The English Novel in the Twentieth Century: 5 - John Fowles
Heptonstall, Geoffrey, Contemporary Review
John Fowles has spoken of his life in cities as a daily exile. Though he is no agrarian idealist, his, relation to the natural world is revealed in two long essays, 'The Tree and 'Islands', which should be read both for themselves and for their counterpoint to his fiction. A recurring theme in the novels is the contrast between town (usually London) and country (usually the West of England). This says much of the author's sense of place. It suggests also an approach to human nature and to society.
'Ordinary experience . . . is quintessentially "wild", in the sense my father disliked so much: unphilosophical, irrational, uncontrollable, incalculable', Fowles wrote in a deeply personal statement, the childhood memoir which begins 'The Tree'. There are wild characters and bizarre happenings in Fowles's fiction. But here he is talking of ordinary experience. His position may owe something to Freud, though the greater debt is to existentialism which Fowles encountered at the peak of its extraordinary post-war popularity.
A graduate in French at Oxford, Fowles taught at the University of Poitiers where he began to write the pensees which form his major essay, 'The Aristos'. Significantly, the work begins: 'Where are we? What is the situation? Has it a master?' Not a series of questions which can be answered without some empirical evidence. They are a novelist's questions.
'The Aristos' (1964) is not philosophy except in a casual sense. There is no thread of a speculative logic. There is no satisfying conclusion. Fowles is concerned with particularities, with the minutiae of experience. Subtitled 'A Self-Portrait in Ideas', 'The Aristos' is a personal statement, rather than a picture of the human condition. The thoughts do have a master in the way they are expressed. Fowles's supreme gift is his compelling narrative drive.
His debut novel, The Collector (1963), is interesting partly because of its relation to the English novel of its time. The heroine, Miranda, speaks derisively of Alan Sillitoe's Saturday Night and …
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Publication information: Article title: The English Novel in the Twentieth Century: 5 - John Fowles. Contributors: Heptonstall, Geoffrey - Author. Magazine title: Contemporary Review. Volume: 268. Issue: 1564 Publication date: May 1996. Page number: 262+. © 1999 Contemporary Review Company Ltd. COPYRIGHT 1996 Gale Group.
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