Saturday, November 12, 2005

It pained me

to read the fascinating but pretty awful excerpts from John Fowles' journals in the Guardian. I have no desire to pontificate about "the life and the art"-type questions, but I would have to say that this is really objectionable (and my suspicion is that if I reread his novels now, I would find the stuff about men and women in The Magus, for instance, pretty hard to swallow). The cumulative effect of the passages they print is quite rancorous; they are rife with self-hatred and hatred of the other, and yet also frighteningly perceptive. Chilling stuff.

Here's Fowles moving to comment on sex roles in general after a few comments about his wife's acute unhappiness (this is November 1966, I think):

Behind all these unhappy women is the same horror: their loneliness, their unnecessity. The fault of our society has been to emancipate women but to refuse to furnish (to train them for) their freedom. They are to be equal to us; but the only equality offered them is ours, the male definition (in social and career terms) of the concept. So the only ones who gain are the masculine type, the ones who can copy them. All that has happened to the true women is that they have been turned out, like so many cage birds, into a world where they cannot fend for themselves.

That kind of talk of "true women" and womanliness makes me want to be sick! Seriously, there are few things more revolting to me. Equally or perhaps more disturbing is the strong anti-Semitic strain. Here's Fowles writing of his publisher, Tom Maschler: "I think of all the Jews I know he is the most Jewish: the perfect example of the bitter, wandering, cast-out son of Israel. The sad Quixote of English litbiz." And here's Fowles on on Salman Rushdie (following a dinner party at Fay Weldon's house in the country, post-fatwa):

So he says, trying to be ruefully dry, contemptuous, macho and wise all at the same time. That is the poor man's fault. Part of him does know Britain and the British backwards, especially the ad-agency and literary worlds; and indeed this makes him rather like a Jew of the Tom Maschler and Freddie Raphael kind, permanently eager to get on, yet somehow grudging that he is not better recognised; never quite able to bring all his knowledge together, as Conrad did, never to be altogether English. He somehow both wants to be taken as English; and yet free to be a foreigner, and to criticise; both to be loved and admired by us, but to stand apart.

The one thing that really called to me was a little list of dates from one of the journal entries:

The French Lieutenant's Woman

First draft completed October 1967.

First revision April 23 1968.

Second revision June 17 1968.

Third revision and new ending August 25 1968

This will sound ridiculously hubristic, to compare myself to John Fowles (and after the foregoing, it seems an undesirable as well as impossible identification in any case), but I have been struggling with the obligation to revise my new novel yet one more time; I want to be writing something new, I need to be writing something new for my own sanity and peace of mind, and yet I've got a really intensive and thoroughgoing overhaul to do on this one first. Fowles is heartening from a reviser's point of view, since even his best novels underwent major changes from first to final drafts, down to uncertainties about endings and so on.


  1. Nothing, Jenny, is as hubristic and as bitter as those Fowles entries. Still interesting stuff though.

  2. Pretty excruciating and disappointing--thanks for this really interesting and sad post. One must learn these things, I guess, but it does forever change my view of him--or fix a suspicion. It spurred me on to a Fowles post of my own.

    Enjoy Cambridge! I miss it sometimes!