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About this book

This vibrant collection of original essays sheds new light on all of Fowles' writings, with a special focus on The French Lieutenant's Woman as the most widely studied of Fowles' works. The impressive cast of contributors offers an outstanding range of expertise on Fowles, providing fresh reassessments and new perspectives.

Table of Contents


John Fowles has the distinction of being both a best-selling novelist and one whose work has earned the respect of academic critics. Why his novels are best-sellers is clear enough. Fowles has tremendous narrative drive, the ability to compel his readers’ attention from the beginning of his novels to the end.1 He so beguiles us with uncertainty in his fiction, so tantalizes us with a variety of possible outcomes, that we keep turning the pages of his novels eagerly to find out what happens in the end. Often we are enticed by the prospect of discovering whether the male and female main characters of his novels will remain together in erotically charged relationships or finally decide to part and lead separate lives. In some of the novels the relationships run to sexual extremes, and our curiosity about them does not stop short of prurience. Voyeurism, prostitution, kidnapping for sexual purposes — all these and more are to be found in Fowles’s fiction, though he treats these subjects with a notable seriousness of purpose.
James Acheson

1. The Aristos and Wormholes: John Fowles’s Theory of Being and Art

Fowles started writing The Aristos, a short book of aphorisms modelled on Pascal’s Pensées (1669), while still an undergraduate at Oxford.1 As he explains in the Preface to the revised edition, the Greek word aristos (pl. aristoi, ‘the good ones’) was used by the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus to designate the moral and intellectual élite who ruled the polloi, the ordinary people. Later philosophers defined the aristoi in terms of their nobility of birth: the aristoi, or aristocracy, ‘The Few’, while the polloi, ‘the unthinking, conforming mass’, were ‘The Many’ (A, 9). In Fowles’s view, The Few exist in ‘a state of responsibility’ (A, 10, original emphasis) with respect to the less gifted Many, an idea that finds its way, like others in The Aristos, into Fowles’s first three novels, The Collector (1963), The Magus (1965) and The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969).2
Susana Onega

2. John Fowles and Creative Non-fiction

The term ‘creative non-fiction’ refers in the first instance to the writing experiments of the 1960s that involved combining fiction with non-fiction. Two well-known examples are Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1966), which introduces elements of fiction into the account of an actual multiple murder, and Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the Night (1968), where the author’s concept of writing ‘faction’ is reflected in the subtitle, History as a Novel/The Novel as History. John Fowles, too, was combining fiction and non-fiction in the late 1960s when he wrote The French Lieutenant’s Woman.1 In Chapter 13 he teases his reader with the comment that ‘perhaps I am trying to pass off a concealed book of essays on you’ (FLW, 85), and goes on to provide essayistic digressions on life in Victorian England, an extended passage from a German medical treatise, and critical evaluations of excerpts from an eighteenth-century novel and a nineteenth-century poem.2 The same narrating ‘I’ who writes essays disguised as fiction also fictionalizes his narrator, allowing him to enter the story as a character in Chapters 55 and 61. This creation of a hybrid form of fiction and non-fiction is the kind of avant-garde experimental writing that would lead Linda Hutcheon a decade later to cite The French Lieutenant’s Woman several times as an early example of the new practices of postmodernism.3 Fowles’s mode of early postmodern writing incorporated bits of history, philosophy, biography and other literature into narrative — as if his impulse was as much to inform as to tell a story. Fowles’s evident impulse to experiment with form probably had more to do with his interest in the French avant-garde of the 1960s than with the New Journalism of Capote or Mailer, as one might infer from his reference to Alain Robbe-Grillet and Roland Barthes in Chapter 13 of The French Lieutenant’s Woman.4 The term ‘postmodern’ was not yet widely in use when Fowles was writing in the late 1960s, but in a 1999 interview he would acknowledge that he considered himself to be a postmodern writer.5 By the late 1970s Fowles would be working in another hybrid form, not the essayistic novel this time, but a different kind of postmodern experiment combining prose and photography, fact and opinion. Five publications are particularly illustrative: Shipwreck (1974), Islands (1978), The Tree (1979), The Enigma of Stonehenge (1980) and Land (1985).6 These books point to Fowles’s turn as a writer away from the hybrid novel form and towards a different kind of creative non-fiction — the postmodern hybrid essay.
James R. Aubrey

3. John Fowles and the Writing Process

John Fowles’s fiction is the product of an intense, visionary imagination. ‘It’s very mysterious where good ideas come from’, he commented to Daniel Halpern in 1971, [suddenly] a spark flies between two known factors and then a completely unknown factor suddenly appears. … I never write if I don’t want to, if I don’t feel like it. … I simply wait till the muses come.’1 In some cases, inspiration took the form of an image that came insistently to mind: the image of a woman with her back to him, in the case of The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), or of a woman in the middle of a desert in Daniel Martin (1977). In Mantissa (1982), a woman appears in the flesh to the novel’s main character, Miles Green, Fowles’s surrogate, and makes it clear that she is the muse who has given rise to all his writing. Her overt bawdiness suggests that inspiration for Fowles is a kind of arousal, and it is unsurprising that, during his lifetime, he found ‘parallels between the writing process and sexual pleasure’, and spoke of the early stages of both acts as being more to his liking than consummation-publication.2
Daniel Bedggood

4. Gothic and Neo-Gothic in Fowles’s The Collector

The Collector, first published in 1963, is a book which has ever since excited a great deal of critical and popular debate. John Fowles himself has claimed that it had a dual inspiration: one was his enduring interest in Béla Bartók’s opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle (1918), and the other a contemporary newspaper account of a young man who had abducted a girl and kept her for some time in an air-raid shelter.1 The Collector has many realist elements, no doubt related to the abduction, which may in some ways remind us of the detailed naturalism practised by a certain strain of the novel from Daniel Defoe onwards. However, my particular concern here is with the elements of The Collector which derive from Fowles’s attraction to Bluebeard’s Castle, and might be considered Gothic, or ‘neo-Gothic’. By Gothic, I mean specifically to refer to a tradition of fiction, beginning in the late eighteenth century, which customarily deals in exaggerated, even melodramatic scenarios: the best-known authors are Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, C. R. Maturin and James Hogg. Within the ‘neo-Gothic’ we might include writers from the late nineteenth century such as Bram Stoker, and also some aspects of the work of H. G. Wells and Robert Louis Stevenson; but we might also think of the ghost story and of the kinds of intensity of horror practised by such recent writers as Stephen King, Angela Carter and Ian McEwan.
David Punter

5. The Silence of Spent Voices: Narrative and Image in The Magus

John Fowles notes in the Foreword to The Magus that the novel is inspired by the work of the psychologist C.G. Jung, and that Conchis’s masque — the pseudo-biography, the tableaux, vignettes and plays by which he takes Nicholas on ‘an extraordinary voyage into the human unconscious’ (M, 337) — parallels the ancient Greek dream incubation practices that shaped Jung’s work with dreams.1 In this rite a sufferer would come to the temple of Asklepios, god of healing, and, after being given a soporific, sleep. Asklepios himself would appear to the sleeper, bringing him the dream or waking vision he needed for his healing. The subject was then instructed not to analyse the dream but to live it, to effect its cure. Conchis becomes the god who brings Nicholas dreams, and who describes his masque as a series of ‘half-understood telepathic messages from other worlds’ (M, 191). His masque is a theatrum psychicum, a carnival of dreams and dream images wherein, according to Jung’s teaching, all the players and actions portray aspects of Nicholas that are unconscious. Jung calls dreams ‘facts’ that ‘describe the inner situation of the dreamer’, and they reveal to Nicholas everything he does not know and does not want to know about himself.2
Katherine Tarbox

6. The French Lieutenant’s Woman as Historical Fiction

It is commonly agreed that Sir Walter Scott initiated and popularized the classical historical novel — the novel concerned with the distant past, before the birth of the author — with the publication of Waverley (1814) and its twenty-five successors. There is similar agreement that John Fowles acted as a major impetus for the revival of the historical novel in the 1960s, after its fall from favour in the earlier twentieth century, while forging a distinctly modified model of the genre. In The Historical Novel (1937) Georg Lukács (whom Fowles acknowledges and uses in Daniel Martin) asserts that the rise of the historical novel with Sir Walter Scott coincided with the emergence of nationalism and a concomitant desire to produce a sense of national history. Lukács’s belief that ‘history … is an uninterrupted process of change [that] … has a direct effect on the life of every individual’1 identifies a key characteristic of the historical novel, which recognizes that ‘history shapes human beings through specific and unique social mediations’.2 History acts as a major player in its own right in the novels of both Scott and Fowles. Lukács argues that in all of his historical novels Scott derives the ‘individuality of characters from the historical peculiarity of their age’.3 In Fowles’s novels, similarly, characters are both shaped by and attempt to escape from the conflictual forces of their time.
Brian Finney

7. John Fowles, Accidental Feminist: The French Lieutenant’s Woman in 1969

In the spring of 1867, the year in which The French Lieutenant’s Woman is set, John Stuart Mill introduced a motion for woman suffrage into the British parliament. Although the motion failed, John Fowles calls attention to the date, 30 March 1867: it is ‘the point’ he says, ‘from which we can date the beginning of feminine emancipation in England’.1 In many ways, Fowles’s novel proclaims sympathy with what became the women’s emancipation movement later in the nineteenth century as it grew synchronously with other progressive movements towards individual freedom in politics, science and the arts. Yet, as a flood of feminist criticism inquires, was the novel a feminist statement with a feminist heroine? I believe, through examination of Fowles’s biography, papers and the original drafts of his novels, that Fowles intended to present women’s dilemmas with sympathy rather than a feminist perspective and that the feminist final vision of Sarah Woodruff was a happy accident.
Eileen Warburton

8. The French Lieutenant’s Woman on Film

To date, four of John Fowles’s fictions — The Collector, The Magus, The French Lieutenant’s Woman and ‘The Ebony Tower’ — have been adapted to film. Fowles disliked the film versions of his first two novels, The Collector and The Magus, and when it came to filming The French Lieutenant’s Woman, wanted to avoid their shortcomings. He was unhappy with the film version of The Collector because he objected to the Americanization of some of the dialogue, and thought that its director, William Wyler, had left too much on the cutting-room floor.1 He wrote the script of The Magus himself in the interests of exercising more control over the finished product, but during filming he and director, Guy Green, were frequently at odds with the producers and with each other.2 In his Journals, Fowles comments that his script was not as good as it could have been, and that in places, it was ‘just bad’; yet he also emphasizes that the director was at fault for insisting on cuts that resulted in a ‘vulgar’ finished product (J, II, 43). He cites Green’s lack of ‘knowledge of art or life’ (J, II, 21) as contributing to his failure to secure what he considered to be good performances from the actors.3
Brenda Allen

9. The Ebony Tower and the Search for Meaning

In 1974, at almost the mid-point of his literary career, John Fowles published The Ebony Tower, a volume consisting of four stories, his own translation of a twelfth-century tale by Marie de France, and a brief, discursive essay entitled ‘A Personal Note’. In this last, he reveals that his working title for the volume was Variations, meaning variations on ‘certain themes’ and ‘methods of narrative presentation’ employed in his earlier fiction.1 When his publishers objected to Variations on the grounds that they were unable to see its relevance to the collection, Fowles chose to give it the same title as its first story, ‘The Ebony Tower’. This enigmatic title provides a key to understanding not only The Ebony Tower but an important aspect of Fowles’s protocol for late twentieth-century art.
Dianne Vipond

10. Daniel Martin and the ‘Ill-concealed Ghost’

There are two men named on the cover of John Fowles’s novel, Daniel Martin.1 In simple terms, the first name identifies the text’s famous author, and the second provides the title for a book-length character study of its protagonist, a 47-year-old English screenwriter. More importantly, this pairing of names is also the first move in a complicated game Fowles plays with his readers, as he by turns conceals and reveals his own presence as the controlling intelligence behind the fictional world. Daniel Martin reaches its curious ‘happy ending’ on the last page not just because the eponymous hero is reunited with the woman he loves, but because the authority and power of the literary author is reinstated; in the end Fowles — the ‘ill-concealed ghost’ (DM, 668) who has written the book we have just read — holds all the pieces. The proximity of author and protagonist is signalled early in the text, when Daniel’s lover Jenny implores him to write an autobiographical novel: ‘Your real history of you’ (DM, 22). She proposes he use a pseudonym, Simon Wolfe, ‘S. Wolfe’ being, of course, an anagram for Fowles. This is both an acknowledgement that Daniel Martin is Fowles’s most clearly autobiographical fiction and an invitation to readers to decode the text in order to find its author, or at least to recognize it as an elaborate attempt to theorize his roles and responsibilities as a fiction writer.2
Lisa Fletcher

11. Late Style: A Maggot and the Mystery of Being in History

A Maggot is possibly Fowles’s least overtly self-conscious postmodern fiction. The fictional destabilizations of The French Lieutenant’s Woman are well known, with its alternative endings, its contemporary narratorial interjections and the audacious meeting of author and character in a railway carriage. The Magus, Daniel Martin and Mantissa, too, display a marked capacity for overt fictional self-exposure, while The Collector reveals itself as obsessed with writing, with other stories acting as narrative templates, two narrators who are at best unreliable, and a false ending, declared as ‘The End’ in Clegg’s penultimate narrative. A Maggot wears its postmodernism lightly, without any explicit intent to subvert the reader with self-displaying artifice. Admittedly, there is a twentieth-century narrator ready to remind the reader that the characters inhabit a world ‘so entirely pre-ordained it might be written, like this book’,1 while Lacy tells Ayscough that Mr Bartholomew said ‘we were like the personages in a tale or novel, that had no knowledge they were such’ (AM, 150); but the primary effect of such examples is not, as in the earlier fictions, of fictional dislocation to create some existential experience of destabilization in the reader. It is as if Fowles, having already played this trick in different forms, is no longer much interested in it. Instead, he inhabits the world of his characters so intently that the effect on the reader is of complete immersion in this fictional eighteenth century.
Bruce Woodcock

12. Fowles and Postmodernism: The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Mantissa and A Maggot

About seven minutes into the ingenious 1981 film adaptation of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, something thrilling and disturbing happens: a telephone rings. The sound of that phone instantly shatters the illusion of reality that the film has so painstakingly constructed over the course of its opening scenes, and substitutes a different reality: that of the making of a film called The French Lieutenant’s Woman. We are abruptly jerked out of the world of 1867, where the Victorian gentleman Charles Smithson has just proposed to Ernestina Freeman in the conservatory of her aunt’s house in Lyme Regis, and thrust into a hotel room in 1979 where Charles — or rather, the actor named Mike, who plays him in the film — is sleeping with Sarah, the French lieutenant’s woman of the title — or rather, Anna, the actress who plays Sarah. In an instant, the mid-Victorian world of the film-within-the-film collapses like a burst balloon, displaced by the behind-the-scenes world of present-day film-makers.
Brian McHale
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