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Fowles, John

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1926-2005) UK author who remains perhaps most famous for his first and third novels, The Collector (1963) and The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969). His second novel, The Magus (1965; rev 1977), especially in the conciser revised version, more powerfully explores the labyrinths of obsession and manipulation underlying, in all of Fowles's work, the rigmaroles and impostures of daylight reality. In this novel a series of seemingly supernatural contrivances separates the unpleasant protagonist from his love and from any security, causing him to learn something about himself on a mysterious mazelike Island before happiness is allowed to reign; rational explanations in the end from the Daedalus-like magus do little to attenuate a sense of magic-realist entrapment. In studies of the fantastic in general, this novel's working title, «The Godgame», has become a shorthand for tales whose outcome is controlled by a god-like figure (see Godgame).

Of Fowles's other novels, Mantissa (1982) is a fantasy in which Amnesia and Sex intersect metaphysically as a writer wrestles literally and sometimes erotically with his Muse; and A Maggot (1985) is sf. Set in the eighteenth century, it subtly and intensely explores the epistemology of First Contact – focusing on the possible nature of human Perceptions when something genuinely Alien is encountered – by telling a version of the life-story of the mother of Ann Lee (1736-1784), historical founder of the Shaker religion; the protagonist's response to the insoluble knot of Perceptions visited upon her when she inadvertently stumbles upon some time travellers (see Time Travel), probably from Earth's future, is a literal seed-bed (she is pregnant at the time) for Enthusiasm. [JC]

John Robert Fowles

born Leigh-on-Sea, Essex: 31 March 1926

died Lyme Regis, Dorset: 5 November 2005

works (highly selected)

  • The Magus (Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown, 1965) [hb/Tom Adams]
    • The Magus (London: Jonathan Cape, 1977) [rev of the above: hb/Tom Adams]
  • Mantissa (London: Jonathan Cape, 1982) [hb/from Pablo Picasso]
  • A Maggot (London: Jonathan Cape, 1985) [hb/unknown seventeenth-century watercolourist]

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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