David Williams is a familiar figure in Fowles’s fiction: the smug, bourgeois young man who believes that he has a superior control of his own existence and a sophisticated and sensitive understanding of life in general. The security and comfort he has attained, however, have been at the expense of passion, vitality, and creativity. Like Nickolas Urfe in The Magus (1966), David is shaken from his sterile complacency, learning that he is not the success he thinks, but, at best, only “a decent man and eternal also-ran.”
Significantly, his background is conventional in all respects. From his architect parents, he gained a minor appreciation for the arts and the intellect, and after an ordinary education, he became a teacher, a painter, a lecturer, and a critic. He paints small, precise, geometric abstracts, for which he has enjoyed considerable success, but even he is aware that much of the appeal of his canvases is their decorative, not aesthetic, value. Even before coming to interview Henry, he has made up his mind about the older painter and has in fact already drafted his introduction to the book, so sure is he of his own values and beliefs. The fixity and sterility of his stance have never occurred to him.
When he arrives at Coet, his sense of superiority surrounds him like a cloud. He dismisses the Mouse and the Freak as art groupies whose primary function in Henry’s household is sexual. While he admires Henry’s work, he does not really understand it, and he is puzzled about how such paintings can be produced by what he considers to be an inarticulate, lecherous has-been.
As he comes to know Henry, however, he begins to lose his fixity of opinion, for Henry is neither the man of his public image nor the man of David’s reductive assessment. Henry is almost a force of nature, a pure creative genius who has never compromised his own values for those of society. He resists any set of...
(The entire section is 790 words.)