowles is a highly allusive and descriptive novelist. In all his fictions, situations and settings are carefully and lavishly done: the French country landscape of "The Cloud" (The Ebony Tower ); the blues and purples of the stark New Mexican mountains, the soft rainy contours of Devon in various greens and greys, the bleak and menacing deserts of Syria, all in Daniel Martin. Most frequently, Fowles's richly painted settings conceal a mystery, as in the title story of The Ebony Tower, in which an old English painter has created his "forest" in France, like that of Chrétien de Troyes, a "mystery island" to break away from the closed formal island into "love and adventure and the magical." The lush Greek island of The Magus conceals mystery and magic, a stage for the complicated and elaborate series of theatricals that enchant, enslave, and instruct a young Englishman who has taken a teaching job there. The five eighteenth-century travellers in A Maggot go through the deep vales and caverns near Exmoor, which lead to death for one, to a vision of paradise that may have helped establish a new religion for another, and to unknowable disappearance for a third. Often, Fowles's characters, like Nicholas Urfe in The Magus or the interrogating magistrate in A Maggot, try to solve the mysteries, to make sense of what happens as they confront new worlds, but they are not entirely successful. Frequently, as in the short story "The Enigma," in which a solid, stable, middle-aged Tory M.P. simply disappears, Fowles does not resolve the mystery and concentrates on the implications for others in living in terms of what is finally unknown.

In staging his mysteries, in choosing what to reveal and what to conceal, Fowles has often been seen by readers as manipulative. Such manipulation, however, is not merely a matter of tricks, ingenious switches, or "the God-game." Rather, the sense of "reality" as something that has to be manipulated, rearranged, in order to be understood is central to Fowles's conception of both the nature and the function of fiction. When victimized by a mock trial in the culminating theatrical invented for him, Nicholas Urfe realizes that he is only getting what he has deserved, for "all my life I had tried to turn life into fiction, to hold reality away." Mantissa, the title itself suggesting a trivial addition to literature, consists of a debate between the novelist and his erotic muse about the nature of fiction which satirizes simplistic solipsistic positions like "Serious modern fiction has only one subject: the difficulty of writing serious modern fiction." The novelist's manipulation is more complex and immediately recognizable in The French Lieutenant's Woman, which is full of parodies of old novelistic devices, switches in time and history, and frequent interruptions of the Victorian narrative that acknowledge the author's deliberate arrangements. The reader is constantly led to question what "Victorian" means, to recognize the texture of anachronism, parody, research, quotations from Marx, Darwin, Victorian sociological reports, Tennyson, Arnold, and Hardy as various means of demonstrating the conditional nature of time and history, the necessity of locating oneself in the present before one can understand anything of the past. The novel also has three endings, not simply as a form of prestidigitation, but as a demonstration that three different possible resolutions, each characterizing a different possible perspective itself historically definable, are consistent with the issues and characters Fowles has set in motion. A Maggot deploys strategies of similar contemporary interruptions, like the child opening a gate for the travellers on horse-back who is thrown a farthing that falls "over her bent crown of no doubt lice-ridden hair," or the actor playing a London merchant who changes from "anachronistic skinhead" to "Buddhist monk," to present a conflict between legalistic dialogue and the origins of religion or art, later explained as a version of the universal conflict between the left-lobed brain and the right, in terms of its modern genesis in the socially static period of the 1730s. Only in Mantissa and in parts of Daniel Martin do Fowles's speculations about the nature of fiction become arid and modish.

The allusive references of Fowles's ingenious fictions have generally widened and deepened over the course of his development. In his first novel, The Collector, more sensational than those that followed, Fowles attempted to probe psychologically and sociologically on a single plane of experience, to demonstrate what in a young man of one class caused him to collect, imprison, and dissect the girl from another class he thought he loved. The fabrications of The Magus extend further into history, legend, and myth, exploring various kinds of Gods, of perspectives "real" and imaginary (one can never finally draw a line between the two) that negate human freedom. A number of the long stories of The Ebony Tower, like "Eliduc," retell ancient myths or recreate them in contemporary terms. The French Lieutenant's Woman, with all its literary, historical, and artistic allusions, shows what of the story is of the past, what of the present, and what indeterminate, for history, for Fowles, invariably includes much of the time and perspective of the historian. Thematically, Daniel Martin is, in some ways, an expansion of The French Lieutenant's Woman, an analysis of Fowles's own generation, the last in England that might still be characterized as Victorian, "brought up in some degree of the nineteenth century since the twentieth did not begin until 1945." Daniel Martin also makes explicit a theme implicit in Fowles's earlier fiction, the paralyzing and complicated effects of all the guilts originating in the Victorian past, what he calls a "pandemic of self-depreciation" that leads to emotional insularity and to the capacity to live gracefully with loss rather than expending effort to change. In this novel, which ranges geographically (America, Italy, and the Middle East, as well as England) and historically (past wars and cultural legends), the guilt and self-depreciation are also attached to attractions to lost civilizations, the American Indians, the Minoans, the Etruscans, and the contemporary English. A Maggot, following the metaphor of the "larval stage of a winged create," but also, according to Fowles, meaning in the eighteenth century a "whim or quirk an obsession," expands its terms historically into a vision of possible humanity, an "almost divine maggot" attempting social and religious change against "reason, convention, established belief."

Until the fictional focus on the mother and the creation of Ann Lee, the historical founder of the Shaker religion, in A Maggot, Fowles's central characters have been isolated, rational, self-punishing males who attempted to join with independent, passionate, and enigmatic women. As the voice of the author in The French Lieutenant's Woman claims, he may be simply transferring his own inabilities to understand the enigmatic female into the safety of his historically locatable Victorian story. The sexual focus, however, with its attendant guilts and metaphorical expansions, is characteristic, and the novels develop the rational and sometimes manipulative means the male uses to try to understand and control the amorphous and enigmatic female. The male is always limited, his formulations and understandings only partial. And, in his frustration, the necessity that he operate in a world where understanding is never complete, he acts so as to capture (The Collector ), desert (The Magus ), betray (The French Lieutenant's Woman ), relate to through art (Mantissa ), or both betray and finally recover (Daniel Martin ) the female he can only partially comprehend. In A Maggot, the prestidigitating male finally disappears from the fiction entirely, leaving the woman, who incorporates both whore and saint, to bring forth significant life herself. Fowles has treated his constant metaphorical focus on relationships between the sexes with growing insight, sympathy, and intelligence, as well as with a fascinating complexity of sociological, historical, and psychological implications of the incessant human effort involved.

James Gindin

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Fowles, John Robert

Fowles, John Robert (1926– ) English novelist. His debut novel, The Collector (1963), about an obsessive who kidnaps a young woman, was made into a feature film. The Magus (1966) and The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969) were also filmed. Later novels include A Maggot (1985) and works on natural history, such as A Short History of Lyme Regis (1982).

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Fowles, John

John Fowles

BORN: 1926, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England

DIED: 2005, Lyme Regis, England

NATIONALITY: English

GENRE: Fiction, poetry, drama, nonfiction

MAJOR WORKS:
The Collector (1963)
The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969)
Poems (1973)
The Ebony Tower: Collected Novellas (1974)
A Maggot (1985)

Overview

While John Fowles's reputation was based mainly on his novels and their film versions, he demonstrated expertise in the fields of nature, art, science, and natural history as reflected in a body of non-fictional writings. Throughout his career, Fowles committed himself to a scholarly exploration of the place of the artist in contemporary society and sought the personal isolation and exile that he felt essential to such a search.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Intellectual “Heaven” at Oxford John Fowles was born on March 31, 1926, to middle-class parents Robert John and Gladys Richards Fowles. He attended a London preparatory school, the Bedford School, between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. He then served as a lieutenant in the Royal Marines for two years, but World War II ended before he saw actual combat.

Following the war, Fowles studied French and German at New College, Oxford. He later referred to this period as “three years of heaven in an intellectual sense.” After graduating from Oxford, Fowles began a teaching career that took him first to France, where he taught English at the University of Poiters, and then to Spetsai, a Greek island, where he taught at Anorgyrios College. It was on Spetsai that Fowles met Elizabeth Whitton. Three years later, on April 2, 1954, they were married in England.

Fowles continued to earn a living through a variety of teaching assignments until the success of his first published work, The Collector (1963), allowed him to move with his wife and her daughter to Lyme Regis in Dorset. He continued to live in this quiet seacoast town—intentionally isolated from English literary circles—where he wrote, gardened, and pursued his interests in natural and local history.

Writing Career Begins It was not until Fowles was in his early twenties that he began his writing career. After translating a poem by Pierre de Ronsard he was able to overcome a fear of self-expression that he once suggested is common to all Englishmen. Fowles's first serious attempts at writing took place on Spetsai, amid the natural splendors of the Greek landscape. His experience of the mystery and majesty of this island was a powerful influence. Not only did he write poetry, which appeared later in his collection Poems, but this setting also provided the inspiration for The Magus (1965), a work that would obsess the writer for many years. Leaving Greece was a painful experience for Fowles, but he felt the move was necessary to his artistic growth. “I had not then realized that loss is essential for the novelist, immensely fertile for his books, however painful to his private being.”

Submission Delayed While back in England and teaching in a variety of positions in the London area, Fowles worked on several manuscripts but was dissatisfied with his efforts and submitted none for publication until 1963, when The Collector appeared.

The commercial success of The Collector enabled Fowles to publish The Aristos: A Self-Portrait in Ideas the following year. As the title suggests, this volume consists of a collection of philosophical statements covering diverse areas but aimed at proposing a new, ideal man for our times—the Aristos. The publication of this book at that time probably owed something to the fact that The Collector, in spite of its popular reception, was denied critical consideration by many who failed to look past its thriller format.

Fowles's next published work, The Magus, published in 1965, was, according to its author, “in every way except that of mere publishing date … a first novel.” Using Spetsai as his model, Fowles created the island of Phraxos where Nicholas Urfe, a young English school-master, meets Maurice Conchis, the enigmatic master of an island estate. Through a series of bizarre “godgames,” Conchis engineers the destruction of Nicholas' perception of reality, a necessary step in the achievement of a true understanding of his being in the world. While The Magus was first published in 1965, Fowles issued a revised edition in 1977 in which he had rewritten numerous scenes in an attempt to purify the work he called an “endlessly tortured and recast cripple” which had, nonetheless, “aroused more interest than anything else I have written.”

Fowles was at work on a new manuscript when in 1966 he envisioned a woman in black Victorian garb standing on a wharf and staring out at the sea. She “was Victorian; and since I always saw her in the same static long shot, with her back turned, she represented a reproach on the Victorian Age. An outcast. I didn't know her crime, but I wished to protect her.” The vision recurred, became an obsession, and led eventually to The French Lieutenant's Woman, a Victorian novel in manner, but contemporary and existential in viewpoint. The novel was made into a popular film of the same name in 1981.

LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES

Fowles's famous contemporaries include:

Richard Burton (1925–1984): Welsh actor known for, among other things, being outspoken, being the highest paid actor in Hollywood (at one time), and for marrying actress Elizabeth Taylor twice.

Peter Matthiessen (1927–): American naturalist, Zen Buddhist, and historical fiction and nonfiction author.

Peter Sellers (1925–1980): British comic actor best known for the movies Pink Panther and Being There.

John Updike (1932–): Award-winning American writer of small town, Protestant, white middle-class subjects who has twice won the Pulitzer Prize.

In 1974 Ebony Tower, a collection of stories, appeared. The work was televised ten years later. The title story focuses on a confrontation between a pseudo-sophisticated man of the world with a reclusive shaman who shatters his poorly conceived notions of reality, a

theme explored more broadly in The Magus. This volume contains a translation of a twelfth-century romance written by Marie de France. Fowles's original title for this collection was Variations. While these stories are original and unique, they are connected to each other and to the earlier works by an underlying sense of loss, mystery, and desire for growth.

Daniel Martin (1977), perhaps the most autobiographical of Fowles's novels, draws upon his early memories of the Devonshire countryside as well as his later involvement in the Hollywood film industry. Mantissa (1982), though more cerebral, demonstrates a continuing concern with the artist's intrapersonal conflicts.

In 1996, a new edition of Fowles's essay “The Tree” was published, and along with it the essay “The Nature of Nature,” written some fifteen years later when the author was approaching seventy years of age, suffering from a crippling illness, and taking what one reviewer described as “a more immediate look at last things.” In The Nature of Nature, Fowles wrote, “Illness has kept me even more alone than usual these last two years and brought me closer to being, though that hasn't always been very pleasant for my body. What has struck me about the acutely rich sensation of beingness is how fleeting its apprehension… the more you would capture it, the less likely that you will.”

Freedom Fowles's roots in Western culture were broad and deep, and he earned a reputation as an innovator in the evolution of the contemporary novel. He was a spokesperson for modern humanity, steeped in science, yet ever aware that what it more deeply needs is “the existence of mysteries. Not their solutions.” In contrast to his public success as a popular and serious “literary” writer, Fowles consistently distanced himself from the middle-class English society that was his familial lot and a source of much resentment toward his father. By the time he died in his home in Lyme Regis, Dorset, Fowles was living a sort of self-imposed exile. His focus in naturalistic writing was combined with his interest in exploring and challenging the traditional devices of storytelling to explore themes related to his alienation. Such themes and concepts as freedom reflect his personal attitude and play a significant role in his public writing. Not only did he refuse to be put into a “cage labeled ‘novelist’” as he stated in The Aristos: A Self-Portrait in Ideas, but he also rejected any label limiting him to a particular kind of writing. Fowles wrote fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and drama, and also edited, translated, and explored many other forms of writing. This intellectual innovator of style continues to sell millions of copies of his novels, making a number of them bestsellers.

Works in Literary Context

Influences In his years of study at New College, Fowles was exposed to the Celtic romances and the existential works of Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Franz Kafka, and several others. In a personal note in The Magus, Fowles paid tribute to the Celtic romance, and in The Godgame, he pointed out the influence on his novel by psychologist Carl Jung, author Henry James's The Turn of the Screw and writer Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. He was also inspired by French literature, the discipline of psychology, and several other areas of study that lent themselves to his intellectualism and writing.

At the same time, Fowles had a profound effect on serious readers, mainstream readers, and his many students who would consult him for reading lists. He never had one, but his followers would read whatever he would mention or recommend.

COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE

In The Collector, Fowles contemplates the theme of confrontation between the few versus the many, the artistic versus the conventional. This theme, as well as a concern with freedom, authenticity, and parallel realities, appears in several of his novels. By giving characters their freedom, Fowles liberates himself from the tyranny of rigid planning.

Here are a few works by writers who also produced similar themes or offered similar innovative styles:

City of Glass (1986), a novel by Paul Auster. In this, one of the earliest postmodern novels, Auster plays with language, scene, and structure in a combination of detective fiction, existentialism, and intellectual literature.

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (1981), a novel by Italo Calvino. A comedy, a tragedy, a thoughtful and thought-provoking experience.

In the Labyrinth (1959), a novel by Alain Robbe-Grillet. An existential detective novel for the postmodern culture.

The Artistic Versus the Conventional One of Fowles's signature themes is represented in his novel The Collector. In the book, Frederick Clegg, a poorly educated clerk of the lower class and an amateur lepidopterist—a scientist who studies butterflies and moths—becomes obsessed with a beautiful young art student, Miranda Grey. Clegg wins a large sum of money in a football pool, enabling him to carry out a plan of kidnap and imprisonment. The first part of the book is told from Clegg's point of view and the second is told from the imprisoned Miranda's perspective. The characters of Miranda and Clegg embody the conflict that Fowles, reaching back to Greek philosopher Heracleitus, finds central to mankind—the few versus the many, the artistic versus the conventional. As Fowles noted, “My purpose in The

Collector was to analyze, through a parable, some of the results of this confrontation.” This theme, as well as a concern with freedom and authenticity and parallel realities, recurred in later novels. Miranda, according to Fowles, “is an existential heroine although she doesn't know it. She's groping for her own authenticity.”

Works in Critical Context

At times Fowles gained mixed attention for his work. For instance, Daniel Martin appeared in 1977 to uneven reviews. While some critics faulted its rambling structure and lack of narrative suspense, others regarded it as a more honest, straightforward recounting of personal confrontation with one's own history. In the same respect, several of his works have earned much positive acclaim, including The French Lieutenant's Woman.

The French Lieutenant's Woman When The French Lieutenant's Woman was published in 1969, it met with critical and popular success. James Aronson, in the Antioch Review, stated that with this novel, Fowles showed himself to be “a novelist as great as [Joyce] Carey and [E. M.] Forster.” Paul Edward Gray of the Yale Review called it “a modishly-framed imitation of Victorian fiction” that was nonetheless “remarkably satisfying.”

Not all reviewers were as pleased. Jonathan Keates of The New Review, after reading the work, felt “irritated at having to endure a drenching from a mixture of archly self-conscious detachment, toe-curling patronage, and a set of opinions, stated or implied, on the Victorians which I didn't share.” Some critics saw the virtues of the book in comparison to his later works. Denis Donoghue, in a negative review of Daniel Martin for the New York Review of Books, notes that “The French Lieutenant's Woman is Fowles's best work because he found for that occasion a major theme of great historical and personal importance, and he commanded a language at least adequate.”

Responses to Literature

  1. Read The French Lieutenant's Woman. What are the gender role expectations for Victorian women? What are the gender role expectations for Victorian men?
  2. Besides using narrative shifts in many of his novels, such as in The French Lieutenant's Woman, Fowles offers multiple endings. Based on what you discovered about the roles of Victorian men and women, which ending would be most accepted by readers during Victorian times? Which ending do you think would be best received by audiences today? Can you think of an even more updated ending? If the book were updated, what would Sarah's role be as a woman? Would she still be a nanny? Would she take on a secretarial (or administrative assistant) role? Would she be more like a tutor? Why? What would Charles's role be? Why?

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

“John Fowles (1926–).” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Carolyn Riley. vol. 1. Detroit: Gale Research, 1973. p. 109.

“John Fowles (1926–).” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Dedria Bryfonski. vol. 10. Detroit: Gale Research, 1979. pp. 183–191.

Loveday, Simon. The Romances of John Fowles. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985.

Tarbox, Katherine. The Art of John Fowles. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988.

Foster, Thomas C. Understanding John Fowles. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994.

Periodicals

Baker, James R. Interview, “John Fowles: The Art of Fiction No.109.” The Paris Review (Summer, 1989).

“The Fifty Greatest Postwar Writers: 30 John Fowles.” (London) Times Online (January 5, 2008).

Lee-Potter, Adam. Interview, “Fair or Fowles?” (London) Guardian (October 12, 2003).

Web sites

Fowles, John. John Fowles: The Web Site. Retrieved February 7, 2008, from http://www.fowlesbooks.com.

Scriptmania. Interview with John Fowles. Retrieved February 7, 2008, from http://lidiavianu.scriptmania.com/john_fowles.htm.

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Fowles, John

FOWLES, John

FOWLES, John. British, b. 1926. Genres: Novels, Novellas/Short stories, Poetry, Translations. Publications: The Collector, 1958; The Aristos: A Self-Portrait in Ideas, 1964; The Magus, 1966; The French Lieutenant's Woman, 1969; The Ebony Tower: Collected Novellas, 1974; Poems, 1974; (trans.) Perrault: Cinderella 1974; Shipwreck, 1974; (trans.) Ourika, 1977; Daniel Martin, 1977; Islands, 1978; The Tree, 1979; The Enigma of Stonehenge, 1980; A Brief History of Lyme, 1981; (co-ed.) J. Aubrey, Monumenta Britannica, 2 vols., 1981-82; A Short History of Lyme Regis, 1982; Mantissa, 1982; Land, 1985; A Maggot, 1985; Lyme Regis Camera, 1990; I Write Therefore I Am, 1997; Wormholes: Essays and Occasional Writings, 1998.

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Fowles, John 1926–2005

Fowles, John 1926–2005

(John Robert Fowles)

PERSONAL: Born March 31, 1926, in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England; died November 5, 2005, in Lyme Regis, Dorset, England; son of Robert John and Gladys May (Richards) Fowles; married Elizabeth Whitton, April 2, 1954 (died, 1990); married Sarah Smith, 1998. Education: Attended University of Edinburgh; New College, Oxford, B.A. (honors), 1950.

CAREER: Writer and educator. University of Poitiers, Poitiers, France, lecturer in English, 1950–51; Anargyrios and Korgialenios School of Spetses, Spetsai, Greece, teacher, 1951–52; Ashridge College, teacher, 1953–54; St. Godric's College, London, England, teacher, 1954–63. Military service: Royal Marines; became lieutenant.

AWARDS, HONORS: Silver Pen Award, English Centre of International PEN, W.H. Smith Literary Award, both 1970, for The French Lieutenant's Woman; honorary curator of Lyme Regis Museum, 1979–88; Christopher Award, 1982, for The Tree; The Magus was voted 'one of the nation's 100 best-loved novels' by the British public as part of the British Broadcasting Corporation's project The Big Read, 2003; honorary fellowships from Modern Language Association and New College, Oxford; Litt.D., University of East Anglia and Chapman University.

WRITINGS:

NOVELS

The Collector (also see below), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1963.

The Magus (also see below), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1966, revised edition, 1977.

The French Lieutenant's Woman (also see below), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1969.

Daniel Martin, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1977.

Mantissa, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1982.

A Maggot, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1985.

OTHER

The Aristos: A Self-Portrait in Ideas, Little, Brown (Boston, MA) 1964, 2nd revised edition published as The Aristos, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1980.

(With Stanley Mann and John Kohn) The Collector (screenplay; based on Fowles's novel of the same title), Columbia Pictures, 1965.

The Magus (screenplay; based on Fowles's novel of the same title), Twentieth Century-Fox, 1969.

Poems, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 1973.

The Ebony Tower (short stories), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1974.

(Adaptor and translator) Charles Perrault, Cinderella, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1974, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1976.

(Translator) Clairie de Dufort, Ourika (novel), W. Thomas Taylor (Austin, TX), 1977.

(Author of text) Islands (photograph collection), photographs by Fay Godwin, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1978.

(Author of text) The Tree (photograph collection), photographs by Frank Horvat, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1980.

The Enigma of Stonehenge, photographs by Barry Brukoff, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1980.

(Literary editor) John Aubrey, Monumenta Brittanica (nonfiction), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), Parts 1 and 2, 1980, Part 3 and Index, 1982.

A Short History of Lyme Regis, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1983.

(Editor and author of introduction) Thomas Hardy's England, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1985.

(Editor) Land (photograph collection), photographs by Fay Godwin, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1985.

Lyme Regis Camera, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1990.

(Translator, with Robert D. MacDonald and Christopher Hampton) Corneille, Landmarks of French Classical Drama, Heinemann (London, England), 1991.

Wormholes: Essays and Occasional Writings, Holt (New York, NY), 1998.

The Journals: Volume 1: 1949–1965, edited and with an introduction by Charles Drazin, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 2003, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2005, Volume II, edited by Drazin, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 2005.

Shorter works include text for the photograph collection "Shipwreck," photographs by the Gibsons of Scilly, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1974". Author of introduction, glossary, and appendix, Mehalah: A Story of the Salt Marshes, by Sabine Baring-Gould, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1969; and The French Lieutenant's Woman: A Screenplay, by Harold Pinter (based on Fowles's novel of the same title), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1981; author of afterword, The Man Who Died: A Story, by David H. Lawrence, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 1994; contributor to several other books and anthologies, including Afterwords: Novelists on Their Novels, 1969, New Visions of Franz Kafka, 1974, and Britain: A World by Itself: Reflections on the Landscape by Eminent British Writers, 1984.

ADAPTATIONS: The Collector was made into a film in 1965, and adapted for the stage and produced in London at the King's Head Theatre in 1971; The French Lieutenant's Woman was made into a film in 1981; a version of Fowles's novella The Ebony Tower was broadcast on television in 1984.

SIDELIGHTS: John Fowles "is an enigma in broad daylight," commented critic Lance St. John Butler in The British and Irish Novel since 1960. "He is exceptionally open about his feelings and opinions, yet it is hard to be absolutely certain that one has understood his work or his position in post-1960s fiction." Fowles was a novelist first and foremost, but he also wrote short fiction, essays, poetry, commentaries on the world of letters, and translations. His novels earned for him a great deal of popularity among the reading public, especially outside his native England in America and France. As Ellen Pifer explained in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "Fowles's success in the marketplace derives from his great skill as a storyteller. His fiction is rich in narrative suspense, romantic conflict, and erotic drama." Yet, as Pifer added, this popularity comes despite the fact that Fowles took an approach to his writing that was most often appreciated in literary circles. "Remarkably," she wrote, "he manages to sustain such effects at the same time that, as an experimental writer testing conventional assumptions about reality, he examines and parodies the traditional devices of storytelling."

Fowles's interest in exploring and challenging the traditional devices of storytelling goes hand in hand with his primary thematic concern: freedom. The concept of freedom played a significant role throughout much of Fowles's writing career. Not only did Fowles refuse to be put into a "cage labeled 'novelist,'" as he stated in The Aristos: A Self-Portrait in Ideas, but he also rejected any label limiting him to a particular kind of writing. Known primarily as a novelist, Fowles seemed to write every possible kind of novel, as well as works of poetry and short fiction. An overview of Fowles's diverse writings helps to explain this characteristic and why it leaves some readers and reviewers perplexed. Many who enjoyed The Collector, a thriller and Fowles's first published novel, were subsequently puzzled when The Magus departed from its pattern. Unlike the tight and compact form of the thriller, The Magus spreads to the length of an "apprentice novel," a form which, like Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, usually follows the chronology of a youth's development. The French Lieutenant's Woman, a historical novel set in the 1860s, overtly guides readers into Fowles's method of transforming and recreating established forms for a new era. The Ebony Tower is unique, for it contains short works that are connected thematically to each other and to several of Fowles's earlier books. Mantissa represents a parody of the literary theories of the post-structuralists. And A Maggot is another historical novel, but it is also a sort of detective story that raises questions about our ability to discern the truth of events by reconstructing them from human accounts.

Despite the variety of forms that he employed, Fowles remained true to his concern with freedom. He pursued the question of whether a human being can act independently from the psychological and social pressures of his/her environment. While this is not his only theme, he wrote in his nonfiction manifesto, The Aristos, that the very "terms of existence encourage us to change, to evolve" if we are to be free; and thus the theme provides a unifying thread throughout much of his work.

Fowles's first published work, The Collector, deals with freedom on a variety of levels. Fred Clegg, a lower-class clerk who has won a fortune in a football pool, buys an isolated house and rigs up a basement room as a secret cell for Miranda, a twenty-year-old, upper-middle-class scholarship art student, whom he has kidnapped. The situation allows Fowles to examine how two types of people and their views of freedom and authority play out in contemporary society. As Susana Onega explained in Form and Meaning in the Novels of John Fowles, "The collector is the least imaginative of men, for in order to exist he must tangibly possess the objects that obsess him, while the creator rejects this material reality and uses his imagination to create his own subjective alternatives to it." Fowles allows each of these points of view to give an account of the kidnapping by dividing the book into two halves. Onega reported, "In The Collector, John Fowles offers us two complementary versions of the events—Frederick Clegg's 'objective' first-person account counterbalanced and undermined by Miranda's much more literary version recorded in her diary."

The action of the novel consists of the working out of two lines of freedom, both based on Miranda's response to Clegg's imposition of his illegitimate authority over her, which she terms "the hateful tyranny of weak people." One line of freedom is Miranda's tentative, temporary, or pretended acceptance of the imposed authority that wins her small degrees of freedom within the limited boundaries that Clegg will permit. The second line consists of Miranda's successive attempts to escape Clegg's control altogether, a struggle that takes on societal and universal human dimensions as the novel progresses. In this struggle, Miranda's diary takes on special significance, one that alludes to Fowles's view of the artist's work. "In The Collector, Miranda intuits that it is possible to destroy her awful reality by striving to create a fictional alternative to it with her diary," suggested Onega. In the end, however, Miranda dies. She catches pneumonia because of the poor conditions in her basement prison, and Clegg refuses to take action.

While the imprisonment of a young woman in a locked room dramatizes lost freedom in The Collector, Fowles deals with the issue more subtly and ironically in The Magus. Nicholas, a young, well-educated Englishman, is an English teacher at a private boys' school on the Greek island of Phraxos. He makes the acquaintance of Conchis, a local wealthy villa owner who has set out to create his own world. This creation includes a "god-game," a series of dramas in which Nicholas and others in Conchis's circle serve as living actors. Fowles and Conchis contrive for Nicolas a trial to learn that freedom in a world of psychological and societal influences requires self-knowledge. Although Nicholas has embraced the concepts of existentialism precisely because of their emphasis on the possibility of knowing one's self and acting authentically upon such knowledge, Fowles demonstrates how the character, in fact, uses them as an almost ironclad defense against self-knowledge.

The French Lieutenant's Woman again addresses the issues of freedom starkly dramatized in The Collector and more developed in The Magus. While Fowles again depicts characters struggling for physical and psychic liberation, he places them in the restrictive atmosphere of Victorian England. Here Charles Smithson, engaged to Ernestina Freeman, becomes entranced by another woman, Sarah Woodruff, the object of rumors of a failed affair with a French lieutenant. In playing out the story of Charles's growing obsession, Fowles desires to see his characters freed, not only from society but also from his own control of them as author; thus the composing process becomes part of the novel's subject. And finally, Fowles liberates even himself from the limitations of the novel form; he devises separate endings for the novel, making the reader his implied consultant on the creation of the book. In this way, as Pifer pointed out in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Fowles creates in The French Lieutenant's Woman "a remarkable evocation of the historical and social matrix of the Victorian age … [that] is also a parody of the conventions, and underlying assumptions, that operate within the Victorian novel."

By giving characters their freedom, Fowles also liberates himself from the tyranny of the rigid plan; but there remains a more basic limitation of fiction, and from this Fowles frees himself by means of his double ending. "The novelist is still a god," Fowles wrote in The French Lieutenant's Woman, "since he creates (and not even the most aleatory avant-garde modern novel has managed to extirpate its author completely); what has changed is that we are no longer the gods of the Victorian image, omniscient and decreeing; but in the new theological image, with freedom our first principle, not authority." Thus, although the novel seems in many ways a Victorian novel, the author reminds the reader that it is not; it is actually a novel of our time, with "this self-consciousness about the processes of art [that] is a hallmark of much twentieth-century fiction."

Fowles said in a personal note set in the middle of The Ebony Tower that he "meant to suggest variations on both certain themes in previous books of mine and in methods of narrative presentation." Themes and narrative methods combine to weave an intricate pattern of connection, not only with earlier works but among the novella, the three short stories, and the translation of a Celtic medieval romance that make up this collection. This translation, of Marie de France's Eliduc, is crucial to the connectedness of these short works. "By including his prose translation of this romance among the original stories collected in this volume," observed Pifer, "Fowles encourages his readers to look for thematic correspondences and common motifs. He thus continues to provoke the reader's interest in the literary process as well as in the product."

In the title work, a novella, Fowles follows the character of David Williams, a minor British abstract painter and art critic. For a contribution to an upcoming art book, David is assigned an interview with one of the leading British painters of an earlier generation. Henry Breasley, now in his seventies, has long lived in Brittany, France, in self-imposed exile. As the story unfolds, the elder artist challenges the younger, accusing him and his contemporaries of isolating themselves in an ebony tower. "A modern variant of the traditional 'ivory tower' idealism," Pifer explained, "the ebony tower signifies the contemporary artist's retreat from reality. Obscurity and cool detachment mask his fear of self-exposure and his failure to engage with life's vital mysteries." David is offered the opportunity to make changes, but he fails to do so. As Carol M. Barnum noted in The Fiction of John Fowles: A Myth for Our Time, "David has spent his life avoiding the challenge, living comfortably but superficially. When he finds himself faced with the dark tower of his existence, he cannot rise to meet it."

Returning to the novel format, Fowles published Daniel Martin. "This novel is patterned on the quest motif, the main character's search for an authentic self," Pifer wrote. Specifically, the title character is a relatively successful screenwriter who is not satisfied with the life that he has made. As a result, he contemplates writing a novel about his own life, and in the writing, recreating himself. "Unlike Fowles's previous novels," suggested Pifer, "this one does not proceed with rapid forward momentum, catching the reader up in its ingenious twists and turns." Even so, assured the critic, "Daniel Martin is not simply nor unartfully constructed; its design is extremely complex." As Jacqueline Costello explained in University of Hartford Studies in Literature, in this novel, "Fowles analyzes the ways in which fiction can restrict or expand our ideas, our relationships, and our beings as he explores the extent to which one can write and revise one's life. His juxtaposition of the then and now, the real and reported, the narrator's first and third persons, discovers a realm in which fiction and reality, author and character, past, present, and future are no longer limited by clear distinctions."

In setting up these juxtapositions, Fowles offers Daniel Martin the opportunity to recognize his own as well as his generation's failings, mainly selfishness. In this recognition, "Fowles appears more concerned than ever before with the relationship of the individual to his society, and with the necessary balance between personal freedom and social restraint," Pifer pointed out. In the end, Costello found, "Daniel Martin assumes the moral shape of the epic romance as it replays the protagonist's return to domesticity, community, and culture after travel and trial, after quelling id and confronting neurosis." Thus, concluded Pifer, "At the end of Daniel Martin, the protagonist finds himself … poised on the brink of a possible new life, the "chance of a new existence.""

In Mantissa, Fowles draws the reader into a story about a writer who is suffering from amnesia, and his doctor, who offers her brand of sexual therapy as a cure. Yet, as is always the case with Fowles, there is more here than immediately meets the eye, issues of freedom and the writer's role. As Raymond J. Wilson III commented in Twentieth-Century Literature, this novel is a complex work that folds an allegory about writing into a parody of one particular philosophy of writing. Wilson suggested that Fowles has essentially called the bluff of post-structuralists such as Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, and Jacques Lacan. In other words, asked Wilson, "What would a novel look like if the post-structuralists are right? John Fowles's answer: If they are right, a novel will look like Mantissa." Wilson continued, "Drawing primarily from Roland Barthes but also from Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan, Fowles ridicules the sexual theory of the text while simultaneously transforming it into an interesting and plausible allegorical expression of the creative process." Contrary to what the post-structuralists argue, that the author does not exist or is at best inconsequential, Fowles demonstrates through the union of the amnesic author and his muse doctor that this view is absurd and that he, John Fowles, does exist and does control the text. "When Fowles parodies our modern philosophers in Mantissa, he transcends parody by re-crafting the post-structuralist sexual theory of the text into his own demonstrated sexual allegory of the creative process," reiterated Wilson.

In A Maggot Fowles turns his attention to the eighteenth century in much the same way as he had ex-plored the nineteenth century in The French Lieutenant's Woman. The two novels share a number of similarities. Frederick M. Holmes outlined the similarities in a Contemporary Literature review. "Both are unconventional historical novels which bring an explicitly modern authorial consciousness to bear on the past rather than pretending to be of the historical period during which the action takes place." Furthermore, Holmes observed, "A Maggot features both segments of narrative in the manner of a realistic novel … and the discursive reflections of a self-consciously literary narrator." However, Fowles employs several new devices to draw readers into the eighteenth-century world he is creating and to distract them from the fact that it is a creation. A Maggot "incorporates other kinds of documents, some of which Fowles has taken from authentic, eighteenth-century sources and some of which he has composed to masquerade as eighteenth-century texts," Holmes explained.

The novel is centered on the disappearance of Mr. Bartholomew and the efforts of the barrister Henry Ayscough to reconstruct the events of his disappearance. In the course of his investigation, the rational Ayscough must face the intuitive, artistic Rebecca, who may have witnessed the events in question. Because she has offered two different accounts of the trip to a cave in rural England from which Bartholomew never returned, and though both versions seem unreliable, Ayscough's efforts to recreate the past only muddle it more. "Like the majority of Fowles's fiction, [A Maggot] suggests that to impose finality on narratives is to falsify the existential uncertainty which is an inescapable part of being alive," wrote Holmes.

A Maggot was Fowles's last novel. As he confided to Washington Post Book World contributor David Streitfeld, "the idea of writing yet another story suddenly seems rather boring." Instead, Fowles became increasingly interested in poetry. "I hope to write a book-length attempt at various poems," he told Streitfeld. "I think when you get old, suddenly poetry becomes more real, more important."

The major philosophical and literary concerns of Fowles's career are presented in Wormholes, a miscellany of several decades' worth of essays and occasional writings. These are grouped as autobiographical writings, pieces on culture and society, essays on literature and criticism, reflections on nature, and "An Interview." Critics appreciated the book's liveliness and originality. In the New York Times Book Review, Roger Kimball hailed the volume as "various, quirkily learned, beguiling, opinionated and, in parts, as sumptuously written as Fowles's fiction." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, in the New York Times, especially welcomed Fowles's comments on writing and literature, as well as his travel writing about France and Greece. Though the critic disliked the occasional bouts of over-seriousness in the book, he considered it, in general, to be "a useful and stimulating tour through nature, literature and the art of the novel."

Nearly twenty years after the publication of A Maggot, Fowles reappeared on the literary scene, through the editorial efforts of Charles Drazin, with the first of two volumes of the novelist's journals. The Journals: Volume 1: 1949–1965, describe Fowles's youthful adventures in France and Greece, his emergence from obscurity at nearly forty years of age with the publication of The Collector, and the ensuing fame that threatened to overwhelm him, ending with the author's retreat circa 1969 to the peace and quiet of Lyme Regis, where he remained until his death. Some critics expressed pleasant surprise at the news that Fowles had published a "remarkably detailed, analytical" documentation of a relatively private life, as Donna Seaman noted in her Booklist review. She recommended Fowles's journal as a "fascinating … story of his evolution as a writer." Contemporary Review contributor Geoffrey Heptonstall counted the journal among the best of Fowles's literary accomplishments. "Private thoughts made public," he observed, can surprise the unsuspecting reader, "but the intemperate frankness here revealed is a necessary prelude to the singularly enriching clarity of perception." A second volume of The Journals was published in 2005.

Fowles's refusal to limit himself opened his work to much of life. He sifted elements of culture, art, and historical experience into such familiar structures as the thriller, the adolescent-learning novel, the historical novel, the book of short fiction, and the mainstream modernist novel. He re-created and made these forms his own, mixing his insight about human beings and life into the transformed structures. Literature and myth enter through the many allusions that he made central to the movement of the novels. Finally, while many of Fowles's novels make significant social comments and provide insights into human character, his variety of forms open continual opportunities for new possibilities. Such diversity, although presenting the reader with difficulties of adjustment from novel to novel, supplies evidence that Fowles pushed ahead, activated by his own major theme: the drive for freedom. For this reason, Pifer concluded in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "Fowles has indeed proved himself a dynamic rather than a static artist. Generations of readers will doubtless continue to be enlightened as well as entertained by his fiction."

Fowles died at his home in Lyme Regis, England on November 5, 2005, after a prolonged period of illness.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Acheson, James, editor, The British and Irish Novel since 1960, Macmillan Academic (London, England), 1991.

Acheson, James, John Fowles, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.

Conradi, Peter, John Fowles, Methuen (London, England), 1982.

Contemporary Fiction in America and England, 1950–1970, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1976.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 1, 1973, Volume 2, 1974, Volume 3, 1975, Volume 4, 1975, Volume 6, 1976, Volume 9, 1978, Volume 10, 1979, Volume 15, 1980, Volume 33, 1985, Volume 87, 1995.

Contemporary Novelists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 14: British Novelists since 1960, 1983, Volume 139: British Short-Fiction Writers, 1994.

Fawkner, H. W., The Timescapes of John Fowles, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press (East Brunswick, NJ), 1984.

The Fiction of John Fowles: A Myth for Our Time, Pen-kevill Publishing (Greenwood, FL), 1988.

Fowles, John, The Aristos: A Self-Portrait in Ideas, Little, Brown (Boston, MA) 1964, 2nd revised edition published as Aristos, J. Cape (London, England), 1980.

Fowles, John, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1969.

Fowles, John,The Ebony Tower, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1974.

Fowles, John, The Journals: Volume 1: 1949–1965, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 2003.

Hayman, Ronald, The Novel Today, 1967–75, Longman (New York, NY), 1976.

Higdon, David L., Time and English Fiction, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1977.

Huffaker, Robert, John Fowles, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1980.

Loveday, Simon, The Romances of John Fowles, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1985.

McSweeney, Kerry, Four Contemporary Novelists, McGill-Queen's University Press (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1983.

Newquist, Roy, Counterpoint, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1964.

Olshen, Barry, John Fowles, Ungar (New York, NY), 1978.

Olshen, Barry, and Toni Olshen, John Fowles: A Reference Guide, G.K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1980.

Onega, Susan,Form and Meaning in the Novels of John Fowles, UMI Research Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1989.

Palmer, William J., The Fiction of John Fowles: Tradition, Art, and the Loneliness of Selfhood, University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO), 1974.

Runyon, Randolph, Fowles/Irving/Barthes: Canonical Variations on an Apocryphal Theme, Ohio State University Press (Columbus, OH), 1981.

Salami, Mahmoud, John Fowles's Fiction and the Poetics of Postmodernism, Associated University Presses (Cranbury, NJ), 1992.

Shaw, Philip, and Peter Stockwell, editors, Subjectivity and Literature from the Romantics to the Present Day, Pinter Publishers (London, England), 1991.

Tarbox, Katherine,The Art of John Fowles, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1998.

Vipond, Dianne L., editor, Conversations with John Fowles, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1999.

Warburton, Eileen, John Fowles: A Life In Two Worlds, Viking (New York, NY), 2004.

Weber, Brom, editor, Sense and Sensibility in Twentieth-Century Writing, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 1970.

Wolfe, Peter, John Fowles: Magus and Moralist, Bucknell University Press (Cranbury, NJ), 1976, revised edition, 1979.

Woodcock, Bruce, Male Mythologies: John Fowles and Masculinity, Barnes & Noble (New York, NY), 1984.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, May 1, 2005, Donna Seaman, review of The Journals, p. 1560.

Contemporary Literature, summer, 1986, Frederick M. Holmes, review of A Maggot, p. 160.

Contemporary Review, May, 1996, p. 262; April, 2004, Geoffrey Heptonstall, review of The Journals, p. 246.

New York Times, May 11, 1998, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Wormholes: Essays and Occasional Writings.

New York Times Book Review, May 31, 1998, Roger Kimball, review of Wormholes.

Publishers Weekly, March 28, 2005, review of The Journals, p. 67.

TwentiethCentury Literature, Volume 28, 1982, Raymond J. Wilson III, review of Mantissa.

University of Hartford Studies in Literature, Volume 22, number 1, 1990, article by Jacqueline Costello, p. 31.

Washington Post Book World, May 31, 1998, David Streitfeld, interview, p. X15.

OBITUARIES:

PERIODICALS

New York Times, November 8, 2005.

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Fowles, John 1926–2005

Fowles, John 1926–2005

(John Robert Fowles)

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born March 31, 1926, in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England; died November 5, 2005, in Lyme Regis, Dorset, England. Author. Fowles was a popular British author best known for his post-modernist novels The French Lieutenant's Woman and The Magus. After a shaky early education, during which he dropped out of the Bedford School at age fifteen due to a nervous breakdown and then briefly attended Edinburgh University, Fowles did his two years of military service from 1945 to 1947. He then reentered college to study French at New College, Oxford, finally completing a B.A. in 1950. During the early 1950s, he taught for short periods at the University of Poitiers, at a school in Greece, and at Ashridge College. He then settled down at St. Godric's College, London, where he would teach from 1954 to 1963. That year, his first bestseller, The Collector, was published. He followed this with two novels that would gain him even more acclaim: The Magus (1966; revised edition, 1977) and The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969), the latter winning the W.H. Smith Literary Award and the Silver Pen Award. All three novels would be adapted to film, with The Magus featuring a script by the author. These novels were not only popular with the general public, but critics praised them as well, citing the author's unabashed experimentations with narrative and plot structure. Fowles, however, disliked the fame that accompanied the popularity of his novels, and he became known for his efforts to avoid the public at any cost. He most enjoyed spending time in his garden, appreciating the flowers, birds, and butterflies there. After the 1960s, he wrote less fiction, releasing the short-story collection The Ebony Tower (1974) and three more novels: Daniel Martin (1977), Mantissa (1982), and A Maggot (1985). He also penned a poetry collection, Poems (1973). The majority of Fowles' later output, included essays, histories, translation work, and his published journals. He spent his time quietly in Lyme Regis, where he served as honorary curator of the museum there from 1979 to 1988. After that time poor health, including heart problems, and the death of his first wife in 1990, effected his work. His last works were his two-volume The Journals (2003, 2005).

OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:

BOOKS

Fowles, John, The Journals, Jonathan Cape (London, England), Volume 1, 2003, Volume 2, 2005.

PERIODICALS

Chicago Tribune, November 8, 2005, section 2, p. 11.

Los Angeles Times, November 8, 2005, p. B10.

New York Times, November 8, 2005, p. A29.

Times (London, England), November 8, 2005, p. 58.

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Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.