Biography of John Fowles
John Robert Fowles was born March 31, 1926 in Leigh-on-Sea,
a small town located about 40 miles from London in the county
of Essex, England. He recalls the English suburban culture
of the 1930s as oppressively conformist and his family life
as intensely conventional. Of his childhood, Fowles says "I
have tried to escape ever since."
Fowles attended Bedford School, a large boarding school designed
to prepare boys for university, from ages 13 to 18. After
briefly attending the University of Edinburgh, Fowles began
compulsory military service in 1945 with training at
Dartmoor, where he spent the next two years. World War II ended
shortly after his training began so Fowles never came near
combat, and by1947 he had decided that the military life was
not for him.
Fowles then spent four years at Oxford, where he discovered
the writings of the French existentialists. In particular
he admired Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, whose writings
corresponded with his own ideas about conformity and the will
of the individual. He received a degree in French in 1950
and began to consider a career as a writer.
Several teaching jobs followed: a year lecturing in English
literature at the University of Poitiers, France; two years
teaching English at Anargyrios College on the Greek island
of Spetsai; and finally, between 1954 and 1963, teaching English
at St. Godric's College in London, where he ultimately served
as the department head.
The time spent in Greece was of great importance to Fowles.
During his tenure on the island he began to write poetry and
to overcome a long-time repression about writing. Between
1952 and 1960 he wrote several novels but offered none to
a publisher, considering them all incomplete in some way and
In late 1960 Fowles completed the first draft of The
Collector in just four weeks. He continued to revise
it until the summer of 1962, when he submitted it to a publisher;
it appeared in the spring of 1963 and was an immediate best-seller.
The critical acclaim and commercial success of the book allowed
Fowles to devote all of his time to writing.
The Aristos, a collection of philosophical thoughts
and musings on art, human nature and other subjects, appeared
the following year. Then in 1965, The Magus--drafts
of which Fowles had been working on for over a decade-- was
published. Among the seven novels that Fowles has written,
The Magus has perhaps generated the most enduring
interest, becoming something of a cult novel, particularly
in the U.S.
With parallels to Shakespeare's The Tempest and
Homer's The Odyssey, The Magus is a traditional
quest story made complex by the incorporation of dilemmas
involving freedom, hazard and a variety of existential uncertainties.
Fowles compared it to a detective story because of the way
it teases the reader: "You mislead them ideally to lead
them into a greater truth...it's a trap which I hope will
hook the reader," he says.
The most commercially successful of Fowles' novels, The
French Lieutenant's Woman, appeared in 1969. It resembles
a Victorian novel in structure and detail, while pushing the
traditional boundaries of narrative in a very modern manner.
Winner of several awards and made into a well-received film
starring Meryl Streep in the title role, it is the book that
today's casual readers seem to most associate with Fowles.
In the 1970s Fowles worked on a variety of literary projects--including
a series of essays on nature--and in 1973 he published a collection
of poetry, Poems. He also worked on translations
from the French, including adaptations of Cinderella
and the novella Ourika. His translation of Marie
de France's 12th Century story Eliduc served as an
inspiration for The Ebony Tower, a novella and four
short stories that appeared in 1974.
Daniel Martin, a long and somewhat autobiographical
novel spanning over 40 years in the life of a screenwriter,
appeared in 1977, along with a revised version of The
Magus. These were followed by Mantissa (1982),
a fable about a novelist's struggle with his muse; and
A Maggot (1985), an 18th century mystery which combines
science fiction and history.
In addition to The Aristos, Fowles has written a
variety of non-fiction pieces including many essays, reviews,
and forwards/afterwords to other writers' novels. He has also
written the text for several photographic compilations, including
Shipwreck (1975), Islands (1978) and The
Since 1968, Fowles lived on the southern coast of England
in the small harbor town of Lyme Regis (the setting for The
French Lieutenant's Woman). His interest in the town's
local history resulted in his appointment as curator of the
Lyme Regis Museum in 1979, a position he filled for a decade.
a book of essays, was published in May 1998. The first comprehensive biography
on Fowles, John Fowles--A Life in
Two Worlds, was published in 2004, and the first
volume of his journals appeared the same year (followed
recently by volume two).
John Fowles died on November 5, 2005 after a long
illness. Read an obituary and an appreciation by clicking