Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

It is clear that the construction of character, or the self, constitutes one of the primary themes of Daniel Martin. In the novel, the quest for the self is accompanied by a series of related interests which can be seen in many of Fowles’s other works. In a letter, Jenny says of Dan, “He has a mistress. Her name is Loss.” Loss and recollection, particularly of the past, become the poles of the author/protagonist’s experience in Daniel Martin. In his first novel, The Collector (1963), Fowles portrayed a man obsessed with recouping what he believes to be a loss or absence in his existence by, metaphorically, stopping time, creating a beautiful still life, as he imprisons a living woman within his own deadly illusions. Daniel Martin might be seen as a revision of that earlier protagonist: His “butterfly” is Jenny (and the succession of young women who have preceded her), yet, forced to confront the past and his responsibility for its outcome, Daniel must “recollect” himself. While, on the one hand, he yearns for a representation of the past as a series of paradisiacal locations wherein an idealized nature and the eternal present are the orders of the day, in recollecting his experiences of these realms (his boyhood home, Oxford, New Mexico, the Nile River valley), Daniel sees that each contains some form of death or loss. In idyllic Oxford, he sees the body of a dead woman; in the Thronecombe of his childhood, he recalls the bodies of dismembered rabbits slain in the harvest, as well as the loss of his first love; on the journey down the...

(The entire section is 646 words.)