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John (Robert) Fowles Biography

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Nationality: British. Born: Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, 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. 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.

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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