This extraordinary volume chronicles the life-in-progress of a young man whose principal ambition is to become a writer, an ambition that, after years of struggle, poverty, and unrewarding work as a teacher, is finally realized with the success of his first novel, The Collector (1963). In the great tradition of literary autobiography, this work contains a frankness and spontaneity, especially about the doubts, misgivings, false starts, and failures, that remove it from the usual fables of identity a retrospective work might create.
Instead, John Fowles writes of his present as it passes, vents his reactions to people, critiques films and stage performances, and lists his thoughts about his readings, his love affairs, and his anxieties, all from his own immediate perspective. Charles Drazin, as editor, provides extensive but not obtrusive notes on Fowles’s friends and associates, the locales and institutions he visited, the books he reads and authors he mentions. These useful notes are also accompanied by a first-rate index which is invaluable for scholars using the book as a research tool for cross-referencing the writer’s literary works with his journals. Yet the scholarship is not essential for general readers to appreciate the work; in that regard the editor has struck a balance serving a wide readership.
The editor has divided the journals into ten parts, the first two of which, dealing with Fowles’s last year at Oxford and his first year teaching at Poitiers in France, present a portrait of the artist as a very young man, filled with youthful prejudices, opinions, and judgments which range from the incredibly naïve and petulant to the remarkably profound. At times Fowles seems intent upon criticizing all, including himself, in a manner that betrays arrogant priggishness; at other times he seems lost in admiration for those very things he criticizes. This is especially true of his uneasiness at the home of his parents and of his uneasy romance with Ginette Marcailloux in Poitiers, which was marred by her tension and bad temper as well as his own bad temper and bouts of depression. Apart from the personal roller coaster he describes, the entries are also of inestimable value for literary critics of the later Fowles, to mine for clues about sources, analogues, and allusions in his fiction as he mentions the works he is reading and offers concise evaluations of their merits.
Part 3, “An Island and Greece,” introduces a magical place which transformed his life and his writing. Having secured a teaching post at the Anargyros and Korgialeneios School on the island of Spetsei, Fowles began a fascination with the genius of the place that would inform his major novel, The Magus (1965). In retrospect, the editor of the journals mentions in a note, Fowles looks upon the journal entry for January 6, 1952, as the genesis of that novel. Clearly some of the language he uses to describe his early impressions of the island’s topography and its allure for him anticipates several of the lush descriptions he would write more than a decade later. Additionally, although he remains critical of his colleagues, forgiving some and begrudging others, and makes acerbic notes on the personalities and appearances of some of his students, his tone in this era shows mature and certain growth. Other significant elements of his first few months in Greece include his travels to Mycenae, Delphi, and Mount Parnassus, which he climbed in homage to its literary inspiration and, in turn, found inspiring in him a new belief in himself as a writer.
After that first half-year in Greece, his sojourns in England paled. Nothing was to prepare him for the next school year’s mad, passionate, moonstruck love he found with Elizabeth Christy, the wife of a newly arrived colleague, Roy Christy, at the school on Spetsei. The journals recount Fowles and Elizabeth’s initial attraction, his conscious avoidance of intimacy though they were increasingly thrown together by circumstance, and, ultimately, their passionate love affair which got both Fowles and Christy fired from the school. As in every section of the journals, Fowles casts a cold eye upon himself, his situation, his colleagues, and his studentsand also upon Elizabeth, noting her faults, failings, and inadequacies but persisting in his infatuation with her. The journal entries show...
(The entire section is 1786 words.)