Fowles in Dorset

March 31: John Fowles was born on this day in 1926. After a series of hits through the sixties and seventies, Fowles stopped writing fiction after The Maggot (1985), published while he was still in his fifties. This is partly explained by a stroke suffered in 1988, but the two volumes of Fowles's Journals which have so far been published—gleaned from his five decades of journal writing, estimated to total twenty good-length novels—offer perhaps stronger reasons.

 

The Journals confirm the appropriateness of the subtitle chosen for Eileen Warburton's 2004 biography of Fowles: "A Life in Two Worlds." Fowles settled permanently in Lyme Regis, Dorset at the end of 1968, becoming something of a recluse, as indicated by his response in 1969 to an American publication which had asked him to describe his goals in life: "To escape; and to help others escape." But his film work for The Collector and The Magus required travel to London, Hollywood, and Cannes for script and casting meetings, and compulsory socializing. His journal entries for this period show him irritated by people and bewildered by the sixties. Michael Caine (star of The Magus) was a "thoroughly unlikeable young man" sugaring over his vanity with "cursory obeisances towards writers and proper artistic standards"; Terence Stamp (star of The Collector) claimed, "humourlessly, that each of the Rolling Stones (a pop-singing group) lays nine girls a day"; Twiggy was "the latest idiocy in the fashion world."

 

Not that life in Dorset was pastoral or marital bliss. Of the many misanthropic entries in the Journals, few are more brutally frank than those Fowles directs towards his wife: "Living here has become rather like climbing a mountain with a corpse, a talking corpse, on one's back. Every so often, there are compensations: views, moments of happiness. But then the corpse starts complaining, raging…." The Journals reflect some mellowing as the years go by, though this can seem more a giving up than a coming to terms:

Somehow I no longer worry about being rushed along in the current of time. In an odd way, it is joyous, the clutching at this or that branch or rock, yet being tumbled on, always helplessly "behind"; as invigorating as a real mountain torrent; becoming indifferent to what one loses, each day and moment.

 


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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