Books by John Fowles

John Fowles's works of fiction include The Collector, The Magus, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Mantissa, and A Maggot. He is also the author of The Aristos: A Self-Portrait of Ideas, Poems, Shipwreck, Islands, and The Enigma of Stonehenge. He lives in Ly

THE JOURNALS by John Fowles
Released: May 5, 2005

"But Fowles is preeminently, of course, one of the most accomplished English novelists of the last half-century, and this glimpse into his education and work is a pleasure."
The master British novelist records, in shapely prose, the struggles involved in attaining his craft, as well as the usual coming-of-age worries. Read full book review >
WORMHOLES by John Fowles
Released: May 1, 1998

The celebrated English novelist gathers his essays of four decades in one volume. Best known for his novels, which include classic works such as The Magus and The French Lieutenant's Woman, Fowles now offers a collection of essays and "occasional pieces" written between 1963 and 1997. The book comprises 30 disparate pieces, divided into four categories: "Autobiographical," "Culture and Society," "Literature and Literary Criticism," and "Nature and the Nature of Nature." Fowles enthusiasts will be grateful for the book. The master's ruminations will deepen their understanding of his fictional world, perhaps especially the section on nature. However, those not already in thrall to Fowles's imagination are not likely to be persuaded or even attracted by this omnium-gatherum of odds and ends. Curiously, Fowles seems uneasy as an essayist. It is, for example, a leitmotif of this volume for him to declare that he does not care what "the academics" think. He claims this so often that it becomes clear that "the academics"—whoever they may be—bother him a great deal and that he in fact does care what they think. This unnecessary combat with phantoms makes him appear defensive and unsure of himself. Consequently it undermines his reader's confidence in the surefootedness of his critical stance. He is at his best when completely unapologetic, as in comments of this sort: "Above all I loathe the drift (a kind of fascism of the majority) that would so homogenize, suburbanize, and ‘democratize' life as to make it lose all it varieties and roughnesses—make it, like margarine, ‘easy to spread.— " Take that to Starbucks and sip it. In the end, though shot through with veins of gold, this collection also contains its share of slag and dross. Read full book review >
A MAGGOT by John Fowles
Released: Sept. 5, 1985

Fowles calls his new novel, which basically is homage to the philosophical underpinnings of Shakerism and to the moral narratives of Defoe, "a maggot": a 17th-century-style working-out of an obsessive theme. In length and relative linearity, the book is just that. The fictional kernel is small: the strange journey of an English lord, his deaf/dumb valet, and ex-whore maid and two other ancillaries that results in a scene of revelation enacted in a cave; then death, disappearance, and legal reconstruction of the happening. The lord's father hires a lawyer—and most of the book is composed of this lawyer's interrogatories with the surviving participants, namely the ex-whore, now named Rebecca and become a mystic (and the mother-to-be of Anne Lee, the founder of Shakerism). Conducted wholly in period English, these depositions have an eloquence and pith that are impressive. Less so are Fowles' buttings-in in modern language, during which he comments from the vantage point of a later age on Rebecca's salvationism, its mixtures of pure feminism and communism and fervor. In the questions and answers of the lawyer and Rebecca, these ideas have drama, but when Fowles steps back to gloss them, they curl up ("In truth these two were set apart from each other not only by countless barriers of age, sex, class, education, native province and the rest, but by something far deeper still: by belonging to two very different halves of the human spirit, perhaps at root those, left and right, of the two hemispheres of the human brain"), and they are as pungent as commentary on educational TV. Though the dogged antiqueness of it all may put some readers off, it's the very virtuoso power of the language—the ideas in context—that makes the novel interesting. Once Fowles dusts the ideas off and puts them plain in his own voice, they seem unremarkable. Read full book review >
MANTISSA by John Fowles
Released: Sept. 15, 1982

Serious modern fiction has only one subject: the difficulty of writing serious modern fiction." So says Fowles' alter-ego here. And, if that idea was an undercurrent in The French Lieutenant's Woman (the time-shift narrative tricks) and Daniel Martin (the writer-as-tortured-hero), Fowles is now offering it in undiluted form: this new novel chiefly consists of existential dialogues between a writer and his Muse—along with some Pirandello-ish gamesplaying and an erotic battle-of-the-sexes. Miles Green wakes up in a hospital bed, apparently afflicted with amnesia; soon a lovely doctor and a sexy nurse are matter-of-factly administering therapeutic sex to the outraged patient. What's going on? Is this a farce à la Thomas Berger (with dialogue by Pinter)? Well, not exactly. Because the doctor is suddenly transformed into Erato, Muse of love-poetry and fiction: the hospital scene, you see, was just one of Miles' literary notions. So Miles and his tetchy, pouting Muse then launch into some comic/philosophical discussions, with time-outs for brawling and bedding. The feminist Muse attacks Miles' work; she demands respect ("All I ask is some minimal recognition of my metaphysical status vis-à -vis yours"); she recalls her early days with the Nine Muses ("It was worse than being the Rolling Stones"); she makes suggestions about Miles' career; she confesses to having written the Odyssey. Miles responds with lectures on the modern novel. And, throughout, the tussle between writer and Muse is interwoven with the sexual struggle between Man and Woman: teasing, spats, fights, and—after some more transformation games—happy lovemaking. Fowles, of course, executes his "mantissa" (O.E.D., "an addition of comparatively small importance") with vast erudition and lovely prose bits. But the less characteristic comedy is uneven—from sublime to sophomoric. (Erato confuses lung with Erica Jong.) And, however richly executed, this remains an overextended intellectual vaudeville-sketch—alternately fascinating and tedious, with distinctly special, limited appeal. Read full book review >
DANIEL MARTIN by John Fowles
Released: Sept. 12, 1977

A writer and his women ("his past futures, his future pasts")—and an attempt to discover "what had gone wrong not only with Daniel Martin, but his generation, age, century. . . ." This is Fowles' mammoth, clubfooted new novel, with all the autobiographical indulgences and psycho-philosophical longueurs that such a prospectus almost always guarantees—and more. For alienated 20th-Century Man is here incarnated as famous screenwriter Dan, whom we follow in both first and third person as a transatlantic phone-call prises him out of the L.A. arms of filmstar Jenny and puts him on a 747 to the past: London, Devon, and Oxford, where, 25 years before, young Dan took young lane to bed but married her sister, leaving Jane to an arid, even-keeled life with donnish don Anthony. Now Anthony, dying of cancer, orders Dan to befriend varicose-veined Jane, to help her experience the juicier life she's missed. Dan obeys, finding new hope in old love—but not before he has swept out every cranny worthy of a flashback: childhood as the vicar's motherless son; first lust; blissful, unreal Oxford and early playwright success; Hollywood sell-outs, affairs, divorce, absentee fatherhood. And, in and around the muscle of incident. . . the flab of ponderings, musings, generalizations from glib to fascinating to fatuous—England vs. America, film vs. theater vs. novels, Marxism, Catholicism, the sexual revolution's "age of self." This marbling effect might take hold—if Fowles did not insist On coloring in the design with a marking pen. The third/first person shifts, distracting enough in themselves, are commented on, brooded about: "Neither the first nor the third person that he also was wanted lane in his arms again." When Dan takes lane for a cruise down the Nile with European types for company, the implicit imagery doesn't stay implicit for long: "If the Nile was human history, their ship was a pocket caricature of the human race, or at least the Western part of it." It comes as no surprise that Fowles writes magical scenes, embraceable characters (Dan, caught between "he" and "I," is the least appealing), and (sometimes) musical prose. The surprise is that he has chosen to burden his realest, smallest story with the unlikely job of explaining—and finding hope in—Twentieth-Century Life. Read full book review >
CINDERELLA by John Fowles
Released: May 20, 1976

There is no shortage of picture book Cinderellas, but we keep coming back to Marcia Brown. In comparison, Beckett's heroine, a doe-eyed maiden of the sort girls might doodle in their note-books, is simply vacuous, and her prince a languishing fop. Even the stepsisters have a cute, gamin look, and the winged Fairy Godmother must be modeled after Tinker Bell. As for the text, Fowles (The Collector, The French Lieutenant's Woman) tells it straight and with less elaboration than you might expect. His tone and diction—the younger stepsister says her diamond brooch "really is rather super," the Fairy Godmother gives Cinderella "quite the most magical slippers since time began," and the prince finds the mysterious ball guest "adorable"—are, to be sure, in keeping with our view of the story, but whether that's a plus is another question. Fowles ends with a rhymed moral, which is characteristic of Perrault; this one begins, "A pretty face is very fine,/ But pretty heart's a better sign." To us, the message might just as easily be that a pretty face wins out over ugly ones. And it's hard to see how the story illustrates the rhyme's last line, "Fairies give most to those who try." A frippery. Read full book review >
SHIPWRECK by John Fowles
Released: April 23, 1975

A real curiosity: magnificent photographs of shipwrecks by the Gibsons, a family of photographers in the Scilly Isles off Cornwall — an infamous graveyard for ships right up to the Torrey Canyon. The Gibsons started their odd specialty in the 1870s and are still in business today. The pictures are mainly of three, and four-masted ships in various stages of disintegration. Fowles' text is lively but unobtrusive. A beautiful book. Read full book review >
THE EBONY TOWER by John Fowles
Released: Nov. 8, 1974

Maugham once said "The artist's egoism is outrageous; it must be; he is by nature a solipsist and the world exists only for him to exercise upon it his powers of creation." This is concretely the intent and exemplification thereof in the title story of Fowles' collection of five longer short ones — two of which will pick up this theme where the artist must cold-shoulder the world and human values to swaddle his creativity. Thus he introduces also outrageous, also impossibly egoistic Breasley, who has found a sanctuary for his solipsism in a lovely house in Brittany where he is attended and serviced by two young women when David Williams, a writer-lecturer in the field having given up his own work, comes to interview him. There David realizes for the first time that his own "Ebony Tower" is a void where "safety hid nothingness" except the abandonment of himself and his potential. In "Poor Koko" we have another reclusive — a writer of 66 who has always shirked real life for his work — now to be destroyed by the impromptu visit of a young hood. And again in "The Enigma" the disappearance of a conservative MP, hemmed in by correct appearances and rightist assumptions, vanishes if only to impose a lingering question mark on the mediocrity of his achievements. The last story is a sad fairy tale come true, told to a child, experienced by a young woman — and there's a charming lais of the 12th century Marie de France in "Eliduc." To the stories Fowles lends his eclectic erudition, the attractive overlay of sensuous surfaces, and a little commentary for and of our time. And as always he proceeds with splendid ease and confidence to catch the eye at a pleasurably decorative level and then turn it inward. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 10, 1969

Mr. Fowles has written a Victorian novel. An eminently Victorian novel filled with the hindsights of many of its more recent commentators (Marcus, et al) as well as his own amplifying asides as he appears in the wings to interrupt the narrative with a sometimes magisterial disregard for its progression. But then, certainly for the first two thirds, this is not so much a novel as a portrait of an era as heavily burdened with duty and piety and conformity as with marble and mahogany. What story there is (and some of Fowles' readers will perhaps regret its yielding to edification) deals with the tri-cornered relationship between Charles Smithson, Ernestina, his fiancee, and Sarah Woodruff, reputed and professing to be a French Lieutenant's discarded woman. Charles is a wellborn young man of scientific bent and dilettante pursuits; Ernestina, up from trade, is petulant, conventional and well endowed; while Sarah, briefly taken in as a companion to an old tartar who sacks her, is mistily romantic as she takes solitary walks. Charles tries and fails to resist her. By the close, after having introduced his readers to just about every aspect of Victorian life on several levels and to the ideas then in ferment (not only Darwin and Marx and Freud but also Hardy and Matthew Arnold and Tennyson) Mr. Fowles is back again in form and the drama intensifies with all the false starts and wrong turns and stunning reverses which he handles so well. Period parody or pastiche, it again reveals Fowles' manifest erudition as well as understanding of the unhallowed virtues of this opening dosed society. Read full book review >
THE MAGUS by John Fowles
Released: Jan. 10, 1965

In the symbolism of the Tarot cards, the magus is a magician as well as a mountebank. In this second novel, Mr. Fowles is also an illusionist. If it can be said (and it may well be) that there is a certain amount of sham in the showmanship, still he manages to keep his reader captive Just as surely as he did in the butterfly net of The Collector even though this novel runs more than twice the distance. Elegances sensuousness and a very dressy erudition are all part of the equipment... The performance is a masque, or as admitted, the "godgame" of one Maurice Conchis "rich in forgotten powers... strange desires." He was a deserter in World war I, reputed to be a collaborationist in World War II; he has great wealth and many gifts (hypnosis among them) and lives as a renaissance man in seclusion off a Greek island. Now his guest, victim or dupe is one NicHolas Urfe, a young man out of Oxford with a "second class degree and a first class belief in (himself)." He has come to Greece after abandoning Alison with whom he has had an intense affair, Just short of love and trust. Nicholas is invited into Conchis' well guarded "domaine" and there the mysteries begin: of Lily, whom Conchis had once loved and who had died after World War I; of her reincarnation, not only as Julie (Conchis says Julie is schizophrenic) but again as June. Then there's Alison's suicide which has, for Nicholas, its complicity of guilt, since it follows immediately on Nick's attraction to Lily-Julie-June. The games goes on and on; reality and illusion blur; meanings become apparent, or do they? In any case the intensity of the story itself diminishes them. Perhaps they're not even there... Whatever, Fowles manages to keep the reader caught between supposition and sudden surprise, it's a deceptive, seductive, startling entertainment. There's not much of that around and certainly nothing like this. Read full book review >
THE ARISTOS by John Fowles
Released: Nov. 10, 1964

A philosophical sketchbook, whose are of darkness and light swings somewhere between the silly and the sublime, between the poseur primping before his intellectual mirror and the truly troubled spirit trying to look within. It suggests Heraclitus: sentence fragments, speculative meanderings. Thus the classical artillery; the use of opposites ("polar nature of reality"), the metaphor of change ("Humanity on its raft. The raft on the endless ocean"); above all, the relation between the One (the aristos: isolated, independent seeker of inner wisdom and knowledge) and the Many (the unthinking, unfeeling Mass). Other points include Our Most Fashionable Problems: technology, oxistentialism, materialism, dehumanized art and sex, God and the Abyss. Clearly a Major Undertaking. With "labels": angora society (bad; today's acquisitive one), stoa society (good; sort of Shaw's Major Barbara utopianism), the Midas Situation, etc. Novelist Fowles, (author of the celebrated The Collector,) writes elegantly enough and has a fairly firm formal mind. His bent is towards the rational as against modernist irrationalism, but his raft, full of received ideas and hardly any primary experience, follows a confused course: he's a "planner" and existential, hieratic and humanistic. Here he is polemicising against what one takes to be the New Critics: what's taken as a criterion is not the meaning, but a skill in hinting at meanings". He concludes, "Any good computer will beat man at this." A crack which sums up his own voluminous tag-bag, biggest since The Outsider. Read full book review >
THE COLLECTOR by John Fowles
Released: July 24, 1963

Ge tells the story first- Ferdinand (ne Frederick) Clegg, the collector ("that's the great dead thing in him") of butterflies, and form Fritillaries and Clouded fellows he goes on to net his finest specimen, Miss Miranda Grey, a soft, lovely twenty year old. But he wants to keep her alive under glass in the cellar of a deserted house two hours from London that he buys to this end. He shops for her, cooks for her, catches her draw (she's an art student), and takes pictures of her (from clothed to au naturel- when chloroformed). Miranda tells the story too, and along with the simultaneity of this experience she goes back to her own life before her captivity and her find of love for an older man attracted by her Primavera innocence. At the same time in the diary she records her attempts to outwit him and get away, from passive resistance o active seduction; there's her loathing of him, of herself, but also her sympathy for her kidnapper-keeper— "the pity Shakespeare feels for his Caliban" she feels for hers. But most of all, there's her desire to live and her hope to escape— alive. Well, what does the Rorschach reveal? Not genius, but talent, and as marked an original as you are likely to have read since The Bad Seed or Psycho. And along with all the corribilia (of this lost, sick weirdo and his aberrant sexuality) there's the candidly appealing Miranda; she makes the reader even easier to victimize. Maybe not everybody's book, but fanciers will be fascinated and there is that overwhelming compulsion to read on all night and remember for some time to come. It's a splendid spellbinder. Read full book review >