John Fowles’s place in literary history is difficult to assess. He established an excellent reputation as a writer of serious fiction, one who will continue to be read. His work continues to receive the notice of critics; numerous books have been published about him and about his works. Fowles, however, was no “ivory tower” author; his work enjoys a wide readership, and several of his novels have been made into motion pictures, including The Collector (1965), The Magus (1968), and The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981). Readers can expect to find in Fowles’s works a good story with a passionate love interest, complex characters, and a healthy smattering of philosophy, all presented within the context of the plot. Critics can slice away multiple layers to get at the wheels-within-wheels of meaning on existential, historical, philosophical, psychological, and myriad other levels.
Because Fowles rarely told the same story in the same way, genre is a topic of much discussion among his critics. His fiction reflects not only his experimentation with genre but also his questioning of authorial voice, the continuum of time, moments out of time, split viewpoint, stories without endings, stories with choices of endings, and stories with revised endings. Despite such experimentation, most of the novels are in many ways quite old-fashioned, reflecting the ancient boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-seeks-to-find-girl-again-and-in-so-doing-finds-himself quest motif that characterizes so much fiction. They are fairly straightforward “good reads” without the dizzying experimentation of a James Joyce to make them virtually inaccessible to all but the most diligent reader. On any level, Fowles is enjoyable, and what reserves him a place among memorable writers is that he is discoverable again and again.