John Fowles Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Robert Fowles (fowlz) was probably the most cerebral of contemporary popular novelists. He lived in his birthplace of Leigh-on-Sea until he and his parents, Robert Fowles and the former Gladys Richards, were evacuated to the village of Ippeplen, South Devon, with the coming of war. He studied German and French literature at the Bedford School, where he rose to the position of “head boy.” After completing school, Fowles entered the merchant marine. He spent six months at the University of Edinburgh and attained the rank of lieutenant as World War II came to a close.

After the war Fowles became a student at New College of the University of Oxford, where he continued his work in German and French literature, with particular emphasis in the latter. In 1950 he took the B.A. degree with honors. He taught English at the University of Poitiers for a year and then took a teaching job on the island of Spetsai in the Aegean Sea. His residence on Spetsai influenced his life in two ways. First, living on that island provided him with material for his fiction: A young English schoolteacher is the protagonist and Greece the setting for Fowles’s early novel The Magus. Second, on Spetsai he met his future wife, Elizabeth Whitton. Fowles returned to England and taught in and around London until 1963. The publication in that year of The Collector met with extraordinary success for a first novel, thus allowing him to abandon teaching and pursue a full-time writing career. This tale of a butterfly collector who kidnaps a beautiful young woman, making her his prize specimen, was adapted as a film, as most of Fowles’s novels have been.

Aristos—first published in 1964 as The Aristos: A Self-Portrait in Ideas and subsequently revised in 1966, 1968, and 1970—is a collection of philosophical notes styled in the manner of Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher of the fifth century b.c.e. In his preface Fowles writes that he has been warned against publication of the book on the grounds that it will damage his image as a novelist. He maintains that just as a plumber is much more than a plumber, a novelist is much more than a novelist; Fowles refuses to be imprisoned by the term. The Magus was published in 1965, some twelve years after Fowles had begun to write it. The novel is...

(The entire section is 963 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

John Fowles was born in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England, on March 31, 1926. During World War II, his family was evacuated to the remote village of Ippeplen, South Devon, and it was there that Fowles discovered the beauty of the countryside that later figured so prominently in his fiction. In these early years, he loved nature as a collector, patterning Frederick Clegg’s butterfly-collecting obsession in his novel The Collector after his own. It was not until later that he learned to love nature for itself.

As a student at the exclusive Bedford School, Fowles studied German and French literature, eventually rising to the powerful position of head boy. At the Bedford School, he learned to love literature and power; only later did he learn to hate the latter. From Bedford, he went into military service, spending six months at the University of Edinburgh and completing training as a lieutenant in the merchant marine just as World War II was ending. Following the war, he continued his education in German and more particularly French literature at New College, the University of Oxford, where he graduated in 1950 with a B.A. with honors. His fiction owes many debts to his study of French literature, particularly his early interest in existentialism and his continuing interest in the Celtic romance, from which stems his express belief that all literature has its roots in the theme of the quest. His inclusion of his translation of Marie de France’s...

(The entire section is 550 words.)