John Fowles Long Fiction Analysis
John Fowles’s fiction has one theme: the quest of hisprotagonists for self-knowledge. Such a quest is not easy in the modern world because, as many other modern authors have shown, the contemporary quester is cut off from the traditions and rituals of the past that gave people a purpose and sense of direction. Still, desiring the freedom of individual choice that requires an understanding of self, the Fowlesian protagonist moves through the pattern of the quest as best he can.
Following the tradition of the quest theme found in the medieval romance, which Fowles saw as central to his and all of Western fiction, the quester embarks on the journey in response to a call to adventure. Because the quester is in a state of longing for the adventure, often without recognizing the fact, he readily responds to the call. The call takes him across a threshold into another world, the land of myth. For Fowles’s questers, this other world is always described as a remote, out-of-the-way place, often lush and primeval. In this place the quester meets the usual dragons, which, in modern terms, are presented as a series of challenges that he must overcome if he is to proceed.
Guided by the figure of the wise old man who has gone before him and can show the way, the quester gradually acquires self-knowledge, which brings freedom of choice. For Fowles’s heroes, this choice always centers on the acceptance of a woman. If the quester has attained self-knowledge, he is able to choose the woman—that is, to know and experience love, signifying wholeness. Then he must make the crossing back into the real world and continue to live and choose freely, given the understanding the quest has provided.
What separates the journey of the Fowlesian hero from the journey of the medieval hero is that much of it has become internalized. Where the quester of old did actual battle with dragons, monsters, and mysterious knights, the modern quester is far removed from such obvious obstacles. He cannot see the enemy in front of him because it is often within him, keeping him frozen in a state of inertia that prevents him from questing. The modern journey, then, can be seen in psychological terms; while the events are externalized, the results are measured by the growth of the protagonist toward wholeness or self-knowledge. Thus, as Joseph Campbell describes in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), “the problem isnothing if not that of making it possible for men and women to come to full human maturity through the conditions of contemporary life.”
Each of Fowles’s protagonist/heroes follows the pattern of the mythic quest. Each journeys to a strange land (the unconscious): the Greek island of Phraxos and Conchis’ more secret domain for Nicholas Urfe, the isolated countryside house for Frederick Clegg, the primitive Undercliff of Lyme Regis for Charles Smithson, the hidden manor in the forests of Brittany for David Williams, the lost landscape of his youth and the journey up the Nile for Daniel Martin , the interior space of the mind of Miles Green, and the ancient landscape of Stonehenge plus the mystery of the cave for Bartholomew and Rebecca. Each undergoes a series of trials (the warring aspects of his personality) intended to bring him to a state of self-consciousness. With the exception of Clegg, whose story represents the antiquest, each has the aid of a guide (the mythical wise old man): Conchis for Nicholas; Dr. Grogan for Charles; Breasley for David Williams; Professor Kirnberger, György Lukács, a Rembrandt self-portrait, and others for Daniel Martin; the various manifestations of the muse for Miles Green; and Holy Mother Wisdom for Bartholomew and Rebecca. Each has an encounter with a woman (representative of “the other half” needed for wholeness): Alison for Nicholas, Miranda for Frederick, Sarah for Charles, “The Mouse” for David, Jane for Daniel, Erato for Miles, Holy Mother Wisdom for Bartholomew, and Bartholomew for Rebecca. The ability of...
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