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John Fowles

John Fowles (1926-2005) was a British, Post-Modernist writer. He was greatly influenced by the Existentialist writings of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. His most famous novels include The Collector (1963), The Magus (1965), and The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969). Fowles's work was so successful that it was translated into many languages, and some of his novels have been adapted into films.

A Biography of John Fowles

John Fowles was born on March 31, 1926, in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England. In his youth, Fowles discovered the work of Richard Jefferies and attended Bedford School in 1939. In 1944, Fowles left the Bedford School and enrolled at the University of Edinburgh's Naval Short course. In 1947, after completing two years at the Okehampton Camp, Fowles enrolled at New College, Oxford. There, he studied French and German, but mainly focused on French. While at Oxford, Fowles explored the literature of Existentialists such as Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. He was also introduced to anarchy.

John Fowles, Essex Bridge, StudySmarterFig. 1 - John Fowles was born in Essex, England.

In 1951, Fowles went to teach English in the Peloponnese, located in Greece. Fowles would use his time in Greece as inspiration for his novels, such as The Magus (1965) and various poems. In 1953, Fowles was asked to leave the school after attempting to institute a series of reforms. Fowles returned to England and taught English at St. Godric's College for about ten years. In 1960, while also working to complete his novel, The Magus, Fowles began work on The Collector (1963) which he would publish in 1963.

The Collector was so successful that Fowles was able to fully devote his time to writing and quit teaching. In 1965, the novel was adapted into a film. In 1964, Fowles published a collection of philosophical essays titled The Aristos. Fowles moved to an isolated home in Dorset in 1965. The isolation proved too much for Fowles, and in 1968, he moved to Belmont with his wife, which would serve as inspiration for the setting in The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969). When The French Lieutenant's Woman was published, it was extremely successful and cemented Fowles' reputation as a critically acclaimed author.

Controversy surrounded Fowles after his death when his diaries, written between 1965 and 1990, were published. In the diaries, Fowles wrote cruel, homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim remarks about people, including his wife, Elizabeth.

Fowles remained at Belmont for the rest of his life, working on more novels, short fiction, and poetry. On the November 5, 2005, Fowles died of heart failure.

Works by John Fowles

John Fowles wrote many literary works, such as novels, short fiction, and poems, over his lifetime. His most famous pieces are The Collector, The Magus, and The French Lieutenant's Woman. Some other works by Fowles include:

  • The Aristos (1964)
  • The Ebony Tower (1974)
  • Daniel Martin (1977)
  • A Short History of Lyme Regis (1982)
  • A Maggot (1985)
  • Wormholes—Essays and Occasional Writings (1998)

The Collector

The Collector is a thriller novel written by Fowles in 1963. It centers around a young, lonely, and psychotic man named Frederick Clegg, who kidnaps a female, named Miranda Grey, he is obsessed with. She is an art student he keeps captive in a cellar in a farmhouse. Miranda does whatever she can to escape Clegg, who will not let her go.

The Collector was so successful that it was adapted several times into a play. In 1965, the novel was adapted into a feature film of the same name, starring Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar. On a more serious note, three serial killers have claimed to use the novel as the basis of their crimes.

The novel is told from both the perspective of Clegg and Miranda. Miranda's chapters are written in epistolary form, which means the narration is told through a series of letters. The novel contains themes such as irony and the absurd.

The Magus

The Magus is a novel by Fowles, published in 1965. It is a Post-Modern novel that centers on Nicholas Urfe, a young British teacher living on a Greek island.

Post-modernism: a late 20th-century philosophical and literary movement that emphasized subjectivity, relativism, skepticism, and the role of ideology in politics and economy. Post-modern novels and other works are meant to question and subvert one's expectations of a known concept, genre, or narrative form.

There he meets Maurice Conchis, a wealthy and reclusive Greek man that plays psychological games on Nicholas. As the novel progresses, the psychological games grow more intense and intricate leading Nicholas to lose sight of what is reality and what is part of the game. The novel contains themes such as escape, identity, and the blurring of reality. The novel was included in the Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Novels.

The French Lieutenant's Woman

The French Lieutenant's Woman is a post-modern novel by Fowles, written in 1969. It centers on Sarah Woodruff, who lives in a coastal town and works as a servant in the Poulteney household. She is considered a disgraced woman because the French ship officer she was involved with abandoned her and went back to France to marry.

John Fowles, Shore Sea, StudySmarterFig. 2 - The French Lieutenant's Woman is set in a coastal town.

When Sarah meets Charles Smithson, an engaged man, they have three meetings. During each meeting, Sarah tells of her history and asks for support. The narrator presents three possible endings for the novel, opening the door to three plausible outcomes. The novel contains themes such as the role of gender, the concept of metafiction, and religion.

John Fowles' Influences

While at Oxford, Fowles was exposed to existentialism, particularly in Jean-Paul Sartre's and Albert Camus's works.

Existentialism is a philosophical belief that states that each individual is responsible for creating and finding meaning in their lives that is unique from other people's existence. Existentialists also believe that all problems are rooted in the essence of existence. This leads many existentialists to ponder the meaning of life.

Within Fowles' own work, the philosophy of existentialism is present. He is particularly interested in the concept of freedom and freedom of choice.

John Fowles, Girl Happy Sunset, StudySmarterFig. 3 - John Fowles explores themes related to freedom, especially the freedom of choice.

Freedom is rooted in a person's mind, ideas, and choices, according to Fowles. Therefore, all the choices a person makes, the ideas a person has, and the limitations one has in their thoughts are the individual's responsibility.

This concept is thoroughly explored in The Magus, in which Nicholas believes his mind is being controlled by Conchis and therefore falls into more and more psychological games. However, had Nicholas realized the game adapted to his choices, ideas, and openness of mind, he would have been able to escape the psychological games sooner. In this framework, Nicholas is responsible for all that happens to him.

Fowles commonly wrote characters that grappled with freedom and the freedom of choice in the face of a character that symbolized a regime. In the case of The Magus, Nicholas is the one who struggles with freedom, while Conchis represents a regime.

The Writing Style of John Fowles

John Fowles is considered a post-modern writer who sees the artificiality of writing fiction. He consciously places himself into his novels, interrupting the narrator to include his commentary on the action of the novel. Using this narrative technique, Fowles can enter the text and provide commentary. This technique is known as metafiction.

Metafiction is a type of narrative in which the fictitious aspect of the literary work is emphasized, particularly by the author entering the text.

Fowles was also inspired by Ancient Greek literature and was particularly interested in the Hero's journey. The Hero's journey was originally identified by Joseph Campbell. The protagonist of Fowles's novels follows the Hero's journey, beginning with a call to action, and takes the protagonist into a strange land. The strange lands are symbolic of the unconscious and include the island of Phraxos in The Magus and the country home of Frederick Clegg in The Collector.

Quotes by John Fowles

Here are a few quotes from John Fowles' novels to get a better sense of post-modernist literature and his writing style.

They sensed that their current accounts of the world were inadequate; that they had allowed their windows on reality to become smeared by convention, religion, and social stagnation; they knew, in short, that they had things to discover, and that the discovery was of the utmost importance to the future of man" (The French Lieutenant's Woman, Chapter 8).

In this quote from The French Lieutenant's Woman, the reader is exposed to a notion that was felt during the Victorian Age, when the novel is set, and during the 1960s, when the novel is written. Great change and revolution in the Victorian Age make the characters feel that their discoveries will set them apart from the past and launch them straight into the future. Similarly, during the 1960s and 1970s, many technological and scientific achievements, such as the Space Race, made those two decades significant and different from previous centuries.

I am one in a row of specimens. It's when I try to flutter out of line that he hates me. I'm meant to be dead, pinned, always the same, always beautiful. He knows that part of my beauty is being alive, but it's the dead me he wants," (The Collector, Part 2).

John Fowles, Butterfly, StudySmarterFig. 4 - Miranda compares herself to a butterfly.

Miranda writes this excerpt in epistolary form towards the end of the novel. Miranda observes that according to Clegg, she is no longer a woman; rather, she is just another object to be collected. She compares herself to the beautiful butterflies he collects. Miranda rejects this notion and attempts to escape many times. However, this only makes Clegg more upset. Miranda slowly realizes she in fact may join those butterflies in death.

'Greece is like a mirror. It makes you suffer. Then you learn.'

'To live alone?'

'To live. With what you are.'" (The Magus, Chapter 15).

This quote in the Magus is a conversation between Alison and Nicholas. It reveals Fowles's interest in existentialism. The main concept of Existentialism is that each individual being must learn to create meaning and purpose for themselves, separate from others. In this quote, Greece acts as the "mirror" or place where an individual's values, thoughts, and beliefs are reflected towards them. Within that reflection, the individual must come to terms with who they are and how to live with who they are.

John Fowles - Key takeaways

  • John Fowles was born in Essex, England, in 1926.
  • While studying at Oxford, Fowles was exposed to Existentialism, which would influence his writing and beliefs.
  • John Fowles is considered a post-modernist writer and has written many novels, short fiction, and poems.
  • His most famous novels include The Magus, The Collector, and The French Lieutenant's Woman.
  • John Fowles would insert himself into the texts of his novels to emphasize the fictitious aspect of his novels, which is a post-modernist writing technique.

Frequently Asked Questions about John Fowles

John Fowles (1926-2005) was a British, Post-Modernist writer. 

On the 5th of November 2005, Fowles died of heart failure.  

John Fowles wrote novels such as The Collector (1963), The Magus (1965), and The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969). 

John Fowles was born on March 31, 1926. 

John Fowles is well-known for his post-modernist literature and is most well known for his 1969 novel, The French Lieutenant's Woman. 

Final John Fowles Quiz

Question

Who is John Fowles?

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Answer

a British, Post-Modernist writer

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When was John Fowles born?

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1926

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Where was John Fowles born?

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Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England

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What philosophical belief was Fowles exposed to while at Oxford?

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Existentialism

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Where did Fowles move to, to teach English?

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A Greek island in the Peloponnese

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What novel's setting was inspired by Greece?

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The Magus (1965)

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When did John Fowles die?

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2005

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What are three of Fowles's most famous novels?

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The Collector, The Magus, and The French Lieutenant's Woman.

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What kind of novel is The Collector?

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A Thriller

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What literary movement does John Fowles belong to?

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Post-Modernism

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What is Post-Modernism?

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Answer

 a late 20th century, philosophical and literary movement that emphasized subjectivity, relativism, skepticism, and the role of ideology in politics and economy

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Question

What is Existentialism?

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Answer

a philosophical belief that states that each individual is responsible for creating and finding meaning in their lives that is unique from other people's existence

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What technique did Fowles often use in his writing?

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Answer

Metafiction

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What is metafiction?

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a type of narrative in which the fictitious aspect of the literary work is emphasized, particularly by the author entering the text

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Who wrote  The French Lieutenant's Woman ?

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John Fowles

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John Fowles belonged to the ______ literary movement.

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Post-modernist

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What is Post-Modernism?

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Answer

a literary movement that developed in the mid 20th century that focused on concepts such as relativism, skepticism, and a shift away from absolute truths

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Where is The French Lieutenant's Woman  mainly set?

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Lyme Regis

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Why is Sarah known as "Tragedy" and "The French Lieutenant's Woman"?

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Sarah ruined her reputation by having an affair with a French soldier who abandoned her. 

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Who are Charles and Ernestina?

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A wealthy and young engaged couple spending time in Lyme Regis.

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Why does Charles wish for Sarah to leave Lyme Regis the first time?

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He has sexual desires towards her. 

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How does Charles react after he kisses Sarah for the first time in the barn?

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He reacts violently and runs away 

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What does Charles decide in the Exeter train station?

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To find Sarah in her hotel in Exeter

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What does Charles find out about Sarah after they have intercourse?

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She was a virgin and lied about the French soldier. 

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How many endings does The French Lieutenant's Woman have?

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Three

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The French Lieutenant's Woman belongs to the _____ literary movement and is based on the ______ Novel.

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Post-modernist, Victorian

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What are the two main themes in The French Lieutenant's Woman ?

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Freedom and Love

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What is the point of view in the novel?

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the first person point of view with a third person omnisicient perspective. 

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What literary devices are mainly found in the novel?

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Imagery and allusions

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Which Greek island is The Magus set on?

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Phraxos

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Which university did Nicholas graduate from? 

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Oxford 

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A former colleague warns Nicholas about the _________room. 

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Waiting 

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What is the name of Conchis's estate? 

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Salle d'Attente

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Nicholas becomes concerned for his sanity when he begins to see mysterious figures wearing ________. 

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Masks

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Conchis refers to himself as a director, a musician, and an artist. What is his real occupation? 

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Psychiatrist 

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Which genre best describes The Magus

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Postmodern

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The panel offer Nicholas the opportunity to punish Lily using a ___________. 

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Whip 

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Conchis refers to the experiment as his _______.

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Godgame

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In the end, Nicholas tries to repair his relationship with _________. 

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Alison 

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