John Fowles

John Fowles

Infobox Writer
name = John Fowles

nationality = British
occupation = Novelist
notableworks = "The Magus"; "The French Lieutenant's Woman"
influences =

John Robert Fowles (March 31, 1926 – November 5, 2005) was an English novelist and essayist.


Birth and family

Fowles was born in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, England, the son of Gladys Richards and Robert John Fowles. [Harvnb|Warburton|2004|p=9] Robert Fowles came from a family of middle-class merchants in London. Robert's father Reginald was a partner in the firm Allen & Wright, a tobacco importer. Robert's mother died when he was 6. 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 leaving him with memories that haunted him for the rest of his life. Robert's brother Jack died in the war, leaving a widow and three children. In 1920, the year Robert was demobilized, his father Reginald died. Robert became responsible for five young half-siblings and the children of his brother, and though he had hoped to practice law, the obligation of raising an extended family forced him into the family trade of tobacco importing. Though always successful, the financial strain of so many dependents meant Robert Fowles would never be wealthy. [Harvnb|Warburton|2004|pp=4–7]

Gladys Richards belonged to an Essex family originally from London as well; her father J.S. Richards had been the chief buyer of lace for department store John Lewis Ltd. 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 June 18, 1925. Nine months and two weeks later Gladys gave birth to John Robert Fowles. Throughout his career, Robert commuted over an hour each direction into London.

Early life and education

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

In 1939, Fowles won a spot 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 also 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 bowler.

After leaving [Bedford School] in 1944, Fowles enrolled in a Naval Short Course at and Edinburgh University. Fowles was set to take a commission in the Royal Marines. He completed his training on May 8, 1945VE Day. Fowles was instead assigned to Okehampton Camp in the countryside near Devon for two years. [Harvnb|Aubrey|1991|pp=12-13]

In 1947, after completing his military service, Fowles entered New College, Oxford, where he studied both French and German, although he dropped 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." [Harvnb|Aubrey|1991|pp=13-14]

It was also at Oxford that Fowles first considered life as a writer, particularly after reading existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Though Fowles did not identify as an existentialist, their writing, like Fowles', was motivated from a feeling that the world was wrong. [Harvnb|Aubrey|1991|p=14]

Teaching career

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." [Harvnb|Aubrey|1991|p=16]

In 1951, Fowles became an English master at the Anargyrios and Korgialenios School of Spetses on the Peloponnesian island of Spetsai, a critical part of Fowles's life, as the island would be where he met his future wife Elizabeth Christy,née Whitton, (d. 1990) wife of fellow teacher Roy Christy, and would later serve as the setting of his novel "The Magus". Fowles was happy in Greece, especially outside of the school. He wrote poems that he later published, and became close to his fellow exiles. But in 1953 Fowles and the other masters at the school were all fired for trying to institute reforms, and Fowles returned to England. [Harvnb|Aubrey|1991|pp=17-18]

On the island of Spetsai, Fowles had grown close to Elizabeth Christy, who was married to one of the other teachers. Christy's marriage was already falling apart because of the entanglement with Fowles, and though 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 April 2, 1954 they were married and Fowles became stepfather to Elizabeth's daughter from her first marriage, Anna. After his marriage, Fowles taught English as a foreign language to students from other countries for nearly ten years at St. Godric's College, an all-girls in Hampstead, London. [Harvnb|Aubrey|1991|pp=18-22]

Literary career

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. The success of his novel meant that Fowles was able to stop teaching and devote himself full-time to a literary career. "The Collector" was also optioned and became a film in 1965. [Harvnb|Aubrey|1991|pp=22-24]

Against the counsel of his publisher, Fowles insisted that his second book published be "The Aristos", a non-fiction collection of philosophy. Afterward, he set about collating all the drafts he had written of what would become his most studied work, "The Magus" (1965), based in part on his experiences in Greece. [Harvnb|Aubrey|1991|pp=22-24]

In 1966 Fowles left London, moving to a farm in Dorset, where the isolated farm house became the model for "The Dairy" in the book Fowles was then writing, "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1969). The farm was too remote, "total solitude gets a bit monotonous," Fowles remarked, and in 1968 he and his wife moved to Lyme Regis in Dorset, where he lived in Belmont House, also used as a setting for parts of "The French Lieutenant's Woman". In the same year, he adapted "The Magus" for cinema. [Harvnb|Aubrey|1991|pp=24-28]

The film version of "The Magus" (1968) was generally considered awful. For example, when Woody Allen was asked whether he'd 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.". "The French Lieutenant's Woman" was made into a film in 1981 with a screenplay by the British playwright Harold Pinter (subsequently a Nobel laureate in Literature) and was nominated for an Oscar.

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. Fowles became a member of the Lyme Regis community, serving as the curator of the Lyme Regis Museum from 1979-1988, retiring from the museum after having a mild stroke. Fowles was occasionally involved in politics in Lyme Regis, and occasionally wrote letters to the editor advocating preservation. Despite this involvement, Fowles was generally considered reclusive. [Harvnb|Aubrey|1991|pp=26-30]

John Fowles was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999.

Fowles died in Axminster Hospital, 5 miles from Lyme Regis on November 5, 2005.

Major works

Many critics now consider his work on the cusp between modernism and postmodernism. [Harvnb|Salami|1992|pp=23-25]


*(1963) "The Collector"
*(1964) "The Aristos" (ISBN 0-586-05377-8)
*(1965) "The Magus" (revised 1977)
*(1969) "The French Lieutenant's Woman"
*(1973) "Poems"
*(1974) "The Ebony Tower"
*(1974) "Shipwreck"
*(1977) "Daniel Martin"
*(1978) "Islands"
*(1979) "The Tree"
*(1980) "The Enigma of Stonehenge"
*(1982) "A short history of Lyme Regis"
*(1982) "Mantissa" (Hardback: ISBN 0-224-02938-X; Paperback: ISBN 0-316-29027-0)
*(1985) "A Maggot"
*(1985) "Land" (with Fay Godwin)
*(1990) "Lyme Regis Camera"
*(1998) "Wormholes - Essays and Occasional Writings"
*(2003) "The Journals - Volume 1"
*(2006) "The Journals - Volume 2"


*Citation | title = John Fowles; A Reference Companion | last = Aubrey | first = James R. | year = 1991 | publisher = Greenwood Press | isbn = 031326399x

*Citation | title = John Fowles's Fiction and the Poetics of Postmodernism | last = Salami | first = Mahmoud | year = 1992 | publisher = Associated University Presses | isbn = 083863446x

*Citation | title=John Fowles; A Life in Two Worlds | last = Warburton | first = Eileen | year = 2004 | publisher = Viking Press | isbn = 0670032832;Specific

External links

* [ BBC obituary of John Fowles]
* [ The New York Times obituary of John Fowles]
* [ John Fowles, playful postmodernist who wrote 'The French Lieutenant's Woman', dies aged 79] at The Independent
* []
* [ The New York Times Featured Author: John Fowles] - Reviews and articles from The New York Times
* [,6000,1061910,00.html Fair or Fowles?] - Interview with John Fowles at The Guardian
* [,5917,-71,00.html The Guardian Book Authors: John Fowles] - Biography, list of articles and interviews at The Guardian
* [ "The Paris Review" Interview]
* a page about the author by his New Jersey based namesake
* [ John Fowles Collection] , [ Papers] , [ Diaries] at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin
* [ Criticism in Portuguese. By Dr. Shirley Carreira]

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