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Daniel Martin Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In his fourth novel, Daniel Martin, Fowles writes his first happy ending. The protagonist, Daniel Martin, a writer and alter ego for Fowles, struggles throughout the novel with the concept of the happy ending and whether the late twentieth century world can accept it. He finally decides, as his own life reveals to him, that the happy ending is possible. The route to that decision forms the action of the novel. At the same time, Daniel’s story becomes Daniel Martin, the novel Daniel has wanted to write.

The quester has now come of age; in fact, he is middle-aged. His dilemma is like that of the questers of the earlier novels whose stories were of younger men confronting issues of choice and freedom. Once again, the protagonist is a man who seems to have everything. In this case, his “everything” is a successful life as a playwright and now screenwriter in Hollywood and a beautiful young actress for a lover. Yet the same longing and sense of incompleteness are within him, just as they are within Nicholas and Charles in Fowles’s previous novels. For Daniel, the call to the quest comes in the form of a phone call that returns him to the bedside of his former best friend, who is now dying. Returning to England, he is faced with the unfinished business of his life. With Anthony’s suicide, the way is cleared for him to become reunited with Jane, his true love and now Anthony’s widow. Daniel sees his opportunity to come alive again; Jane resists.

To know where they began, Fowles takes the action back to their college days at Oxford and to the deep bond of friendship among four friends: Anthony, Jane, Jane’s sister, and Daniel. Although Daniel and Jane come to realize that they love each other, Daniel makes the “correct” choice (the same choice Fowles presents in the first ending of The French Lieutenant’s Woman) and marries the one he is “supposed” to marry, not the one he loves. That marriage ends in divorce, and although Jane stays married to Anthony until his death, their marriage does not provide the true depth of feeling that she might have had with Daniel.

Once Daniel has rediscovered the significant moments and sacred places in his past, he longs to find these places and moments again. Thus, the journey moves into the present and the future with Daniel’s invitation to Jane to take a trip with him. Fittingly, the trip is a journey up the Nile, which symbolizes lost worlds as well as the potential for a future world with Jane. From that journey, in which he explores much about his feelings for Jane and his own feelings, he persuades Jane to continue with him to Palmyra, an ancient city of wealth and prosperity now in ruins. Again the symbolism of place is apparent: Their arrival in the wasteland of Palmyra can symbolize either what they will become or the potential to turn their own wasteland into a garden if they can escape the bonds that separate them. They do the latter in Jane’s symbolic burial of her wedding ring in the sands of the desert. Thus, with her ties to the past severed and with their earlier ties to each other revived, they journey together into the future. The only unfinished business for Daniel is to let Jenny, his Hollywood lover, gently go. The last scene of this first novel with a happy ending places Daniel and Jane in the kitchen together, the quintessential picture of home, talking about the novel Daniel can now write—which is in fact the one the reader has just read.

Summary

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Daniel Martin is, ostensibly, an autobiographical novel that portrays the life of a middle-aged British playwright who has betrayed himself and his craft by marrying the wrong woman and by selling out to Hollywood as a highly successful screenwriter. In a sense, the novel is the script, or reinscription, of Daniel Martin’s existence: Called to the deathbed of Anthony Mallory, a friend whom he has not seen in many years, Daniel is forced to confront a land and a past he had formerly forgotten and repressed. Through a...

(The entire section is 1,322 words.)