John Fowles (31 March 1926 – 5 November 2005) was an English novelist, poet and essayist. In 2008, The Times newspaper named John Fowles among their list of ‘The 50 greatest British writers since 1945’.
His first published novel was The Collector (1963).
It is about a lonely young man, Frederick Clegg, who works as a clerk in a city hall, and collects butterflies in his spare time. After winning some money, Clegg kidnaps a girl and keeps her prisoner in his house. Here’s the trailer of the film adaptation:
Fowles’ next book was The Aristos, a non-fiction work, subtitled ‘A Self-Portrait in Ideas’.
The Aristos is Fowles’ attempt to articulate a philosophy of life.
Fowles’ next publication was The Magus (1966). It was the first novel he’d written (but the second novel he published.
The Magus tells the story of Nicholas Urfe, a teacher on a small Greek island. Urfe finds himself embroiled in psychological illusions of a master trickster that become increasingly dark and serious. Fowles has written an article about his experiences in the island of Spetses and their influence on the book, and he has also specifically acknowledged some literary works in his foreword to the revised version of The Magus. These include Le Grand Meaulnes (1913), by Alain-Fournier, for showing a secret hidden world to be explored, and Jefferies’ Bevis (1882), for projecting a very different world. Fowles also refers in the revised edition of the novel to a Miss Havisham, a likely reference to Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations (1861).
Here’s a clip from the movie starring Michael Caine:
Fowles’ next novel was The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969).
It is a period novel inspired by the 1823 novel Ourika, by Claire de Duras, which Fowles translated to English during 1977 (and revised and published in 1994).
Here is the trailer of the film, scripted by Harold Pinter:
Fowles was a great aficionado of Thomas Hardy, and, in particular, likened his heroine, Sarah Woodruff, to Tess Durbeyfield, the protagonist of Hardy’s popular novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891).
In 1973, Fowles published a collection of Poems.
Fowles’ next work of fiction was The Ebony Tower (1974).
The Ebony Tower is a collection of five short novels with interlacing themes, built around a medieval myth: The Ebony Tower, Eliduc, Poor Koko, The Enigma and The Cloud. Here’s an extract from The Ebony Tower TV adaptation, starring Laurence Olivier:
After revising and re-issuing The Magus: A Revised Version (1977), Fowles published Daniel Martin in 1977.
Daniel Martin has been taken as a Bildungsroman, following the life of the eponymous protagonist. The novel uses both first and third person voices, whilst employing a variety of literary techniques such as multiple narratives and flashback. The author suggests that the book is concerned with ‘Englishness – what it is like to be English in the late 20th century.’ To many, it is Fowles’ least successful novel.
The Tree (1979) is an autobiographical book by John Fowles.
In it, Fowles discusses the essence of nature and its relation to the creative arts and especially writing.
In 1982, Fowles published Mantissa, his first new full-length novel since 1969’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
Mantissa is a razor-sharp comedy; a battle of the sexes fought within a man’s disintegrating mind.
A Maggot (1985) is Fowles’ sixth major novel.
Its title, as the author explains in the prologue, is taken from the archaic sense of the word that means ‘whim’, ‘quirk’, ‘obsession’, or even a snatch of music. Another meaning of the word ‘maggot’ becomes apparent later in the novel, used by a character to describe a white, oblong machine that appears to be a spacecraft. Though the author denies that A Maggot is a historical novel, it does take place during a precise historical time-frame, May 1736 to February 1737, in England. It might be variously classified as historical fiction, mystery, or science fiction. Because of the narrative style and various meta-fictional devices, most critics classify A Maggot as a postmodern novel. It is John Fowles’ last work of fiction.
Wormholes – Essays and Occasional Writings is a book containing writings from four decades by the English author John Fowles.
It was published in 1998. Most of the contents are short, non-fiction pieces that had been written for various purposes since 1963, including forewords to other authors’ books, and pieces written for science journals or other periodicals.
Finally, there are The Journals – Volume 1 (2003), and The Journals – Volume 2 (2006), which chart John Fowles’ early life (Volume 1) and writing career (Volume 2).
Here’s a complete bibliography:
- (1963) The Collector
- (1964) The Aristos
- (1965) The Magus
- (1969) The French Lieutenant’s Woman
- (1973) Poems
- (1974) The Ebony Tower
- (1974) Shipwreck
- (1977) The Magus (A Revised Version)
- (1977) Daniel Martin
- (1978) Islands
- (1979) The Tree
- (1980) The Enigma of Stonehenge
- (1982) A Short History of Lyme Regis
- (1982) Mantissa
- (1985) A Maggot
- (1985) Land
- (1990) Lyme Regis Camera
- (1994) Ourika (by Claire de Duras) Translated by John Fowles
- (1998) Wormholes – Essays and Occasional Writings
- (2003) The Journals – Volume 1
- (2006) The Journals – Volume 2
Here is a short film (by R J Dent) about the works of John Fowles:
If you’re new to John Fowles, it might be worth starting with The Collector, The (revised) Magus, The French Lieutenant’s Woman or Mantissa. That way you get John Fowles at his best.
Tags: A Maggot, Daniel Martin, John Fowles, John Fowles' novels, Journals, Mantissa, R J Dent, THe Aristos, The Collector, The Ebony Tower, The French Lieutenant's Woman, The Magus, The Magus (Revised)