Time for a reassessment

Discussions relating to John Fowles' novel Daniel Martin.

Re: Time for a reassessment

Postby drkellyindc on Tue Jan 29, 2008 5:36 pm

Sally, I'm glad for the Fowles/Maugham connection you're making. You're bringing back happy memories of my reading "Of Human Bondage" and "Razor's Edge." I also remember admiring the lesser-known 1984 Bill Murray film of the latter. I sense that Maugham's being gay/bi had a strong impact on his spirituality and the nomadic, questing side of some of his heros.

I found some more views on "DM" offered by John Gardner. The first one challenges an earlier post about Fowles's treatment of L.A. The last one talks about the ending of "DM" but is not a "spoiler":

"In a really good writer's work you'll see that a writer doesn't have to have been around a place very long at all. John Fowles's "Daniel Martin" has got some long sections on Los Angeles which seem to me absolutely incredible. You'd swear he grew up there. Most people writing about Los Angeles can only see the
phoniness, the greenery, and the gilt. Fowles sees everything, and he gets in it."
--"Conversations with John Gardner," p. 157

"This perversion of standards leads to the second evil: The literature program wastes the young writer's time. Instead of allowing him to concentrate on important books, from Homer's "Iliad" to John Fowles' "Daniel Martin," it clutters his reading hours with trivia, old and new."
--"The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers," pp.13-14

Comparing the endings of "FLW" and "DM":
"In "DM" he comes to a 'real' ending, but the real ending, ironically, is the beginning of the novel, so that everything's open. He's decided to write the novel, and now he knows how to do it, and he admits that he really does come to an end, and it's not going to mislead anybody: the whole novel we've just read is open, a preliminary position. In other words, he's solved the problem that the deconstructionists are concerned
about in a new way. The ending of "DM" leaves you as free as does the ending of "FLW" while at the same time satisfying certain kinds of art expectations left unsatisfied in the earlier novel."
--"Conversations with John Gardner," p. 242

--Kelly
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Re: Time for a reassessment

Postby JimJman on Fri Feb 01, 2008 3:40 pm

Thank you once again, Kelly, for responding with such alacrity and in such detail to the list of my misgivings about DM. Not to mention the very positive love for the book which you exude, and which banishes so many doubts before it! One can hardly quibble with your many citations of chapter and verse to make your case, and one doesn't wish to.

In fact, I'll just make two brief elaborations of my own, for anyone who wishes to engage them, and that will be that. First, as I stated previously, I love the way DM plays with time, the way it skips around: 1943, 1975, 1949, etc. (or thereabouts), without any explanation or overt rationale. I think this skipping around reflects the way our brains actually operate, i.e., not in chronological progression. An event of today recalls in our minds an event of forty years ago, not to mention a similar one of last week. Good old Proust and his madeleine! Which brings me to a quote by a poet who is not particularly well-known, but whom I admire, named Claudia Keelan, who made a simple but stunning observation about the subject of time:

"...I woke up to know that time, as such, doesn't pass, but goes on and continues in a manner that links all events to other events, some already finished, some happening now, some yet to happen."

And in Daniel Martin, time certainly does not "pass" in the traditional manner; rather DM is a continuum in which all events from all times in Daniel's life co-exist. They are linked, but only by their meaning to Dan, and never in any so-called logical order. So I'm making the case that the book of DM represents a giant human brain (Dan's), and that it brilliantly mimics the processes of a brain!

For my other point, which Kelly (or others) did not respond to as yet, I'll return to another quote, the one I cited by James Joyce's character, Stephen Daedalus, in "A Portrait of the Artist...", who states his theory of where the author ought to be in relation to his work:

""...the artist, like the God of creation, remains within or behind or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails."

Fowles, on the contrary, seems very involved with the words and acts of his characters. So many of his views on artistic, political and social matters reside within them. One feels that the author has a lot at stake in how Daniel Martin (the book and the person) develops and evolves. In Joyce's Ulysses, for instance, I sense that Joyce created an entire universe (of characters, places, events) and then kind of walked away and left it alone, that he hid or masked his involvement and concern for how the characters develop and how the book evolves. It seems to go on without his supervision, so to speak, whereas in DM, I sense that Fowles has a strong personal interest in how things turn out.

I'm not making a value judgment here, I'm just contrasting what I perceive to be two different styles of telling a story.

So that's what I pose as a question to others: Do you prefer your author to be looking the other way, lounging high up in a tree, "paring his fingernails" ----- or to be standing smack in the middle of the intersection, directing traffic?

Or perhaps a little of each?
Jimmy
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Re: Time for a reassessment

Postby drkellyindc on Sun Feb 03, 2008 10:30 am

With such a high caliber of posts, this discussion is engaging me like some 3D chess game. I had several brain-waves from your Feb. 1 post, Jimmy. For now I’ll just mention the first. Your comment about how “DM” brilliantly mimics the processes of a human brain took me back to H.W. Fawkner’s book “The Timescapes of John Fowles.” Fawkner makes stunning claims about Fowles’s novels being a step ahead of scientific brain-hemisphere research. Here are a few excerpts from the introduction:

“… the metaphysical and ethical problems raised by the Fowlesian plot are the very metaphysical and ethical problems raised by the results from the split-brain tests. . . What outstanding neuropsychologists discuss tentatively in a speculative appendix is in Fowles elaborated in the complex texture of an entire body of fiction.”

“Fowles’s ambidextral mind has the ability to twist a plane of polarized experience clockwise (“time”) or counterclockwise (“timelessness”).”

Fawkner identifies six different temporal dimensions or layers operating in “Daniel Martin”—clock time, psychological time, intercultural time, and so on. Here’s his explanation for what happens in the brain while one reads the novel:

“Thus there comes a point in the critical understanding of “Daniel Martin” where these superimposed temporal and fictional layers coalesce . . . The final outcome is a work of art in which the unreality of dimensional fragmentation is so strongly felt that we accept the creator’s own conception of ‘an eternity of presents.’ The novel . . . exists as proof of the artist’s (John Fowles’s/Daniel Martin’s) successful conquest of time.”

When I was a kid, the notion of conquering or overcoming time was connected with the notion of an afterlife. Today I connect it with “DM.” This terrain was cultivated by modernist innovators like Proust, Joyce, and Virginia Woolf, and continues with postmodernists like García Márquez. But in my experience, nobody grants access to this realm of experience better than Fowles. “DM” makes me feel like Magellan, planting my feet on a new continent.
--Kelly
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Re: Time for a reassessment

Postby drkellyindc on Tue Feb 05, 2008 10:21 pm

I’ve been pondering Jimmy’s question about the two types of artists. As he said, on one side is the god-like type James Joyce proposes in Portrait of the Artist: “invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.” The other type is immersed in things, “directing traffic”--actively engaged, making judgments, concerned about outcomes.

As I see it, Fowles expands this in “Daniel Martin” to an issue that involves not only artists but all humans. Here’s a passage from the chapter “Nile” in which Daniel quotes the Hungarian critic Georg Lukács:

The crucial question is whether a man escapes from the life of his time into a realm of abstraction—it is then that angst is engendered in human consciousness—or confronts modern life determined to fight its evils and support what is good in it. The first decision leads then to another: is man the helpless victim of transcendental and inexplicable forces, or is he a member of a human community in which he can play a part, however small, towards its modification and reform?


I’ve come back to this passage and these questions many times since I first read “DM.”

In my view, Fowles wants us to journey between the “engaged” and “transcendent” modes of experience, and “DM” suggests ways of making the journey. For example, the chapters “Beyond the Door” and “Webs” present Daniel fully immersed in events in Oxford, but then in the closing paragraphs there’s a kind of divine reframing. At the end of “Beyond the Door,” as Daniel goes to sleep, he’s described as “self-satisfied only in the sense that one must suppose God is self-satisfied—in an eternity of presents; in his potentiality, not his fulfillment.” At the end of “Webs,” Daniel is likened to “an inefficient god who sees a lapse in his creation repaired by what he had forgotten to institute.” It's as if Fowles is returning to the god-like "indifference" of Joyce's model and declaring it incomplete, not vital enough.

In “The Sacred Combe” chapter Daniel further reflects on parallels between artists and divine beings. He describes God in a way that closely resembles Joyce’s description of the artist. Daniel writes, “If there is a God, he or she (or it) must be supremely and chillingly unconcerned about a number of things to which individual thinking and feeling specks of matter rightly give priority—pain, equality, justice, and the rest.” Daniel goes on to argue that although artists don't fit this model, they nonetheless, in the act of creation, "are much more 'divine' than any first cause one might arrive at, theologically or scientifically, on the evidence." Daniel ends the chapter by suggesting that the engaged and transcendent views only make sense in relation to each other, as a polarity. This strikes me as another way of perceiving the book's later metaphor, "the river between."

I also see a reframing dynamic at work in the novel's politics. Marcia and Mitchell Hooper debate two sides of the U.S.’s position in Vietnam, and then Daniel reframes the divide between them as linguistic, not political--owing to “a lack of a register of discourse, of other horizons.” Fenwick airs his philosophy of conservatism in the “Compton” chapter, and several chapters later Daniel reframes one facet of it ("the freedom of the individual to develop in his own way") in biological terms. Jane converts to Catholicism and then to Marxism, but her attraction to systems of absolutes is ultimately revealed as a form of avoidance. Daniel himself is seen as intellectually and politically invested in socialism, even while he personally benefits from capitalism; but late in the book (the chapter “North”) he’s described as being “excluded” from both systems and even metaphorically “castrated” by them. In each of these cases, individual voices and positions are given their due and then reframed in the novel’s larger cosmology.

Fowles did describe “DM” in interview as “a defense and illustration of an unfashionable philosophy, humanism.” Does this reveal an ideological bias, a lurking conservatism? Given the novel in question, I take Fowles's statement to mean that its characters are complex and persuasively rendered, and that its world-view is ethically grounded. For me, “DM” shows up the lack of complexity, the lack of persuasiveness and ethical sturdiness, in a lot of other literature, both philosophy and fiction. There’s such a wide gap between the humanism of the Renaissance and that of Fowles that it doesn’t seem fair to use the same term. But to those who are steeped in Derrida and his ilk, humanism is regarded as passé, "whole sight" is dismissed as "totalizing," and “DM” is banished from the room.

As a case in point: my efforts to talk up “DM” during eight years of literary grad school fell on stony ground. I was chided for referring to the book twice during my doctoral orals. I finished my Ph.D. ten years ago, and yet it was only last year that I woke up to how basically unfulfilling, how beside the point, so much of the poststructuralist theory I read in grad school is. Other scholars and writers, Mark Edmundson and A.S. Byatt among them, have aired similar dissatisfactions. Still, I don’t see anyone else lighting the path ahead in the way that Fowles does in “DM.” The novel is 30 years old and still ahead of its time.

I know that I hold a minority view on “DM.” But, after a quarter-century of living with it, I’m no longer willing to take other people’s indifference to this novel as a reason to doubt my convictions.

Last year as I was pondering how to revive interest in "Daniel Martin," I got a significant boost from reading the opening paragraph of Archibald MacMechan’s pioneering essay about Melville’s Moby-Dick. MacMechan is the scholar now regarded as being pivotal to the critical reassessment of that novel in the 1920s. His essay, “The Best Sea Story Ever Written,” from the Oct. 1899 issue of Queen’s Quarterly, begins this way:

Anyone who undertakes to reverse some judgment in history or criticism, or to set the public right regarding some neglected man or work, becomes at once an object of suspicion. Nine times out of ten he is called a literary snob for his pains, or a prig who presumes to teach his betters, or a ‘phrase-monger’ or a ‘young Osric’ [the foolish courtier in Hamlet], or something equally soul-subduing. Besides, the burden of proof lies heavy upon him. He preaches to a sleeping congregation. The good public has returned its verdict upon the case, and is slow to review the evidence in favour of the accused, or, having done so, to confess itself in the wrong. Still, difficult as the work of rehabilitation always is, there are cheering instances of its complete success; notably, the rescue of the Elizabethan dramatists by Lamb and Hazlitt and Leigh Hunt. Nor in such a matter is the will always free. As Heine says, ideas take possession of us and force us into the arena, there to fight for them. There is also the possibility of triumph to steel the raw recruit against all dangers. Though the world at large may not care, the judicious few may be glad of new light, and may feel satisfaction in seeing even tardy justice meted out to real merit.


--Kelly
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Re: Time for a reassessment

Postby drkellyindc on Wed Feb 13, 2008 3:04 pm

I'm curious to know what others have made of some of the brain teasers in "DM." The anagram of "S. Wolfe"/"Fowles" is well-known, and also the enigma about the two tribes and the River Between, but here are two others I've never heard anyone mention:

1. What's the implied first line of the second chapter, "Games"? There are a few clues about what Daniel said just prior to where we enter his and Jenny's discussion-in-progress. He makes a denial of some kind, and then Jenny contradicts him by saying "You do." Has anyone worked this out?

2. In the last paragraph of "Nile," what's the "darkest, strangest and most omnipotent god of them all" that Daniel is "meeting incarnate"? The sentence is grammatically complicated, and includes a back-reference to Daniel's "doing his duty" by listening to the Hoopers exclaim about their trip to Palmyra. (The Nelson reference is to the English admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), who said "England expects that every man will do his duty.") Does the "omnipotent god" refer to what Daniel and Jane later encounter in Palmyra? Or does it go back to something earlier?

--Kelly
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Re: Time for a reassessment

Postby drkellyindc on Tue Feb 26, 2008 7:35 pm

Here are a few things I discovered in my research on "DM":

Fans of Fowles and "Daniel Martin" include--

- author and journalist Gay Talese ("because of Fowles's control of language, his feeling for words, the magic between the lines he writes").

- Katherine Paterson, author of "Bridge to Terabithia." She writes, "Intricacy, density, design--I'm not sure what to call it, but when I read Mary Lee Settle's "Blood Tie," Anne Tyler's "Celestial Navigation," or John Fowles's "Daniel Martin," I hear a symphony orchestra."

- Robert Fulghum, author of "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten." Fulghum writes, "John Fowles authored four of my favorite novels: "The Magus," "The Collector," "The French Lieutenant's Woman," and "Daniel Martin" . . . His ability to consider and reconsider his craft and his life in the larger context of his existence has my deepest admiration."

- actor Donald Sutherland, who had hopes of portraying Daniel Martin earlier in his career

- - - - - - -

Other miscellanies:

At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, OH, there's a photo of the group The Police from the late 1970s in which Sting is holding a hard-cover copy of "Daniel Martin."

"Variety" Magazine reported on Jan. 12, 1998 that actor/director Bob Balaban had bought the rights to "Daniel Martin." If this proposed film project had proceeded, it would have used an adaptation by author Rose Tremain, and would have starred Anthony Hopkins.

--Kelly
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Re: Time for a reassessment

Postby drkellyindc on Mon Mar 17, 2008 9:22 pm

Lately I’ve been thinking about why “DM” has had a delayed recognition. I’m convinced it has partly to do with the novel’s undemocratic judgments. For example, in the chapter “Passage,” the narrator Daniel writes,

Just as “I believe in God” is generally a synonym for “I believe in not thinking,” only too frequently “I love you” is a euphemism for “I want to own you.”


In this one sentence Fowles risks losing a great many readers: people who believe in God, and people who believe in romance and saying “I love you.” He also risks losing academics, who tend to dislike didactic statements like this.

Some of the novel’s other judgments carry similar risks:
About the cinema-going public, Daniel writes, “. . . the majority is ignorant and wants, or at least pays money, to be treated as a moron.”

About a young couple who represent the United States in the novel’s Egypt section, Daniel writes, “He had decided the girl was unexceptional and uninteresting, with only a degree of diffidence to mark her out from thousands of other half-educated young American women of her kind; and he found her husband . . . rather ludicrously unimaginative.”

About the United States, Daniel tells Jane, “The absurdity is that they’ve managed to turn themselves into the most culturally deprived people in the advanced West. Outside the big cities. Therefore the most insular.”

These judgments are somewhat qualified elsewhere in the novel, but they’re not openly contradicted. Both in style and content, “DM” is not trying to appeal to everyone. However, to me this is a strong source of the book’s appeal. If it was trying to appeal to everyone, it could not be the emotionally and intellectually pioneering document that it is.

On a DVD director’s commentary I recently heard David Milch talking about audience dynamics in connection with his HBO show “Deadwood.” He said that viewers will often form a stronger bond with a show by being challenged. If they feel their interest in the show has survived a test that has led others to stop watching, they’ll develop a greater sense of allegiance. They’ll feel they are being ushered into a kind of inner sanctum. (The “test” Milch refers to is the absence of central character Al Swearingen from several “Deadwood” episodes due to severe illness.)

I wonder if other readers have either stopped reading “Daniel Martin” on account of its value judgments, or instead (like me) bonded all the more with the book because of them.

My hope is that more people will realize what an extraordinary place “DM”’s “inner sanctum” is. It’s not a place for snobs but rather visionaries. The opinions appearing in “DM” are not a hit-or-miss matter but are complexly interconnected, and part of a unified world-view that (IMHO) is eminently worth having and promoting.

--Kelly
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Re: Time for a reassessment

Postby drkellyindc on Thu Apr 03, 2008 2:04 pm

I came across this passage recently. It opens the introduction to a group of tales by the Colorado-based fantasy/sci-fi writer Dan Simmons. What he says resonates for me. I love it all the more because Simmons is not a highbrow or academic but an enterprising guy whose writings aim for the general reader.

"Whole sight; or all the rest is desolation." This line begins and ends one of my favorite novels, John Fowles's Daniel Martin, and it took me four or five readings of the book to understand the full impact of the phrase--not just in relation to the novel, but as a cri de coeur from the very heart of the heart of art and as an imperative for all novelists, all writers, all artists. In the penultimate scene of Daniel Martin, the eponymous character encounters this command in the gaze of the elderly Rembrandt, the arc of uncompromised energy leaping from the aged eyes in one of the Master's final self-portraits. I've also received that sledgehammer blow of encounter with one of Rembrandt's self-portraits and I agree with this translation as both ultimate question and ultimate answer to the creative artist's queries.
--Worlds Enough and Time: Five Tales of Speculative Fiction (2002)
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Re: Time for a reassessment

Postby drkellyindc on Wed Jun 11, 2008 8:57 am

A few posts ago Jimmy referred to how Daniel Martin and the French novelist Marcel Proust are linked in their non-linear approach to time. This connection came front and center for me as I read an introduction to Remembrance of Things Past by the Proust scholar Joseph Krutch. The essay was all about Proust and Remembrance, but I kept having the uncanny sense that he was really describing Fowles and DM. Here are some of those passages:

Proust knew with uncommon exactness what he was about . . . even what appear to be digressions of inordinate length actually occupy a carefully proportioned and predetermined place in a structure whose architecture can only be understood when one stands off and regards it as a whole. The first rule for reading him is, therefore, complete submission to an author who will certainly take you where you ought to go and who will give you, not only vivid descriptions, subtle analyses, precise portraits and full participation in a strange new sensibility, but also compose all these things into a vast symphonic structure which is probably the most amazing thing of its kind in literature.

. . . Yet for all its variety there is unity in the work. Somehow all the characters and all the discourses go together. Remembrance of Things Past is no brilliant miscellany, for it achieves some single effect to which . . . all the stories . . . contribute.

. . . the normal chronological order of narrative is often subordinated to a quasi-musical arrangement of material by means of which similar or antithetical persons, situations and moods are rhythmically balanced against one another so as to create a pattern which does not depend upon the order of time but upon the sense of recurrence.

. . . the themes play about one another like the motifs of a fugue. Each separate scene is related to others by the fact that some emotion or thought or observation recurs in each.

. . . The motifs appear one by one. It would be possible to go through the work and to note, as one would note in a symphony, that at this point or that each one of the themes—love, taste, manners, etc.—is introduced for the first time merely in passing before it is returned to again and again for more and more complete development . . . . One result of this arrangement is to make the novel in another respect like a piece of music, for of it may be said, more truly even than of most great novels, that the second reading is more rewarding than the first. To know what is coming does not detract from the pleasure—is indeed necessary to the full enjoyment of it—since each incident is, like a musical theme, only enriched by a knowledge of the variations to follow.

. . . Thanks to the method which disregards chronology he was able to bring together, for purposes of contrast or comparison, widely separated periods, or . . . to show men . . . straddling between the distant past and the present.

. . . this vision was mystical . . . it supplies him with a point of view from which even calamitous events can be seen as no longer actually painful. Always aware of the whole of which any incident is a part, he can, in his novel, calmly accept his own sufferings as well as the sufferings of others because it is the pattern of which they are a part, rather than either the pleasure or the pain of the moment, of which he is most acutely aware; and by thus seeing the passing events of time as part of a static eternity in which the end is simultaneous with the beginning, he achieves that indifference which is not the indifference of the insensitive but the indifference of the gods.


“Carefully proportioned,” “vast symphonic structure,” “fugue-like motifs,” “rhythmic balance,” “recurrence,” “the end is simultaneous with the beginning,” “a heightened sense of time”—it all describes Daniel Martin to a tee. I especially appreciate the way Krutch speaks about how the structure “can only be understood when one stands off and regards it as a whole.” My first reading of DM was like a ground-level view compared with the topographical and even cosmological views afforded by subsequent readings. It stuns me beyond words--it's like watching the universe itself transform into a beautifully rendered and well-ordered kingdom.

I'm also grateful for the way Krutch speaks about the metaphysical comfort of reading from a narrative vantage point in which "even calamitous events can be seen as no longer actually painful." Reading DM and recalling certain passages, I often have the sense that even my own most painful moments become more bearable, because they are infused with myth.

At the same time, DM contains numerous elements that are lacking in Remembrance. It seems to me that Fowles carries forward the best aspects of Proust, but engages a much greater social and ethical concern, broader artistic and intellectual interests, cosmopolitan scope, and so on. Krutch’s description of what Proust does not achieve helps clarify this:

. . . Proust’s work fails to afford that ‘synthesis of modern life’ which has been the subject of so much discussion . . . Most of the novelists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries felt constrained to take life seriously in a sense that Proust does not, since, with a clear conscience, he permits himself to live the charmed life of a dilettante, not troubling himself much about the fate of civilization, acting as though there were nothing more important than the careful discrimination between shades of feeling, and devoting himself with the selfishness of the contemplative saint to the achievement of his own private salvation. He does not hope to dominate or even to influence the civilization of which he is a part . . ..


By contrast, a “synthesis of modern life” is precisely what Fowles does achieve in Daniel Martin. From the opening sentence, he declares his commitment to nothing less than “whole sight.” Even though he admits in the final sentence that this is an impossible goal, his novel still stands as a testimony to how far into the varieties of human experience one document can go. In my view DM is a more comprehensive view of life on planet earth than can be found anywhere else, including other epic literature (by writers such as Dante, Milton, Balzac, Tolstoy) and the work of consciousness theorists (such as David Hawkins and Ken Wilber). (I say this with some trepidation, because these authors have also helped shape the taste and imagination that allows me to appreciate DM in the first place.)

One facet of DM’s achievement is that we see the worldview of the hero Daniel Martin expand layer by layer. We see him early in the book, in Oxford and L.A., living “the charmed life of a dilettante” (to borrow Krutch’s words about Proust); however, through the influence of people, events, and his own soul-searching he is able to move beyond his egocentricity. From the opening chapter, “The Harvest,” to the concluding section in Egypt and Syria, we can reconstruct Daniel’s psychological development from his childhood, as a repressed Devon County preacher’s son, to his early adulthood, as an Oxford aesthete and professional playwright, and on into middle age, where he becomes a writer mature enough to reflect on the fate of nations and the future of the world.

The ways in which Fowles (in contrast to Proust) did trouble himself about the fate of civilization seem to me important enough to warrant a separate discussion thread, which I will begin soon.

--Kelly
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Re: Time for a reassessment

Postby jay_goa on Thu Jun 12, 2008 1:17 pm

I finished reading "Daniel Martin" recently. It is a book at least to be read twice.

By the end the novel resolves the intense narcissism of the beginning to reveal a more understanding Daniel Martin.

The book is quite a clear exemplar that the storyline need not be complex for the plot to be complex. After all the story is this : Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again. At no place is there any fakery of suspense as to that inexorable conclusion. Yet it is quite an uncharted path as to how that resolution is reached in the mental universe.

I read it as a more-or-less linear story this time around. (Although I do not think I will get to a re-reading immediately...) I would re-read it with more attention to the cross referencing of imagery and incidental detail. Because I had let slip most of the referred-to details from memory, at this first reading, I read right on through, even though I knew I had missed the point of many a paragraph.

There are many screenplay-like details which I would usually have savored, and I will on re-reading. For example, during the rather emotionally loaded conversation in Palmyra, the author breaks the conversation to tell of some incidental action of the cook, the old man, or the driver. I read this without carefully weaving in the detail into the narrative... There are also recurring motif-objects that are sometimes used in screenplays to reinforce plot-logic. The shards/beads collected by Jenny McNeil, those bought by Jane in the Egyptian antique store, and those presented by the young Egyptian woman to Jane. All were cheap objects of considerable emotional value. Jenny McNeil presents one of these shards mounted in jewelry to her parallel character Caro. Many such brush strokes remain only vaguely perceived in a rapid reading.

Thanks for introducing me to this author and book.

Jay
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Re: Time for a reassessment

Postby recursive prophet on Thu Apr 23, 2009 4:47 pm

This was my favorite work by Fowles, after The Magus. Reading some of the replies here I've put it on my list for my next trip to the library for a re-read, something I rarely do.
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Re: Time for a reassessment

Postby harveian on Mon Oct 19, 2009 10:54 am

I can't tell you how delighted I am to find this discussion! I've been reading and re-reading Daniel Martin ever since it was published and I've lost count of the number of times I've picked it up with a shiver of anticipation, knowing how much I'm going to enjoy it.
I have thoroughly enjoyed reading through the discussion and comments in this thread. So many of the thoughts expressed here have lurked in my own mind as I've read the book, though I don't have the depth of literary background to have been able to express them so well.
I have read all Fowles's other work except the Wormwood essays and enjoyed them, but although I have read The Magus and TFLW three times each, it's DM that draws me back again and again. I'm a few years younger than Fowles, but I identify closely with the character of DM in terms of his 'Englishness' and introspection. I feel that I understand him in depth - so much of his life resonates in my own experiences and I know how he will react to events.
I particularly like the construction of the novel and the feeling it gives that time is fluid, past and present mixed together.
All in all, it has been wonderful to discover that I'm not a freak in loving this novel and that others enjoy it enough to read it again and again.
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Re: Time for a reassessment

Postby drkellyindc on Mon Dec 07, 2009 3:31 pm

A reader I’ve been corresponding with sent this message about the chapter “Tsankawi.” With his permission I’m reprinting an excerpt here, along with my response in the next post:

“Tsankawi” continues to shape the reader’s impressions of Daniel and his mindset. It's interesting to see that, despite being much older, he still has the attitude that he notes about Jane's son, Paul, of expecting others to see immediately what so attracts him, and being irritated when they don't. It's an odd trait in someone who is otherwise sensitive to others. It helps to illustrate why he is driven inwards, not wishing to expose his innermost thoughts for fear of laying himself open to criticism or ridicule. It's a contrast with Abe, who is equally fearful of criticism or ridicule, but covers it by attack rather than defense. Daniel retreats into his shell, puts on an inscrutable face, and gives nothing away. One can feel sorry for Jenny, who is clearly upset by it.

Perhaps this inscrutability is a trait Daniel inherits early on from his father. At the end of “Phillida,” the chapter about Daniel’s teenage romance with Nancy, Daniel’s father won’t say or indicate directly what he knows about Daniel and Nancy, and why they can’t see each other any more.

You commented on what Daniel says in the Tsankawi chapter, that 9/10s of what really moved and pleased him lay below the understanding of those who knew him.

For me, there’s an unpleasant sense of superiority in that idea, mainly because of the word “understanding.” I’d prefer to believe that Daniel meant “awareness”--that he recognizes that his secretive nature, his holding on to a private world that he either cannot or doesn’t want to share, precluded others from being aware of what really moves and pleases him. It’s that secretive child coming to the fore again--something inbred that he has never been able to shake off, something that he developed as a reaction to the formal world of the church and his father’s view of it, and that Daniel could never talk to him about.
Last edited by drkellyindc on Sat Dec 12, 2009 10:07 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Time for a reassessment

Postby drkellyindc on Wed Dec 09, 2009 9:48 am

Re: “Tsankawi” (response to the quoted message above):

I enjoyed seeing the connections you're making and your perceptiveness about parallels between Daniel and Paul, and between Daniel and his father. I also hear your concern about the “superiority” that Daniel's views convey to others. We even see the terrible impact of Daniel's behavior through Jenny's heartbreaking words at the end of the chapter.

I do, however, see a saving grace in Daniel’s being aware of his impact on others, in ways that Paul and Parson Martin are not. Where these characters only have their unconscious arrogance to fall back on, Daniel has the distinction of taking real risks and showing a vulnerable side. The very fact that he chooses to include Jenny's account, and allows it to stand as the chapter's “last word,” reflect this.

Still, how he behaves to Jenny in this chapter, and what she writes about it, can’t be overlooked. One might well ask, is Daniel really redeemable if he treats his girlfriend this way? How much do his being “vulnerable” and “humane” as a writer count for if he’s unable to show these traits as a social creature?

Answers to that may depend on how much one values Daniel as a writer, and Daniel Martin as a novel.

For some time now I've read Daniel’s connection to Tsankawi as a parallel for Fowles’s connection to Daniel Martin. The ineffable beauty of Tsankawi, and also of the novel Daniel envisions writing someday, are magnificent “worlds within” that have complete validity from his perspective, but which still cannot be translated into a medium others will understand. Daniel talks about “the lost civilization of me,” and of being, in that most open of places, “like a man in prison.” What if, instead of judging Dan as selfish and narcissistic for saying such things, we were to take him at his word? What if he was like Galileo or Einstein or Van Gogh, condemned to live in a world that does not yet have the perceptual equipment to grasp what he sees as valid, and which will take many years to be ratified by colleagues and critics, and later in the court of public opinion? He may in fact be self-deluded; he may even feel himself to be deluded much of the time; carrying the burden of his vision may exact terrible sacrifices, and make him unbearable to be around. But some mysterious force--call it evolution, the fuller manifestation of being in the world--is still rooting for his success.

--Kelly
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Re: Time for a reassessment

Postby drkellyindc on Mon Oct 03, 2011 2:24 pm

A friend of mine, Emunah, wrote me recently from near Charlestown, West Virginia, about her first experience with Daniel Martin. She gave me permission to share here what she wrote:

I started reading Daniel Martin and I'm really into it now. Fowles seems to want to get rid of lazy readers in the beginning; I find the first chapter by far the hardest to read and understand, and then it gets progressively easier. Anyhow, at this point, I'm on page 172 and it's become a page-turner for me. Daniel is about to see his dying friend again after all these years.

I'm very impressed with the layers JF is able to weave, both with the going back and forth in time, inconsistent use of tenses, as well as the changing point-of-views. And it's not just simple POV changes, in
sections it's the same POV but first person narrative alternating with third person narrative. I recognize that all of this is intentional (he's too good a writer to be sloppy) although I don't quite understand it all yet. But I've decided not to read about the novel before actually reading it. You told me enough to have my mind especially open in certain ways (e.g., looking for where does this book express hope for humanity?). In some way I feel I want to keep my innocence for now, even though I'm likely missing a lot. I have a feeling this will not be a one-time read. Does that make sense to you?

It's interesting that even though in some ways it's such an intellectual book, there's also such deep emotion in it. Understated and between the lines even, but very deeply felt nonetheless. Especially Daniel's
description of his father moved me very much. I sense that I'm going to learn a lot about the craft of writing aside from everything else. Thanks for inspiring me to read this.


--Kelly
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