Magazine article The Spectator

The Journals: Volume I

Magazine article The Spectator

The Journals: Volume I

Article excerpt

From chrysalis to butterfly THE JOURNALS: VOLUME I by John Fowles Cape, L30, pp. 668, ISBN 022406911X

John Fowles's diaries - or 'disjoints', as he calls them - are evidence of his own theory that while some writers have a genius for a specific genre, others 'have merely a universal mind'. 'I'm a mind-writer ... I feel master of none, yet at home in all,' he wrote in 1954, about halfway through this first volume which runs from his student days in 1949 until 1965.

And why not present all one's work - if one is a mind-writer (much more occupied with ideas than with words) - as it comes out; in years, or periods of time; short stories, fragments of plays, poems, essays, notes, criticisms, journals; the aim being a portrait of the total living artist, not a classified museum.

The fact that he wrote the above nine years before his first novel, The Collector, was published, demonstrates the overriding theme of these journals: Fowles's faith in his immortal destiny as a writer and artist. His creative development is the central narratives of the diaries, as he progresses (sometimes extremely gradually) from arrogant, gauche student to established author.

In 1950, while he is teaching English in Poitiers soon after leaving Oxford, Fowles mentions to a friend that he wants to write a novel. What kind?, asks the friend. Flustered and coy, all Fowles can think of saying is, 'a Kafka theme in a Joyce manner', and then berates himself for his 'silliness'. Thirteen years of private, driven apprenticeship later, he is feted for The Collector on both sides of the Atlantic, flown to Hollywood, and even, rather to his surprise, summoned for an audience with the admiring socialite and heiress, Gloria Vanderbilt, when he visits New York.

His transformation - the emergence from the chrysalis of struggle and poverty into 'this demi-paradise of celebrity' - is fascinating not just for what it reveals about Fowles and his work but as a considered, intelligent insight into what it is like suddenly to become a success. In 1962, Fowles and his wife, Elizabeth, are living modestly in north London; by day he teaches English, by night he writes. Two years later, he is being interviewed by the leather-jacketed Mclvyn Bragg ('an earnest young man with floppy black hair and pink checks'), introduced to a glittering Ursula Andress at Cannes, and watching Terence Stamp play Frederick Clegg in the film version of his best-selling hook. …

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