John Fowles.

Author:Teisch, Jessica

"There are many reasons why novelists write," said English author John Fowles (1926-2005), "but they all have one thing in common: a need to create an alternative world." In novels such as The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969), which combines Victorian pastiche with postmodern interjections, and The Magus (1966), a novel merging fantasy and reality, Fowles challenged readers to find their own interpretations of events--and endings. Considered one of the 20th century's literary giants, though more acclaimed in the United States than in his native England, Fowles brought popular appeal to the serious literary novel. Hard to place, but positioned somewhere between modernism and postmodernism, Fowles wrote for an audience appreciative of playful, multilayered fiction ("historiographic metafiction") as he manipulated his characters and explored the tensions between free will and society's restraints. In all of his work, from his novels to his poetry to his essays on nature and freedom, Fowles strove, as he told the BBC in 1977, to teach people humanism, "something simple, like respect for other human beings."

Born in 1926 in Leigh-on-Sea, a small town outside London, Fowles eschewed his family's conventional suburban lifestyle. After engaging in compulsory military service in 1947, 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." An anarchist he did not become, though the fate of the individual, the conception of self, and the human condition always concerned him as a writer. (He explored the ideal of freedom in a world without freedom in The Aristos, a 1964 collection of philosophical musings.) Fowles sympathized with the socialist movement most of his life, and, while attending four years at Oxford, he discovered the French existential writings of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Soon afterwards, while teaching in France and London, Fowles started to write poetry and novels. It was his time teaching on the Greek island of Spetses in 1951, however, that was particularly formative to his creative and intellectual development. "The most important questions in life can never be answered by anyone except oneself," he wrote in The Magus, a literary masterpiece inspired by his time in Greece. The question of the relationship of the self to society continued to influence his fiction, including the successful The French Lieutenant's Woman and other musings on history, society, freedom, and existential uncertainty.

"All humans are split between being unique persons, fierce for themselves, and good members of society," Fowles told the Socialist Review in 1997. "If forced to answer I'd always say that I put artistic considerations above political ones. But I know I do have both a right and a duty to make my politics clear." The selected fiction below highlights Fowles's artistic accomplishments, inseparable, in much of his...

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