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Free Study Guide-The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles-BookNotes
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY

JOHN FOWLES

John Robert Fowles (1926), novelist, was educated at Bedford School and New College, Oxford, where he read French. After serving in the Royal Marines, he worked as a schoolteacher before embarking on a career as a full-time writer. He spent some time on the Greek island of Spetsai before the success of his first novel, The Collector, enabled him to write full-time.

The Collector is a psychological thriller in which a girl, Miranda, is kidnapped by a psychologically possessive repressed clerk and butterfly-collector who keeps her as one of the many specimens of his butterfly collection. The novel ends with her death and his plans to add another specimen to his collection.

This novel was followed by Aristos (1965), an idiosyncratic collection of notes and aphorisms aimed at a ‘personal philosophy.’ It is a self-portrait, revised in 1980, on ideas that set forth the personal version of existentialism which underlies his novels. Fowles’ concern with the strategies of fictional narrative and the implications of conventional ways of writing fiction is explicated in the valuable notes on an unfinished novel in The Novel Today edited by Malcolm Bradbury (1977).

The Magus (1966, revised 1977), is a long, compulsive masquerade of sexual enticement and historical manipulation set on the Greek island of Phraxos. A British schoolmaster, Nicholas D’urfe, half-guest and half-victim is subjected to a series of mysterious apparitions and tableaux which, despite their naturalistic explanations, give the novel a narrative complexity and mythological dimension faintly suggestive of Magic Realism.


The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), is a careful pastiche of a Victorian novel undercut by twentieth century literary and social insight. Its heroine, the governess Sarah Woodruff, is one version of the elusive, inscrutable woman who appears throughout Fowles’ fiction, notably in the titular novella of The Ebony Tower (1974), a collection of shorter fictions. The novel is notable for the author’s intrusive commentary and suggestion of alternative endings, an aspect represented in Pinter’s screenplay by a double action of Film-within-Film.

Daniel Martin (1977) is a dense, realistic novel rooted in post-war Britain and expounding an unfashionable philosophy and humanism. It is a long self-searching, semi-naturalistic, semi- experimental account of screen-writer Daniel Martin and his relationship with Hollywood, capitalism, art and his sister-in-law, set in a wide variety of locations, ranging from opening sequences in Devon and Oxford to a closing sequence in the ruins of Palmyra.

Mantissa (1983) is a sexual jeu d’esprit and satire of contemporary structuralist ideology. It consists largely of an extended erotic fantasy on the subject of la femine inspiratrice, with mythological undertones and A Maggot (1985) is a murder mystery set in the eighteenth century and written as a transcript of the subsequent interrogations of the murderer.

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