John Fowles

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
John Robert Fowles
John Fowles.jpg
Born (1926-03-31)31 March 1926
Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England
Died 5 November 2005(2005-11-05) (aged 79)
Lyme Regis, Dorset, England
Occupation Writer, teacher
Nationality English
Period 1960–2005
Notable work(s) The Collector
The Magus
The French Lieutenant's Woman

John Robert Fowles (/fls/; 31 March 1926 – 5 November 2005) was an English novelist who earned an international reputation, with his books translated into numerous languages, and several adapted as films. He was considered much influenced by both Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, and critically positioned between modernism and postmodernism.

After leaving Oxford University, Fowles taught English at a school on the Greek island of Spetses, a sojourn that inspired The Magus, his third novel and an instant best-seller that was directly in tune with 1960s "hippie" anarchism and experimental philosophy. This was followed by The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969), a Victorian-style romance set in Lyme Regis, Dorset, where Fowles lived for more than 30 years. Later fictional works include The Ebony Tower, Daniel Martin, Mantissa, and A Maggot.

Fowles was named by the Times newspaper of UK as one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.[1]

Biography[edit]

Birth and family[edit]

Fowles was born in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, England, the son of Gladys May Richards and Robert John Fowles.[2] Robert Fowles came from a family of middle-class merchants of London. Robert's father Reginald was a partner of the firm Allen & Wright, a tobacco importer. Robert's mother died when he was 6 years old. At age 26, after receiving legal training, Robert enlisted in the Honourable Artillery Company and spent three years in the trenches of Flanders during World War I. Robert's brother Jack died in the war, leaving a widow and three children. During 1920, the year Robert was demobilised, his father Reginald died. Robert became responsible for five young half-siblings as well as the children of his brother. Although he had hoped to practise law, the obligation of raising an extended family forced him into the family trade of tobacco importing.

Gladys Richards belonged to an Essex family also originally from London. The Richards family moved to Westcliff-on-Sea in 1918, as Spanish flu swept through Europe, for Essex was said to have a healthy climate. Robert met Gladys Richards at a tennis club in Westcliff-on-Sea in 1924. Though she was ten years younger, and he in bad health from the war, they were married a year later on 18 June 1925. Nine months and two weeks later, Gladys gave birth to John Robert Fowles.

Early life and education[edit]

New College, Oxford, where Fowles attended university.

Fowles spent his childhood attended by his mother and by his cousin Peggy Fowles, 18 years old at the time of his birth. She was his nursemaid and close companion for ten years. Fowles attended Alleyn Court Preparatory School. The works of Richard Jefferies and his character Bevis were Fowles's favourite books as a child. He was an only child until he was 16 years old.

In 1939, Fowles won a place at Bedford School, a two-hour train journey north of his home. His time at Bedford coincided with the Second World War. Fowles was a student at Bedford until 1944. He became head boy and was an athletic standout: a member of the rugby-football third team, the fives first team, and captain of the cricket team, for which he was a bowler.

After leaving Bedford School in 1944, Fowles enrolled in a Naval Short Course at Edinburgh University and was prepared to receive a commission in the Royal Marines. He completed his training on 8 May 1945—VE Day and was assigned instead to Okehampton Camp in the countryside near Devon for two years.[3]

In 1947 after completing his military service, Fowles entered New College, Oxford, where he studied both French and German, although he stopped studying German and concentrated on French for his BA. Fowles was undergoing a political transformation. Upon leaving the marines, he wrote, "I ... began to hate what I was becoming in life—a British Establishment young hopeful. I decided instead to become a sort of anarchist."[4]

It was also at Oxford that Fowles first considered life as a writer, particularly after reading existentialists such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Though Fowles did not identify as an existentialist, their writing was motivated from a feeling that the world was absurd, a feeling he shared.[5]

Teaching career[edit]

Fowles spent his early adult life as a teacher. His first year after Oxford was spent at the University of Poitiers. At the end of the year, he received two offers: one from the French department at Winchester, the other "from a ratty school in Greece," Fowles said: "Of course, I went against all the dictates of common sense and took the Greek job."[6]

In 1951, Fowles became an English master at the Anargyrios and Korgialenios School of Spetses on the Peloponnesian island of Spetses (also known as Spetsai). This opened a critical period in his life, as the island was where he met his future wife Elizabeth Christy, née Whitton, wife of fellow teacher Roy Christy. Inspired by his experiences and feelings there, he used it as the setting of his novel, The Magus (1968). Fowles was happy in Greece, especially outside the school. He wrote poems that he later published, and became close to his fellow expatriates. But during 1953, Fowles and the other masters at the school were all dismissed for trying to institute reforms, and Fowles returned to England.[7]

On the island of Spetses, Fowles had developed a relationship with Elizabeth Christy, then married to another teacher. Christy's marriage was already ending because of Fowles. Although they returned to England at the same time, they were no longer in each other's company. It was during this period that Fowles began drafting The Magus.

His separation from Elizabeth did not last long. On 2 April 1954, they were married. Fowles became stepfather to Elizabeth's daughter from her first marriage, Anna. For nearly ten years, Fowles taught English as a foreign language to students from other countries at St. Godric's College, an all-girls in Hampstead, London.[8]

Literary career[edit]

Belmont House – home in Lyme Regis

In late 1960, though he had already drafted The Magus, Fowles began working on The Collector. He finished his first draft in a month, but spent more than a year making revisions before showing it to his agent. Michael S. Howard, the publisher at Jonathan Cape was enthusiastic about the manuscript. The book was published in 1963 and when the paperback rights were sold in the spring of that year, it was "probably the highest price that had hitherto been paid for a first novel," according to Howard. British reviewers found the novel to be an innovative thriller, but several American critics detected a serious promotion of existentialist thought.

The success of his novel meant that Fowles could stop teaching and devote himself full-time to a literary career. The Collector was also optioned and was adapted as a feature film by the same name in 1965.[9] Against the counsel of his publisher, Fowles insisted that his second book published be The Aristos, a non-fiction collection of philosophy essays. Afterward, he set about collating all the drafts he had written of what would become his most studied work, The Magus, based in part on his experiences in Greece.[9]

In 1965 Fowles left London, moving to Underhill, a farm in Dorset. The isolated farm house became the model for The Dairy in the book Fowles was writing: The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969). Finding the farm too remote, as "total solitude gets a bit monotonous," Fowles remarked, in 1968 he and his wife moved to Lyme Regis in Dorset. They lived much of the time in Belmont House (formerly owned by Eleanor Coade), which Fowles used as a setting for parts of The French Lieutenant's Woman.[10]

In the same year, he adapted The Magus for cinema, and the film was released in 1968.[11] The film version of The Magus (1968) was generally considered awful; when Woody Allen was later asked whether he would make changes in his life if he had the opportunity to do it all over again, he jokingly replied he'd do "everything exactly the same, with the exception of watching The Magus."[12]

The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969) was released to critical and popular success. It was eventually translated into more than ten languages, and established Fowles' international reputation. It was adapted as a feature film in 1981 with a screenplay by the noted British playwright Harold Pinter, and starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons.

Fowles lived the rest of his life in Lyme Regis. His works The Ebony Tower (1974), Daniel Martin (1977), Mantissa (1981), and A Maggot (1985) were all written from Belmont House.

Joining the community, Fowles served as the curator of the Lyme Regis Museum from 1979 to 1988, retiring from the museum after having a mild stroke. Fowles was involved occasionally in politics in the town He occasionally wrote letters to the editor advocating preservation. Despite this involvement, he was generally considered reclusive.[13]

In 1998, he was quoted in the New York Times Book Review as saying, "Being an atheist is a matter not of moral choice, but of human obligation."[14]

His first wife Elizabeth died in 1990. With his second wife Sarah by his side, Fowles died 5 miles from Lyme Regis in Axminster Hospital on 5 November 2005.

Major works[edit]

Many critics now consider his work on the cusp between modernism and postmodernism.[15]

List of works[edit]

References[edit]

General
  • Aubrey, James R. (1991), John Fowles; A Reference Companion, Greenwood Press, ISBN 0-313-26399-X 
  • Salami, Mahmoud (1992), John Fowles's Fiction and the Poetics of Postmodernism, Associated University Presses, ISBN 0-8386-3446-X 
Specific
  1. ^ "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945", The Times, . 5 January 2008.Retrieved on 19 February 2010.
  2. ^ Warburton 2004, p. 9
  3. ^ Aubrey 1991, pp. 12–13
  4. ^ Aubrey 1991, pp. 13–14
  5. ^ Aubrey 1991, p. 14
  6. ^ Aubrey 1991, p. 16
  7. ^ Aubrey 1991, pp. 17–18
  8. ^ Aubrey 1991, pp. 18–22
  9. ^ a b Aubrey 1991, pp. 22–24
  10. ^ Aubrey 1991, pp. 24–28
  11. ^ Aubrey 1991, pp. 24–28
  12. ^ "John Fowles". The Independent (London). 8 November 2005. 
  13. ^ Aubrey 1991, pp. 26–30
  14. ^ The New York Times, 31 May 1998.
  15. ^ Salami 1992, pp. 23–25

External links[edit]