Daniel Martin Essay - Critical Essays

John Fowles

Critical Context

In many ways, Daniel Martin is Fowles’s most ambitious novel, notwithstanding the complexities of the labyrinthine The Magus (1966, revised 1977). While it has been accused of being self-indulgent and, oddly enough, “too” autobiographical, Daniel Martin addresses more fully than any of Fowles’s other works his concern with the plight of the individual subject caught within the historical and political frameworks of the modern world. This has been Fowles’s predominant interest throughout his work, even though the ostensible subject of The French Lieutenant’s Woman may be a “lost” woman in Victorian culture, or the manifest historical framework of A Maggot (1985), mid-eighteenth century England. These, more precisely, are lenses which Fowles asks the reader to gaze through in contemplating the representation of the past and its fictionalization in the present. Perhaps it might be said that Daniel Martin is the most “personal” of Fowles’s novels, as it collapses the comparisons to be made between epochs onto the individual life: The relation between Daniel’s own past and his present existence is analogous, in many ways, to the relation between Victorian and modern ways of seeing as portrayed in The French Lieutenant’s Woman. In many ways, though, Daniel Martin is much more than “simply personal.” Indeed, it may be seen as an encyclopedic narrative concerned with situating the problem of the individual within numerous contemporary contexts; one may find in it varying theories of history, a tracing of the developments of psychoanalysis from Sigmund Freud to Jacques Lacan, or the mythic contents of modernism. As such, Daniel Martin is Fowles’s most important novel; it bears comparison to Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum (1959), Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (1969), and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) and thus stands as one of the masterpieces of the late twentieth century novel.