Fowles, John (Vol. 15)
Fowles, John 1926–
Fowles is a British novelist, short story writer, translator, essayist, and poet. His work is a blend of classical and mythical allusions presented in a modern idiom. The French Lieutenant's Woman, for example, is Victorian in story and style, but innovative in narrative technique and in its examination of the concept of time. Fowles consistently scrutinizes the importance of history in his novels, exploring how the past can inform the present. Recurring in Fowles's fiction is the idea that woman, because of her inherent "otherness," is fundamentally incomprehensible to man. Fowles uses this theme to analyze what man can know and, further, what the artist, with the limitations of his perception and his ability, can reveal about the human condition. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 10, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)
Constance B. Hieatt
[Fowles's] collection entitled The Ebony Tower takes [Marie de France's] Anglo-Norman lay of Eliduc as its focal point, or so the author states in his headnote to the translation which occupies the midpoint of the volume. In this note he says that his book owes its "mood," and partly "its theme and setting," to medieval literature…. (p. 351)
[Marie, however], can be described as a writer of distinctly feminist tone. This is hardly the case with John Fowles, although he also specializes in male weaklings. There is, however, a paradoxical lack of sensitivity to a woman's point of view in much of his work, including the title novella of The Ebony Tower. (p. 357)
Eliduc, in the ironic tale we know by this name, is unlike David of The Ebony Tower: he gets the girl—with the help of his wife. Such a man is clearly not worth keeping. It may, then, be suspected that in the end the contemporary writer has missed the true "common ground" of Marie's tales. She was overwhelmingly concerned with man's unfairness to woman. Fowles is almost exclusively concerned with the problems of men, even when he devotes a major part of a narrative to looking at a woman's point of view, as he does in the last tale of The Ebony Tower, "The Cloud." This long story seems to focus on the problems of Katherine, whose man has commited suicide, but the real focus is on the waste of human potential in such male...
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Susan Strehle Klemtner
In Daniel Martin (1977), John Fowles generates matter and manner out of oppositions like those between the perspectives of Dan and Jenny, the politics of right and left, first and third person, past and present, ka and ba….
These oppositions begin with the first sentence, a remarkable anticipation of the novel: "Whole sight; or all the rest is desolation." Posing an either/or choice, the statement divides these two alternatives into apparently irreconcilable poles, but Fowles eventually links his counterpoles, so that the desolation of Palmyra produces whole sight in Daniel Martin, and whole sight yields a compassionate understanding of desolation. Since the story concerns a marriage of opposites between the central characters, the novel itself joins oppositions in both content and form. Two contrasting principles shape the narrative: juxtaposition and recurrence. The first embodies change and difference, the second unchanging sameness. Both merge in Dan's experience, as he uncovers stasis beneath change on a new voyage of return. (p. 59)
Several sorts of antitheses govern [Daniel Martin] as its first two chapters demonstrate. Between "The Harvest" and "Games" lie distances in time from past to present and from day to night, in place from the countryside of Devon to the cityscape of Hollywood. (p. 60)
The intertwined past and present of the novel create one form of...
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Karen M. Lever
Why has John Fowles grown so slowly? What can explain the combination of conceit (the publication of his personal philosophy in The Aristos and, worse, of his poetry) with the insecurity shown by post-publication revision? (The Aristos … appeared in first and revised editions [as did The Magus].) The answer seems to lie in Fowles's inability to reconcile his intellectual beliefs about what men and novelists should be with his own strongest instincts and abilities. Evident in his works are two related and hitherto unnoticed patterns: first, Fowles has obsessively written and rewritten the novel of education with which it is natural to begin a career, to the exclusion of almost all other themes; second, he has (as we know him through the authorial voice of the novels) at the same time remained unregenerate in regard to precisely those "philosophical lessons" his protagonists must learn. His own education is unfinished or unsuccessful, according to his own criteria. These two points are mutually illuminative: Fowles seems to repeat the same education theme because he cannot get beyond it himself. Although Fowles's heroes are often justifiably left youthful (until Daniel Martin anyway) and dynamically in process, their educations unfinished, one has a right to expect that their creator, dictator of the novels' norms, not lag behind. (pp. 86-7)
The basic situation in a Fowles novel, as in The Magus, is the...
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Mr. Fowles's essay [which accompanies Frank Horvat's photographs in The Tree is] delightful and varied, a ramble among trees he has known, from his father's overformal orchard to the last fragment of British wilderness. The real subject of this arboreal excursion is not trees at all, but the importance in art of the unpredictable, the unaccountable, the intuitive, the not discernibly useful. Mr. Fowles is not opposed to practicality or to scientific analysis; he is merely reminding us that, in life as well as art, there are other routes to satisfaction.
Phoebe-Lou Adams, "PLA: 'The Tree'," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1980 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 245, No. 4, April, 1980, p. 129.
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