Reading group

Discussions relating to John Fowles' novel Daniel Martin.

Reading group

Postby drkellyindc on Mon Feb 11, 2008 6:52 pm

Welcome, readers of "Daniel Martin"!

I'm facilitating a series of five monthly one-hour discussions about my favorite book, beginning Monday, March 10, at 8 p.m., U.S. Eastern Standard Time. The discussions will happen via conference call, and will be open to 8 or 9 people total. (Four have signed up as of tonight.) I will send the phone number and access code to people individually. The only cost involved is that of making a long-distance phone call.

My intention is to continue our discussions on the second Monday of the month (March through July), treating the book in sequence, about 1/5 per month. For the March 10 call, we will explore responses to the first 14 chapters, up through and including "Breaking Silence."

This is intended as an open forum, not a fan club. All responses are welcome, including skeptical or critical positions raised in a spirit of honest inquiry. I will lead by asking questions and making sure certain elements are discussed. Depending on how this develops, I may post reader's-guide questions or discussion summaries here. If you'd like to participate, access me privately by email (either drkellyindc here or via the address at my website, http://www.laughingmuse.com), and tell me about your interest in the group.

--Kelly Cresap
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Re: Reading group

Postby drkellyindc on Fri Feb 15, 2008 7:07 pm

For those of you who are joining the "Daniel Martin" teleconference--and for anyone else who wants help in tackling the novel--I'm offering these reader's-guide questions for the first 21 chapters (see chapter numbering scheme below). First-time readers may want to check the chapter numbers listed in each question so as to avoid spoilers. These questions go further in the book than our March 10 discussion will take us. I look forward to our discussion!
--Kelly

Questions on “Daniel Martin” (Part I: from “The Harvest” to “A Second Contribution”)

1. (Chs. 1-3) From chapter 1 (“The Harvest”) to chapter 2 (“Games”), Daniel goes from being an “inscrutable innocent” lad of 15 in the countryside of Devon, England, his “teeth deep in white cartwheel, bread and sweet ham, all life to follow”; to being a “dialogue installer and repairman” in Hollywood, spiritually depleted at age 47, mocking himself and Jenny by speaking about “the ravings of the male menopause and a naked film-star in Harold-Robbins land.” What is the basis, if any, of Dan’s likeability as a middle-aged man? Is he likeable in chapter 3, as a 23-year-old Oxford student and budding writer/artist?

2. (Ch.3) At the end of chapter 3, “The Woman in the Reeds,” why did it “just feel right” for Jane to throw an unopened bottle of champagne in the river, or for Dan to kiss the side of Jane’s head?

3. (Ch. 7) In “Passage,” Dan outrages Abe by saying that “most English anti-Americanism, like most English anti-semitism, springs from sheer envy.” What does he mean by this? Does this judgment color the other opinions about America expressed in the book?

4. (Ch. 8 ) In “The Umbrella,” Dan says that his father—with his cruelly long sermons and outstandingly dull pulpit voice, and in other matters--“conditioned him by antithesis.” In what ways is this true about Dan? Is he a person entirely in flight from his past?

5. (Chs. 6 and 9) Dan and Jane discuss their sexual encounter in existentialist terms--as a way of stepping outside of preordained roles and commitments, both spiritual and marital (see their discussion in “Aftermath,” and paragraph 4 in “Gratuitous Act”). Do you see their act as selfish and blind, or does it involve “right feeling” in any way?

6. (Ch. 10) How does Barney Dillon (“Returns”) change between Oxford and the present-day narrative? How does Dan’s valuation of Barney change over this period?

7. (Ch. 11) Dan, a hardened atheist, alludes to the quartet’s midnight bathe at Tarquinia as one of few “religious moments” in his life (“Tarquinia”). To Anthony, the supposedly religious man, the event seems to qualify only as a “faintly embarrassing midnight jape.” Dan speaks of this event as clarifying the “profound difference between Anthony and myself—and our types of mankind.” What is this difference, and what are the “types” of mankind that Dan and Anthony represent?

8. (Chs. 12-13) How would you characterize Dan’s relationship with his daughter Caro, either past or present (“Petard,” “Forward Backward,” etc.)? Before Caro’s confession, there are at least ten textual clues indicating that she and Barney are not being perfectly forthright with Dan. Did her confession still come as a surprise?

9. (Ch. 16-17) The differences between Dan and Anthony are revealed in an extreme way in “Crimes and Punishments,” which is the chapter prior to their hospital discussion in “Catastasis.” Describe why Dan wrote the play "The Victors," and why Anthony wrote the letter officially ending their friendship.

10. (Ch. 17) What is Anthony’s request to Dan in “Catastasis”? On what basis does he make this request? What does he mean by “correcting a design failure”?

11. (Ch. 17) In “Catastasis,” Anthony says he has secretly envied Dan. He says Dan represents “human fallibility,” which is a “corrective” to the “would-be pure in spirit.” In light of their discussion and their past, how do you interpret this?

12. (Chs. 15, and 18-19) How would you characterize Jane’s attitude toward Dan, as revealed before and after the chapter “Beyond the Door”?

13. (Ch. 19) Near the end of “Beyond the Door,” Dan writes, “I create, I am: all the rest is dream, though concrete and executed.” What does this reveal about Dan, and about art and creativity?

14. (Ch. 19) In the final paragraph of “Beyond the Door,” Fowles asserts that “a perfect world would have no room for writers.” Then he has Dan’s unconscious express the opposite idea, that “a perfect world would have room for no one else.” What is meant by these two propositions?

15. (Chs. 19 and 20) At the end of “Webs,” Dan describes a scene outside Jane’s house. To him the scene suggests the idea of a universe that still has the ability to repair itself despite having been set in motion by an “inefficient god.” Does this creation myth seem valid to you? Does it extend or qualify the creation myth expressed in question 13? Why do you think it appears at the end of a chapter in which Dan is reacquainted with members of his extended family?

16. (Ch. 21) Do you buy Jenny’s contention that “Dan has a mistress. Her name is Loss” and that “he is a professional melancholiac, and enjoying every minute of it”? (“A Second Contribution”). Do Jenny’s views on Dan’s “faults of perception” strike you as valid?


The chapters of Daniel Martin are unnumbered in the book. For easier reference, here they are in numbered sequence:

1. The Harvest
2. Games
3. The Woman in the Reeds
4. An Unbiased View
5. The Door
6. Aftermath
7. Passage
8. The Umbrella
9. Gratuitous Act
10. Returns
11. Tarquinia
12. Petard
13. Forward Backward
14. Breaking Silence
15. Rencontre
16. Crimes and Punishments
17. Catastasis
18. Jane
19. Beyond the Door
20. Webs
21. A Second Contribution
22. Interlude
23. Hollow Men
24. Solid Daughter
25. The Sacred Combe
26. Rituals
27. Compton
28. Tsankawi
29. Westward
30. Phillida
31. Thorncombe
32. In the Orchard of the Blessed
33. Rain
34. A Third Contribution
35. The Shadows of Women
36. Pyramids and Prisons
37. Barbarians
38. Nile
39. The River Between
40. Kitchener’s Island
41. In the Silence of Other Voices
42. Flights
43. North
44. End of the World
45. The Bitch
46. Future Past
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Re: Reading group

Postby drkellyindc on Tue Mar 11, 2008 6:44 pm

We had a stimulating opening phone-exchange last night in our monthly discussions of “Daniel Martin.” Here are some of the highlights:

We’re all at different places regarding the novel, reading it for the first, second, third, or eighth time. Our first-time reader said he needed to re-read many of the opening chapters and that the second reading was more relaxed. Another reader spoke about the need to “suspend lack of understanding” in getting through some of the initial shifts of time, place and perspective, going on faith that the material will eventually resolve itself.

We spoke about what motivates Jane Mallory in the early chapters. After she and Daniel discover a woman’s corpse one day while punting at Oxford, Jane throws an unopened bottle of champagne in the river, and later seduces Daniel, in the full knowledge that she intends to marry Anthony, who is Daniel’s best friend. “It just felt right,” she says about the champagne. The one-time sexual liaison between Daniel and Jane is also arguably a moment of “right feeling,” even though it violates ethical and social norms and exacts such a major toll afterwards. Their love-making stems in part from their existential longing to step outside the bounds of history. While affirming what is authentic in their desire, the ensuing story also reveals the limitations and pretense in their undergraduate way of thinking.

If Jane is trying temporarily to rebel against her future (as the wife of a Catholic philosopher), Daniel is trying to rebel against his past (as the son of a third-generation Anglican preacher). Raised in rural Devon county during wartime hardship and rationing, Daniel disowns his past because it seems to him so “freakishly abnormal” and Victorian. Even when we meet him in the first chapter, at age 15, he is an “inscrutable innocent, already in exile.” Ironically, though Daniel rejects his father’s religion and wants to repudiate him on every other ground, his abiding passion for nature is first nourished in earliest childhood by his father’s gardening habits. The umbrella that Daniel is forced to carry home one day is an ambiguous symbol (like “Citizen Kane’s” Rosebud) both of the burden and blessing of being his father’s son.

Daniel’s love of nature (and his early inclination toward art) reach a climax at Tarquinia, Italy, during the night-bathe scene with his Oxford friends. Daniel describes this as one of the few religious moments of his life (though it just seems to embarrass his friend Anthony, the more outwardly religious man). Having had to attend so many endless Anglican church services growing up, Daniel now finds his sanctuaries outdoors, in direct communion with nature. Tarquinia is also special because of its link to a vanished earth-based culture. Daniel describes the ancient Etruscan tomb-walls at Tarquinia in the most idealistic terms: “nothing could be better or lovelier than this, till the end of time. It was sad, but in a noble, haunting, fertile way.”

This intensely beautiful moment on the coast of Italy led us to discuss the novel’s daring opening line, “Whole sight; or all the rest is desolation.” The book tantalizes us with this impossible “whole-sighted” ideal in a variety of ways. “Whole sight” is glimpsed in the concept of “right feeling”; in the novel’s occasional meshing of first- and third-person perspectives; and in its treatment of compressed layers of time and culture. “Whole sight” is suggested in the idyllic opening chapter (despite the rabbit slaughter and the intrusion of a German WWII plane), and the scene at Tarquinia.

Still, one reader asked “Is whole sight even possible?” Postmodernists may see the very premise as intellectually dubious. Today we are conditioned to be suspicious of totalizing explanatory systems (metanarratives, as the philosopher Lyotard called them). We insist on questioning absolutes, on thinking in fragments, and on approaching culture and ideas through a relativist lens. “Daniel Martin” challenges us to reconsider the transforming power of absolutes in certain moments and contexts—the absoluteness of the beauty of Tarquinia and Tsankawi, NM, for instance, and of their hold on the imagination.

The book doesn't present "whole sight" as the exact opposite of "desolation," but as a mysteriously linked polarity. In this novel Fowles depicts his hero as a middle-aged man trying to struggle out of a deep sense of compromise; he also suggests (in the Gramsci epigraph) that history itself may manifest “a great variety of morbid symptoms” while the “old is dying and the new cannot [yet] be born.” The novel helps suggest aspects of existentialism and postmodernism that belong to an old system that is passing. Two readers suggested that even from the distance of 1977, “Daniel Martin” provides glimpses of both emotional and intellectual realities that surpass our currently entrenched ways of perceiving the world.

Our next discussion is scheduled for April 14, and will cover chapters 14 through 26 (“Breaking Silence” through “Rituals”). I’ll post the next series of study questions in a few days.

--Kelly
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Re: Reading group

Postby drkellyindc on Fri Mar 14, 2008 11:37 am

Questions on “Daniel Martin” (Part II: from “Interlude” to “Phillida”)

Page numbers are in parentheses: the first number refers to the 629-page Little, Brown hardcover edition; the second number refers to the 673-page Signet paperback edition.

1. (Chapter 22) “Interlude” mostly concerns Daniel’s interactions with the Cockney sisters Miriam and Marjory. He describes this inset section as a “fable” (240/255), and speaks about the sisters in daringly idealized ways. He refers to them as “the two most civilized feminine creatures I have ever known” (251/267), and says that he might also have called them Clio (the Greek muse of history) and Thalia (the Greek muse of comedy) (253/268). In what ways does the story of Miriam and Marjory operate as a fable? Daniel says he receives from these sisters “a lasting lesson on the limitations of my class, my education and my kind” (253/268). What is this lesson?

2. (Chapters 21-23) Notice that the “fable” chapter involving Miriam and Marjory is placed between “A Second Contribution” and “Hollow Men”--chapters which contain some of the novel’s harshest cultural critique. In the opening two chapters we saw a similar contrast between the idealism of Daniel at age 15 and the defeatism of Daniel at age 47. What do such contrasts convey or accomplish?

3. (Chapter 23) In “Hollow Men,” Daniel’s discussion with Barney Dillon leads to a sustained critique of the communications industry—an industry in which both men are professionally invested. Oxford University trained Daniel and Barney to admire and covet “the enduring accolade of history,” and yet they find themselves “pitched willy-nilly into a world with a ubiquitous and insatiable greed for the ephemeral,” where “the speed of forgetfulness was approaching the speed of light” (261/277). Do you buy the chapter’s critique? Does it hold up today, thirty years later, in the age of the Internet?

4. (Chapter 24) “Solid Daughter” presents a morning discussion between Daniel and Caro. In one passage, Daniel talks about writers and relationships (267/284-5). He says that writers are poor at one-to-one relationships in the flesh because they “can always imagine better ones . . . and the imaginary ones grow much more satisfying than the real ones” (267/285). Earlier, anticipating his meeting with Anthony, Daniel had said, “. . . the hyperactive imagination is as damaging a preparation for reality as it is useful in writing” (131/138). What are the benefits and drawbacks of having an active, or overactive, imagination?

5. (Chapter 25) “The Sacred Combe” explores the myth of Robin Hood in connection with the concept of “la bonne vaux” or “the valley of abundance” (273/290). At one level, the chapter helps to explain why Daniel was losing patience with the cinema (273/290); at another level, it reflects on the human need for retreats of various kinds. How do you interpret the chapter’s final sentence?:

“If a life is largely made of retreats from reality, its relation must be of retreats from the imagined.” (276/294)

6. (Chapter 26) In “Rituals,” Daniel says of the Hollywood film-producer David Malevich that he “had managed to remain his own man in a world where almost any independence is taken as a vicious personal affront” (278/296). How does the opposition between conformity and independence inform the lives of other characters in the book (such as Jenny, Nell, Caro, or Andrew)?

7. (Chapter 27) In the all-male conversation after dinner at “Compton,” politics come front and center. Conservative philosophy is espoused by Miles Fenwick, an M.P. who criticizes Daniel’s socialism. One tenet of Fenwick’s outlook is that “life is fundamentally unfair, but it is unfair for a purpose” (315/335). He argues this not on partisan grounds, but biological and evolutionary ones. Where do your sympathies lie in this discussion?

8. (Chapter 28) In the chapter titled “Tsankawi,” Daniel celebrates his special connection to a lesser-known part of Bandelier National Monument, in New Mexico. For him the site transcends place, frontier, and time. He feels it has a mysteriously exonerating power, as if--“like a sustained high note, unconquerable” (325/346)--it could redeem evolution of its “appalling waste, indifference, and cruelty.” Why, then, does it make him feel “like a man in prison” (331/353), and divide him from everyone he shares it with—especially Jenny?

9. (Chapter 29) In “Westward,” Daniel introduces Phoebe and Ben, who look after his house and yard at Thorncombe. Daniel notices Ben’s habit of outwardly focusing on what’s wrong with the plants in the garden; and yet in private moments he admires them. Daniel says, “This wasn’t some elementary form of false modesty; simply his bone knowledge that if everything grew perfectly, the world—and he—had nothing to live for. He had really grasped a very profound truth: that failure is the salt of life” (344/366). What do you make of this passage, either by itself, or in light of the other forms of “failure” depicted in the novel?

10. (Chapter 30) “Phillida” is the novel’s longest chapter, and for some it is the most sheerly enjoyable. (With some modifications, it was reprinted in McCall’s Magazine in October 1977.) How does the view of Daniel at age 16 modify or extend the views of Daniel at other ages?
Note how the line, “Ban the green from your life, and what are you left with?” (381/406), connects with Daniel’s name-carving at the end of the novel’s first chapter, “The Harvest.” What is represented by “the green”?

- - - - -

Additional question about Fowles and gender:

At the end of “Tsankawi,” we read Jenny’s version of the trip to New Mexico. She accuses Daniel of not understanding the innermost things about women (333/355-56). From what you’ve read so far, do you agree with her? Regarding the novel itself, are the female characters as convincing as the male characters?

This passage from Fowles’s philosophical book “The Aristos” (1964), in a section called “Adam and Eve,” provides clues about the author’s stance on the gender divide:

Adam is stasis, or conservatism; Eve is kinesis, or progress. Adam societies are ones in which the man and the father, male gods, exact strict obedience to established institutions and norms of behavior, as during a majority of the periods of history in our era. The Victorian is a typical such period. Eve societies are those in which the woman and the mother, female gods, encourage innovation and experiment, and fresh definitions, aims, modes of feeling. The Renaissance and our own are typical such ages.

There are of course Adam-women and Eve-men; singularly few, among the world’s great progressive artists and thinkers, have not belonged to the latter category.


--Kelly
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Re: Reading group

Postby drkellyindc on Tue Apr 15, 2008 2:43 pm

Here are some highlights from our second monthly telediscussion of “Daniel Martin.” (Readers alert: I’m disclosing basic plot points but avoiding major spoilers.)

After his marriage to Nell declines, Daniel writes a thinly disguised autobiographical play, “The Victors,” about how he’s been ostracized from his circle of Oxford friends. One of the ironies in the title is the fact that Daniel frames himself as the victim, even while flaunting his ability to take public revenge through art. Anthony sees the play, immediately recognizes himself as one of its targets, and writes a letter officially ending his friendship with Daniel.

In the chapter “Catastasis,” Anthony and Daniel meet for the first time in 16 years. From his hospital bed Anthony talks about “correcting a design failure,” and asks Daniel to “help disinter the person Jane might have been from beneath the person she now is.” After harboring it as a secret for many years, Anthony finally admits that he knew about Daniel and Jane’s one-time sexual liaison back at Oxford. Anthony says he was unable to forgive Daniel at the time, but in retrospect says that he mostly envied him. Daniel is startled:

“Envy?”
“Inasmuch as you represented another life-principle.”
“Betrayal?”
“Let’s say human fallibility.”
“That’s a virtue?”
“A corrective. To the would-be pure in spirit.”


In our discussion of what life-principle Daniel embodies, we agreed that it has a crucial element of feeling; this is precisely the element that Anthony has drained out of his career and his marriage. One of our members said, “Anthony married Jane and promptly retreated into his head.” Only in retrospect, as a man suffering from terminal cancer, is Anthony able to own up to what he has lost—and caused Jane to lose--over the years. Jane, for her part, lost out by thinking that her problems could be solved through Catholicism’s view of sin and forgiveness.

We found more clues about what life-principle Daniel represents at the end of the chapters “Beyond the Door” and “Webs.” In both chapters Fowles shifts the perspective from the day's pressing social events to an alternative night-time reality. In solitude, Daniel feels euphoria as he reflects on his fate.

We focused on the final paradox in “Beyond the Door”: on the one hand, as the narrator declares, “A perfect world would have no room for writers”; on the other hand, Daniel’s unconscious seems to imagine a perfect world as being composed entirely of writers. (The term “writer” in this passage is linked to creativity: “I create, I am: all the rest is dream, though concrete and executed.”) If humans were able to resolve this paradox, they would perceive the world from a position of God-like self-satisfaction--even accounting for the problem of evil . . . the fact that “men and women are tortured, children starve, the world dies of its own greed and stupidity.”

The ending of the next chapter, “Webs,” offers a kind of counterpart to this position. Daniel has a God-like perspective as he looks from a window out into London at night. Still, he's powerless to change the street scene below, where it looks as if a policeman is arresting a harmless old tramp. However, as Daniel soon realizes, the policeman is not in fact bringing out his summons-book, but instead offering the tramp a cigarette. The usual rules governing the day (conventional, bureaucratic, utilitarian, unimaginative) may be suspended at night in favor of alternative rules (creative, generous, considerate, magical). The cigarette offered is a brilliant metaphor for the process of evolution, which waits upon similar acts of generosity and creativity.

Although Daniel is a convinced atheist, he's still able to view the world from a god-like point of view. As one of our members said, through Daniel's role as an observer he allows the divine to flow through him and to inform his art.

Our next discussion is scheduled for May 5. We dealt with only half of the material for this month’s discussion; next time we’ll pick up from where we left off, at chapter 21 (“A Second Contribution”). We may or may not get all the way to chapter 35 (“The Shadows of Women”) on our next call. Probably not, given our focus on quality over quantity!

Thanks for everyone's contributions.

I’ll post the next series of study questions in a few days.
--Kelly
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Re: Reading group

Postby drkellyindc on Mon Apr 21, 2008 5:48 pm

Questions on “Daniel Martin” (Part III: from “Thorncombe” to “Nile”)

Spoiler alert--I recommend looking at the questions only after reading the chapters referenced.

(Again, the page numbers in parentheses refer first to the 1977 hard-cover edition, and then to the 1977 Signet paperback edition.)

1. (Chapter 31) In the chapter titled “Thorncombe,” Daniel and Jane have an evening fireside talk at Daniel’s residence in Devon, a home formerly owned by the Reed family. Jane reveals that her paramour in the U.S. has “formed a new attachment”; she speaks frankly about this and other setbacks she faces in middle age. She says, “It’s the battle in myself that has to be won first . . . I feel a terrible lack of energy. Not physically. All this useless, diffuse anger churning inside me, and knowing I just let it churn” (387/412). On his side, Daniel reveals his hopes of writing a novel, and suggests that this might help him regain his bearing. He says, “I feel my life’s been rather like the lanes round here . . . going the long way nowhere between high hedges” (391/416). Does this conversation stir any new sympathies in you about either Daniel or Jane?

2. (Chapters 31, 33, 35) In “Thorncombe” and later chapters, what are Jane’s official reasons for not wanting to accompany Daniel to Egypt? What are her unofficial reasons? In what ways is she attracted by the idea?

3. (Chapter 32) The brief but dense chapter “In the Orchard of the Blessed” finds Daniel walking late at night in an orchard he had once scythed as a boy. He meditates on the main artistic obstacle he faces in writing an autobiographical novel. He wonders what form it might take, and what claims for artistic legitimacy it might have. Neither tragedy nor comedy seem available to him as options. He feels that he’s enjoyed his life too much for him to qualify as a tragic hero; but the other main option, comedy, seems to have been taken over by contemporary pessimists like Samuel Beckett (“Waiting for Godot,” etc.). To Daniel, Beckett-style pessimism carries a hint of marketing research, rather than true artistic freedom, “since in a period of intense and universal increase in self-awareness, few could be happy with their lot” (403/429). Why would a period of universal increase in self-awareness also foster widespread unhappiness?

What are the three artistic solutions Daniel considers? (404-5/428-31)

During this orchard walk Daniel comes to what he calls “the most important decision of his life” (405/431). What is this decision? (In my view, Fowles has created two valid answers, and lets readers choose among them.) Why does Daniel choose not to reveal his decision directly?

At stake in this chapter is not just the nature of a novel Daniel may or may not write, but the question of whether humans are capable of independent thought, feeling, and action, or are instead condemned merely to mimic an age’s received ideas and conventions. What position do you take on this issue? Does the novel Daniel Martin itself modify your view about possibilities of intellectual or emotional independence?

4. (Chapter 33) In the chapter “Rain,” Daniel mentions how inclement weather has been fertile and cocooning to him at various stages of his life. Attachment to climate is, he claims, “the only decent marriage he had ever made” (407-8/435). How has Daniel’s attachment to climate affected his relationships? (For example, how does his attachment to Tsankawi affect his relationship with Jenny?)

Why does Jane, Daniel’s “obscure ex-sister-in-law,” remain someone he cannot “dismiss, place, reify”? (413/441) Why does he become so absorbed in solving the puzzle she presents?

Note the happiness that floods over Daniel as he listens to Mozart’s G-minor symphony, and how his mood is colored by sadness (422/450). Why does being “a solitary at heart” “cripple” Daniel as a human being? (422/450)

5. (Chapter 34) At the start of “A Third Contribution,” Jenny says that the missive she sends is “Written in anger” (429/457). At the end she writes, "I just won't be only something in your script. In any of your scripts. Ever again" (443/472). What are the sources of Jenny's anger? What form does her anger take?

What responses does this "contribution" provoke in Daniel (444-47/473-76)?

Of the events described in Jenny’s account, what do you believe really happened?

A further wrinkle to this chapter: Jenny has given Daniel rewrite privileges with her material (34/16, et al), so that we are reading her words through Daniel’s editorial filter.

6. (Chapter 35) “The Shadows of Women” contains no earth-shattering revelations, and yet it deepens and “shades in” our understanding of the novel’s principle women, and of Daniel’s connections with them.

Why does Roz’s view of her mother’s marriage to Anthony differ so much from Caro’s view of the marriage?

Caro expresses surprise that Daniel would invite Jane with him to Egypt. (Caro is unaware of her father's sexual encounter with Jane at Oxford.) Daniel reminds his daughter that he once saw Jane “almost literally every day” at Oxford (453/482). Caro wonders, then, why he’s never seemed very interested in her. Daniel says, “I didn’t only lose your mother when we divorced, Caro. Lack of interest doesn’t always mean lack of memory. Rather the reverse, in fact . . . sometimes” (453/482). Earlier Daniel suggested that he had long relegated what happened between him and Jane that day at Oxford “to the category of spilt milk” (184/196); this later passage suggests that the process of forgetting and remembering has been more complicated than that. Do you think Daniel’s experience with Jane during the 1950s has significantly affected his subsequent relationships? How so?

7. (Chapter 36) In “Pyramids and Prisons,” Daniel describes the Cairo airport as having “the feel of a country at war, of an upset hive” (458-59/488). As he and Jane are shepherded to a chauffeured car by Jimmy Assad, Daniel expresses the suspicion that, in spite of her high-principled Marxist sympathies, “for once Jane did not regret leading a privileged life” (459/488). Note how the theme of privilege--its consequences, implied duties, potential cruelties, and contradictions—becomes more prominent and recurrent in the last quarter of the book. Which forms of privilege does the novel support and affirm? Which forms does it question or disqualify?

On their first night in Cairo, Daniel and Jane attend a soiree hosted by Jimmy Assad and his wife. The evening’s impromptu entertainer, the satirical playwright Ahmed Sabry, touches a deep affinity in Daniel. Daniel writes, “He suddenly saw the political establishments of the world as a conspiracy of the humorless against laughter, a tyranny of stupidity over intelligence; man as a product of history, not of his true inner, personal, nature (470/500). Why does Sabry touch such a deep affinity in Daniel? Where else in the novel do you see examples of the concept “tyranny of stupidity”?

It may come as a surprise to hear Daniel describing the Cairo soiree in terms of lack of choice: “One was condemned without choice to enjoying such experiences, to having knowledge of the world, to valuing wit and use of language because one was genetically, and by hazard of birth and career, endowed with the faculties to appreciate them” (470/500). Why would enjoying the sophisticated use of language and wit be described as the opposite of freedom?

8. (Chapter 37) Interspersed in “Barbarians” are at least six ways of reading the chapter’s title. It can refer to a) the “graceless” and “vulgar” ancient Egyptian architecture at the Temple of Karnak, near Luxor (476/507-08); b) “Megalopolis through the ages” (478/509); c) the insistent street vendor who thrusts a mummified foot at Daniel and Jane (479/510); d) the American couple, Mitchell and Marcia Hooper, and what Daniel regards as their cultural deprivation and lack of subtlety (487 and 489/519 and 521); e) the exploitation and hucksterism of Madison Avenue in the U.S. (489/521); and f) the fellaheen, or peasant laborers, who have been alternately exploited and ignored for 5000 years (489/522). What do you think of Fowles’s likening of Americans to ancient Egyptians, and his describing both civilizations as barbarian? What forms of beauty and civilization does the chapter affirm as alternatives to all the barbarism?

What are Mitchell and Marcia Hooper’s main concerns, and their reasons for living abroad? If you are an American, do you feel fairly represented by them? Daniel and Jane view them differently: what do their alternate ways of seeing this couple reveal about Daniel and Jane?

We meet the Herr Professor Otto Kernberger in this chapter. Among other things, he embodies the Wise Man archetype, a recurrent figure in Fowles’s novels (cf. Maurice Conchis in The Magus, and Dr. Grogan in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, for example). In what ways does the Herr Professor challenge Daniel and Jane’s assumptions about art, time, and civilization?

9. (Chapter 38) In “Nile,” as the “floating Hilton” passes scenes of peasants bathing, Fowles writes about a strange reversal of privilege and poverty: “And then there came what was almost an envy of the simplicities of life in this green and liquid, eternally fertile and blue-skied world; just as some denizen of an icier, grimmer planet might look on, and envy, Earth” (494/527).

In contrast to this passage, recall how, at the end of “Beyond the Door,” Fowles had suggested that the world is dying “of its own greed and stupidity” (208/222). In this novel’s cosmology, how can the earth be fertile, green, and enviable, on one hand, and dying, greedy, and stupid on the other?

In “Nile,” Fowles spells out the symbolism he’s using in this section of the book: “If the Nile was human history, their ship was a pocket caricature of the human race, or at least the Western part of it” (494/527). The Nile voyage is described in close physical detail, and yet it also functions on several other levels. Notice how in the ship’s version of the human race, certain cultural groups come to the foreground, while others barely make an impression. For instance, when Fowles writes, “the East Europe in the flesh around them hardly argued for a more free, more joyous humanity” (501/535), he’s suggesting why East Europe doesn’t have a more vivid or dynamic presence on the ship as well as in world history. Do you find yourself agreeing with the novel's judgments and comparisons about major Western population blocs? In other words, do you find the novel reliable as an international tribunal?

During the “Nile” chapter, Daniel becomes engrossed while reading Jane’s travel gift to him, the anthology Lukács on Critical Realism (500-01/533-34). In effect, we read over Daniel’s shoulder as he considers issues posed by the Hungarian critic Georg Lukács. Central to the long quoted passage is the artistic choice between progressive realism and formalistic experimentation. The writers Thomas Mann and Franz Kafka, respectively, are offered as the embodiments of these two basic methods. (Other pairings might also be suggested: Tolstoy and James Joyce; D. H. Lawrence and Thomas Pynchon.) Given that Daniel Martin/John Fowles have already shown a clear preference for progressive realism over formalistic experimentation, why do you think this passage is included in the book? What is added through Daniel's putting his artistic choices on the table?

At the end of “Nile,” Daniel alludes to Voltaire’s “Candide” as he examines Mitch Hooper’s “faith in technology as the key to the best of all possible worlds” (506/540). Daniel says of Mitch, “For his kind of innocence, Virgil and Voltaire were still to come” (507/541). What does he mean by this? By extension, what is he saying about Americans?
--Kelly
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Re: Reading group

Postby drkellyindc on Tue May 20, 2008 3:24 pm

Our third discussion of “Daniel Martin” focused on Daniel’s psychology and the nature of artistic experience. Here are some of the highlights:

The chapter set in Tsankawi, New Mexico, generated a lot of interest. We talked about how visiting this region heightens the conflict between two sides of Daniel: the social creature and the visionary artist. For Daniel, Tsankawi--with its physical beauty and vanished Pueblo civilization--is not only lush and regenerating but also verges on being sacred. He likens it to holy ground and the Garden of Eden. In some of the novel’s most gorgeous passages, he describes it as an ideal synthesis of human, ecological, and cosmological spheres. However, just as the ancient site Tsankawi marks a place where two land masses broke apart, it similarly reveals a divide between Daniel and everyone else with whom he shares it. In the novel, the most heartbreaking rift at Tsankawi occurs with Jenny. On their last visit to the area, the question of marriage is in the air, but Jenny’s attempts to draw closer to Daniel are rebuffed, and she’s left to wonder why.

Only through their written accounts of the matter do we understand both Jenny and Daniel’s perspectives. In a letter inserted at the end of the chapter, Jenny writes with terrible sadness about their visit and what it portends. Daniel admits that his own account of the episode has an element of cruelty; and yet it also shows him at his most vulnerably personal. He refers to "the lost civilization of me," and describes himself as resembling an iceberg--“with nine tenths of what really pleased and moved me sunk well below the understanding of the people I moved among, and however intimately.” Professionally, this helps to account for why he is drawn away from film-scripts and toward writing a novel—the novel’s form allows for much greater exploration of vitality beneath the surface. However, the iceberg metaphor also helps to explain why the people in Daniel’s life (especially Jenny and Caro) often feel stymied and shut out.

We talked about Daniel’s tendency toward retreat: he moves toward relationships, grows bored, and retreats. One member said this makes him unable to grasp the ups and downs, the inevitable dry spells and compromises of long-term relationships, such as Bernard's marriage. However, with Daniel's voyage from California to England we see him having to own up to his past behavior and its consequences. As the “prodigal uncle returned to the fold,” he has to fully re-enter the web of family connections he left behind in Oxford, Compton, and London. In particular, Daniel’s daughter Caro presents him with the impact of his retreating from her. During their conversation in “Solid Daughter,” Daniel tries to explain his behavior by saying that writers are “traditionally very poor hands at one-to-one relationships in the flesh.” Caro asks,

“And why are writers bad at relationships?”
“Because we can always imagine better ones. With much less effort. And the imaginary ones grow much more satisfying than the real ones.”
“Is that why you try to leave the real ones behind?”
“I don’t know, Caro. Perhaps.”


Another clue about why Daniel “leaves the real behind” comes in “The Sacred Combe.” Here the notion of “retreat,” linked to the myth of Robin Hood, becomes the guiding metaphor for all artistic endeavor. In the chapter’s memorable final line, “retreats from reality” are only fulfilled by way of corresponding “retreats from the imagined.” Neither activity is complete without the other.

If “The Sacred Combe” derives support from the “archetypal national myth” of Robin Hood, the chapter “Interlude” moves into the realm of unique personal fable. We talked about why the cockney sisters Miriam and Marjory engage Daniel’s imagination to such an extreme degree, and why he refers to them in such daringly idealized terms. He casts them as his muses, and claims that they are “the two most civilized feminine creatures” he has ever known. He says that not only was his connection with them free of exploitation, but it was a “glimpse of an ideal world.” (These statements are hard for many first-time readers to take at face value—reactions to the cockney sisters have been all over the map! I think Fowles anticipated this; in an aside, he even has Jenny accuse Daniel of “making them up.” Daniel doesn't deny this--the Miriam and Marjory story is, after all, a fable--but instead says to Jenny, “One day I shall make you up too.”)

As one of our members pointed out, Miriam and Marjory represent the opposite of the kind of shallow high-society woman also found in the novel. Her kind is exemplified by Fenwick’s American wife in the Compton chapter, with her aggressive conversational style (“All her value-judgments were like a snip-snap of scissors; as if, if she did not diminish all she saw, she might seem passée”). Whereas Fenwick’s wife relates to culture manipulatively, using it to her own ends, the underclass Miriam and Marjory, with their "delicious lack of self-consciousness," aren't entirely sure what culture is to begin with. Although they're "suspicious of all superior knowledge," they're also guilelessly inquisitive and open to new experience.

Thinking about this spectrum--from the sweetly naïve cockney sisters to the overcultivated wife of Fenwick—made me wonder where Jane would fit. She seems closer to Fenwick’s wife, which makes it something of a mystery why Daniel becomes so intently focused on her.

I’m aiming for June 16 as our next discussion date. We’ll focus on the chapters from “Westward” through “Pyramids and Prisons.”

--Kelly
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Re: Reading group

Postby drkellyindc on Thu May 22, 2008 10:02 pm

Hi Kris,
Me . . . tease?
I probably need lessons in teasing--years of grad school may have drummed it out of me!

The "shallow-sophistication" issue you raised on the phone call continues to resonate for me.

Lots of examples come to mind. Fenwick's wife has her diminishing "snip-snap" judgments; Jane's equivalent of this is the full arsenal of Oxford-style poison darts she uses on Daniel in the scenes after she picks him up at the train station.

Jane can hardly be blamed for how she is--she was, after all, raised by a pair of shallow sophisticates. Her father was a tailor's-dummy ambassador; her mother is described as "something of an elegant cipher . . . supremely egotistical at heart."

As for Daniel himself, he admits to a queasy kinship with Bernard in the "hollow-men" chapter. Anthony the scholar talks about having spent his career straining at intellectual gnats and doing "philosophical angel-counting." In the realm of religion, there's Daniel's father, with his fear of emotion and his "outstandingly dull" sermons; and the priest who comes calling on Jane, with his conventional pieties and stifling ritual.

I think Fowles wants us to see what's death-dealing about some kinds of sophistication, and what's life-giving about some kinds of unknowing or greenness. He plants the theme early, as Daniel carves his initials in a tree at the end of the first chapter:

Deep incisions in the bark, peeling the gray skin away to the sappy green of the living stem.


--Kelly
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Re: Reading group

Postby drkellyindc on Sat May 24, 2008 9:15 am

Questions on “Daniel Martin” (Part IV: from “The River Between” to “North”)

Spoiler alert—I recommend looking at these questions only after reading the chapters referenced.

(Page numbers in parentheses refer first to the 629-page Little, Brown hard-cover edition from 1977, and then to the 673-page Signet paperback edition.)


1. Chapter 39: “The River Between”

What laws and codes govern the peasant-class fellaheen tribes living along the Nile? (489/521-2, 509-11/543-45, et al) What does the presence of the fellaheen add to this section of the novel?

Describe the Greek concepts ka and ba in your own words (512-3/546-7). In what ways do Daniel and Jane (respectively) embody them?

The Herr Professor confronts Daniel’s habit of conflating the ancient and modern worlds: “We must not think with modern minds,” he says; “then we understand nothing” (514/548). He explains further: “In history we are all absentee landlords. We think, those stupid people, if only they knew what I know. If only they had worked harder to please me, and my taste” (515/549). Do you think it’s possible to overcome historical nearsightedness and truly see past civilizations on their own terms?

The “absentee landlords” passage may also be read as a disguised plea toward future readers of Daniel Martin, that they consider the novel on its own terms, disregarding how tastes and conditions have changed since its publication. What differences between then and now are most noticeable to you?

A recurring theme in the Nile section of the novel is how overcivilized or “hyper-sophisticated” modern people have become (see 485/517, 508/542, 515/549, 523-24/558-59). By the same token, the narrator says that “complexity of feeling” is indispensable and a “driving-force of human evolution” (526/562). How do you distinguish between being civilized and overcivilized? How does the novel resolve the tension between them? What remedies does it suggest for those who are overcivilized?

What do you make of the cabaret evening on the ship, and of Daniel and Jane’s reaction to it? (517-19/552-53)

The Herr Professor says that his joke about East and West German relations can play on either side’s favor—it all depends on whether you define the contrary of freedom as chaos or authority (523/558). Which definition strikes you as more apt?

In his “ghost story without a ghost,” the Herr Professor describes working in deep isolation in a tomb chamber and encountering “a living presence that was not his own” (524-25/559-60). What words would you use to describe his encounter? Have you ever had a similar encounter?

To the Herr Professor, the world has many languages and frontiers but only two nations--neither one of which will ever understand “the river between.” In your opinion, what are the two nations the Herr Professor refers to, and what is the river between? (525/560-61)


2. Chapter 40: “Kitchener’s Island”

In your opinion, what causes Jane’s tears during the stop at Kom Ombo? (528-29/564-65)

Jane says that she recalls Daniel as “That lovely innocent young man I knew at Oxford” (530/566). In what sense does she mean he was innocent? Do you agree with her?

When Jane says that Daniel is being unusually silent, he says in return, “That’s how men cry” (532/568). What does this tell us about Daniel, or about male behavior? Here and elsewhere, do you find the book’s judgments about gender differences valid?

While taking in the view from the Kobbet el Hawa cliff, Daniel has a kind of waking black-out:

“For a brief but abyss-like space he was not at all sure where he was, what he was doing . . . it was like a mechanical trip in the normal current of consciousness . . . he found it ominous, unpleasant; as if he, all around him, was an idea in someone else’s mind, not his own . . . the perceived world was as thin as an eggshell, a fragile painted flat, a back-projection . . . and behind, nothing.” (534/570-71)


This is the same setting where the Herr Professor had his strange experience of timelessness. What significance do you attribute to Daniel’s temporary disorientation? What place does it mark in either his inward or outward journey?

Daniel occasionally refers to himself as a liar (542/579, 545/583). Do you find his ways of lying justifiable? Do the lies he tells serve a larger truth, or only his personal convenience?

What does Kitchener’s Island represent to Daniel, and to his film-script? What does it represent to Jane?


3. Chapter 41: “In the Silence of Other Voices”

In connection with the chapter’s title, how many examples of “other voices” did you notice? What is the nature of the silence that lies behind them?

In the Georg Lukács book given to him by Jane, Daniel marks and re-reads a passage about the novelist Walter Scott. What similarities do you find between Daniel Martin and the typical Walter Scott hero as described by Lukács? (551/589-90)

Daniel suggests that military officer Herbert Kitchener’s secret had been “driving ambition . . . the ability to do, to ride roughshod” (551/590). About his own ambition to write a novel, however, Daniel feels paralyzed by what he calls “the terror of the task” (552/590). What link does this passage make between feeling terrified and achieving some great task?


4. Chapter 42: “Flights”

In this chapter, what flights are taken, and by whom? How does the metaphor of flight apply to Daniel and Jane, either separately or together? What “flights” have they taken in the past? What flights are they still taking in the present?

During their final visit to Kitchener’s Island, Daniel and Jane go for a stroll and then take seats overlooking the Nile. Their conversation gravitates toward sources of deep personal unrest (554-59/593-98). Although Jane talks about her plans for the future, she admits to feeling as if she’s wasted her life. Daniel includes both of them as he speaks about a basic life-quandary:

“I don’t know how people like us were meant to live this age, Jane. When it gives you only two alternatives . . . feel deprived or feel guilty. Play liberal or play blind. It seems to me that either way we’re barred from living life as it was meant to be.” (557/596)


This passage is central enough to the novel’s concerns that it might prompt you to spend time journaling. For modern women and men such as Jane and Daniel, how is life meant to be lived? Why does Daniel say that if he had another child, he would pray it was born subnormal? (557/596) How does one live purposefully and responsibly in a world where, as Daniel says, “the future gets more horrible to contemplate every day”?

While he and Jane return from Kitchener’s Island to the ship, Daniel reflects that “The compromises of his life seemed to lie on him almost physically, like warts. He no longer knew quite what was happening or what he was doing” (559/598). What compromises does he mean? Why would he notice them especially at this moment? What is the nature of the continuing disorientation he feels?

At the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan that evening, Daniel and Jane take seats on a terrace where they overhear a Russian woman giving an impromptu piano concert. Notice the interplay of dark and light, warm and cold, and sound and silence during this sequence (559-69/599-608). What effect do the setting and the music have on the conversation between Daniel and Jane?

During this terrace exchange, what prompts Daniel to recognize, for the first time, “the true difference between Eros and Agape”? (561/600)

In what ways does Anthony—Daniel and Jane’s “familiar compound ghost”--both join and separate the two of them? (565/604)

Other than Anthony, what is the “unbreakable glass” separating Daniel and Jane? (566/605)

After his terrace exchange with Jane, Daniel experiences “a strange conflict of feelings—like some equation too involved for his knowledge of emotional mathematics to solve” (569/608-9). What are the elements of this equation? As he turns out the light and goes to bed, how is it that he goes from being emotionally conflicted to arriving at “a kind of metaphysical smile, potential being making peace with actual being”? (569/609) (Compare this passage with the end of the chapter “Beyond the Door,” pp. 207-8/220-22.)


5. Chapter 43: “North”

Back in Cairo before their flight to Beirut, Daniel and Jane have lunch with Jimmy Assad, the Egyptian film-world liaison (572/612). Daniel broods over his earlier conversation with Jane, in which she had equated love with prison. Daniel can’t help but notice how unlike a prison her present surroundings are. After all, he reasons, it’s because of him that she has come to Egypt in the first place and can enjoy a lunch with Assad. He considers whether noticing this makes him a male chauvinist, but decides that “the self-accusation came from liberal convention, not personal conviction” (572/612). Which tendency, liberal convention or personal conviction, do you see more often in Daniel? Where else in the book do you see these two elements in contention?

At an American-style bar in a Beirut hotel, Daniel has a sharp longing for the peace and solitude of his home at Thorncombe: “Retreat, to lick wounds, to discover what had gone wrong; not only with Daniel Martin, but his generation, age, century” (574/615). This oft-quoted passage reaffirms that the novel is concerned not only with individual biography but with an entire 1940s-Oxford generation, with the condition of middle age, and with the twentieth century. In what ways does the novel examine or diagnose all of these elements? Has it succeeded in getting you to think or feel differently about Daniel’s generation (or your own); about middle age; about the past century?

Daniel reflects how, like many writers, he is unable to take refuge in organizations (whether religious or professional), and thus is unable to “share the guilt of the futility, the tedium of the treadmill, the horror of existence passed so, like caged animals” (574/615). As for his political identity, he says he feels “excluded” and even “castrated” by capitalism and socialism. Some writers do in fact take refuge in organizations and isms; why is Daniel unable or unwilling to do so? Given his resumed friendship with Jane, Daniel also feels newly uneasy about his sexual history, and his relationship with Jenny back in Los Angeles. At this point in the novel Daniel sees few things besides Thorncombe that he can turn to for solace. Are there elements you think he’s overlooking? If you were a counselor or coach, what would you tell him?

Increasingly Daniel focuses on Jane as his best hope of freedom. What traits in Jane inspire this response? Note the metaphors he uses, drawn from the realms of physics and mineralogy, to describe the roles that Jane Mallory and Nancy Reed have played in his inner life (575-76/615-16). Are there people who have played similar roles in your own development? From another perspective, what roles has Daniel played in Nancy and Jane’s lives? We know that he was unable to rescue Nancy from the life she now leads. Is it in his power to “rescue” Jane from hers, or to improve her situation? If so, in what ways?

Daniel looks in dismay at his relationship history, wondering whether everything traces back to Nancy Reed in his mid-teens, and habits he’s been unable to break since then. He considers whether his romance with Nancy was “the essential predisposing event of his emotional life . . . a first crystal, preforming all future relationships in his life to its particular polyhedral shape . . .” (575/615-16). Does his perception about Nancy cast new light on your reading of the “Phillida” chapter? Despite the element of personal dismay, this passage asserts that Daniel’s perception itself also constitutes a “crystal . . . of the kind that profoundly structures all narrative art” (575/615-16). What is this crystal, and how does it “profoundly structure all narrative art”? How has the episode with Nancy nourished Daniel as an artist?

Is Daniel now seeking the Nancy in Jane? Or is he perhaps trying, in a variety of ways, to understand the mother he never knew? (See the chapter “Rain,” 414/441: “. . . all of which could perhaps have been derived from that one wet gravestone, his unknown mother’s . . .”) What is Daniel seeking from the various women in his life? What are they seeking from him?

--Kelly
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Re: Reading group

Postby drkellyindc on Fri Jun 27, 2008 11:14 am

New teleseminar series to begin Tuesday, July 15

This will be a series of five 1-hour conference-call discussions about John Fowles's novel Daniel Martin. The first call will be Tuesday, July 15, 8:30-9:30 EST, and will cover the chapters "The Harvest" through "Breaking Silence." We'll continue our discussions on alternate Tuesday evenings through Sept. 9. The only costs involved are purchasing the book and making a long-distance phone call. If you're interested, contact me via this site or via my email, kelly@laughingmuse.com. I'll pass on the conference-call number and access code.

The questions I've posted about the novel on this thread may serve as a reader's guide.

--Kelly
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Re: Reading group

Postby drkellyindc on Fri Jun 27, 2008 11:54 am

Questions on Daniel Martin (Part V: “The End of the World” to “Future Past”)

Spoiler alert! This material covers the last three chapters of the novel. Be sure to read the chapters before reading the questions.

(Page numbers in parentheses refer first to the 629-page Little, Brown hard-cover edition from 1977, and then to the 673-page Signet paperback edition.)


Chapter 44: “The End of the World”

What meanings does the title phrase “the end of the world” hold for you? What does it mean in a physical, political, or spiritual sense? What connotations does it acquire in the chapter? At least one meaning Fowles associated with this phrase is entirely positive. In his philosophical book The Aristos (chapter 8, item 11), he posits one aspect of the well-lived life as “reading about the ends of the world and going to the ends of the world.” What purposes are served by going to the ends of the world?

In what ways does Palmyra qualify as the “end of the world”? Some of the figures in this section of the novel are native-born Syrians--what would the end of the world be for them?

What are Daniel’s stated reasons for proposing the trip to Palmyra? (See the end of the chapters “Nile” and “Kitchener’s Island.”) Are there reasons he doesn’t state?

How does the rationale for the Palmyra trip change during the course of the journey? (577-84/617-25) What effect do the passing landscapes and the emotional texture of the journey have on the travelers?

Daniel and Jane’s driver from Beirut to Palmyra is named Labib. What kind of person is he? In his complaining about government restrictions, he is likened to “some innocent landed in the middle of a Kafka novel” (579/619). Compared with Daniel and Jane, what human traits does Labib represent? What element would the trip lack without him?

Shortly after stopping at the town of Homs, Daniel and Jane glimpse a man by the roadside holding out a dead bird (580-81/621). What sensory impression does this moment create? What responses does it evoke in the three passengers? What symbolism does it carry?

While they wait for dinner at the Hotel Xenobia, Daniel divulges to Jane what his daughter Caro had told him back in London: that Jane regards him as “someone in permanent flight from his past. From all enduring relationship” (589/630). Since it reflects badly on him, why does Daniel keep this item stored and use it strategically at this moment? Why does it upset Jane to know that Caro had passed this on to him? Do you see Daniel as capable of stopping the flight from his past and from any lasting relationship? What evidence is there to support this?

Later in the same discussion, Daniel confronts Jane with his conviction that she “murdered” something in both of them, and in Anthony as well, all those years ago at Oxford (590/631). Do you agree with him? If so, what was it that Jane murdered? What reason might be offered for her action? Is there a way of defending what she did?

After Jane turns down Daniel’s offer to share his room at Hotel Xenobia, he recoils against what he sees as the high-mindedness of her refusal. The blame for this, he reflects, lies in self-obsession disguised as liberal scruples, and in unthinking conformity to the “age’s notion of spiritual nobility” (593/634). How would you describe the contemporary age’s notion of spiritual nobility? Daniel considers that if Jane were to see their situation without these protective filters, she would have to admit that she, like Daniel, is “just an animal with one brief existence on a dying planet” (593/634). Notice the effect this phrase has, coming as it does in a passage about inauthentic ways of thinking and behaving. What truth, if any, does this phrase uncover about Daniel and Jane, or about all humans and the world we live in?

What finally changes Jane’s mind about spending the night in Daniel’s room? How would you characterize the physical encounter that follows? (597-600/639-42) Afterwards, Daniel reflects that “something far more profound than hazard, than the coincidences of destiny, willed this” (601/642). What is this “something”? What do you make of the chapter’s final sentence, either in itself, or in light of what happens next? (601/643)


Chapter 45: “The Bitch”

What are Jane’s reasons for leaving Daniel to wake up alone? Beyond her stated reasons, are there unstated reasons? (602-4/645-47)

In the description of the ruins at Palmyra, notice how ancient and modern references are interspersed (603-608/645-50). Does this chapter concern the ruin of an ancient civilization, or of a modern one?

The previous chapter described Daniel and Jane’s after-dinner walk amid “the scattered, veiled debris of a lost civilization” (595/637). The narration remarked on “the contrast of the reality with the promise of the name: Palmyra, with all its connotations of shaded pools, gleaming marble, sunlit gardens, the place where sybaritic Rome married the languorous Orient” (595/637). Describe the effect of the setting and its symbolism. (You may want to access wikipedia’s entry on Palmyra for further background and a few photos.)

Why is Palmyra’s lifelessness “beyond all powers of humor or belittling”? (605/647)

In what ways do Daniel and Jane stand “at the opposite poles of humanity”? (607/649)

Near Diocletian’s Camp, Jane and Daniel hear the whimpering of two dun-colored puppies. The sound is described as “an unhappiness from the very beginning of existence” (608/650). What meaning do you ascribe to this phrase? One scholar has pointed out the relevance to this passage of the final line of T. S. Eliot’s poem “Hollow Men,” in which the world ends “Not with a bang, but with a whimper.” However, although the Palmyra segment of the novel deals with “end-of-the-world” concerns, the sound made by the puppies is linked to the very beginning of existence, not the end. What reason can you give for Fowles’s stretching the time continuum at both ends?

What is it about the puppies that gets through to Jane?

Prompted by Jane’s response to the puppies, Daniel dismisses the judgments and emotions he had nursed all morning. What does it mean that “all he had thought and felt in that last three quarters of an hour was . . . sand”? (609/651)

Daniel describes Jane as epitomizing “right feeling” (609/651-52). Why does her positive ability to feel more deeply than most people have the negative consequence of limiting and confusing her rational vision, and making her more susceptible to “countless errors of actual choice”? (609/652)

Daniel sees at least one aspect of Jane’s behavior reflected in the culture at large: “It’s our stupid, one-dimensional age, Jane. We’ve let daylight usurp everything, all our instincts . . . all we don’t know in ourselves” (610/652). How is this observation supported (or complemented) elsewhere in the novel?

Physically and symbolically, what does Jane leave behind at Palmyra?

Describe “distraction behavior” and how it might apply to Jane’s actions (608-12/650-54).


Chapter 46: “Future Past”

Describe the effect of the George Seferis poetry at the start of the chapter (615/658). (See earlier excerpts of Seferis’s poetry at the start of chapter 1, “The Harvest,” and chapter 8, “The Umbrella.”)

Describe the exchange between Daniel and Jenny in the pub, and then at the Heath. What is really transpiring between them? Despite Jenny’s bitterness, Daniel’s half-truths, and role-playing on both sides, do any authentic feelings come through?

Daniel notices Jenny isn’t listening to his description of Egypt, and he reads a message into it: “She was showing him now he would be got over, it would be got over. Our time’s slick comedown from Forster’s Only connect . . . only reify” (623/666) To “reify” means to treat a living and spiritual entity as if it were not living and not spiritual. What does this phrase mean in the context of Daniel and Jenny’s relationship? Will the feelings they have explored for each other become, in the weeks ahead, mere “sand” (to use the previous chapter’s metaphor), or will some element endure?

(The E. M. Forster reference comes from this passage in the novel Howards End, chapter 22: “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.”)

Describe the effect of the Rembrandt self-portrait in the novel’s closing paragraphs (628/672). What do you make of the conflict between Rembrandt’s “entire knowledge of his own genius” and “the inadequacy of genius before human reality”? Why is genius inadequate before human reality?

Why does staring at the painting make Daniel feel “dwarfed,” and induce in him “a kind of vertigo”?

Finding only one form of consolation in the Rembrandt portrait, the novel affirms “choosing and learning to feel” over skill, knowledge, intellect, and good or bad luck. It posits this memorable line as “the ultimate citadel of humanism”: “No true compassion without will, no true will without compassion.” Reflecting back on Daniel Martin, in what ways do you see the characters actively choosing and learning to feel? In what ways does the novel reveal will and compassion as reciprocally or symbiotically related?

In the novel’s final paragraph, we learn that Daniel is “never going to write” his novel, and that it “can never be read, lies eternally in the future.” In what sense or senses could this be true? (629/673)

In the last sentence we learn that Daniel, prompted partly by Jane’s laughter, has decided to make his initial idea for the novel’s final sentence into its first sentence. What effect does this create? Why is Daniel’s concern about a final sentence deemed Irish? What does it mean that the novel’s actual first sentence is described as “impossible”? (629/673)
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Re: Reading group

Postby drkellyindc on Sat Jun 28, 2008 6:03 pm

Our fourth phone discussion began with “Westward” (ch. 29) and ended with the opening pages of “Pyramids and Prisons” (ch. 35). This month’s reading took us through a range of material, including

- Daniel’s first romance, with Nancy Reed, during the summer of his 16th year (“Phillida”);

- a soulful fireside talk between Daniel and Jane (“Thorncombe”);

- the late-night orchard walk where Daniel comes to “the most important decision of his life” (“In the Orchard of the Blessed”);

- a tantalizing “did-she-or-didn’t-she” account of seduction in sunny, affluent Bel-Air, Los Angeles (“A Third Contribution”); and

- the flight to Cairo and the beginning of the Egypt section (“Pyramids and Prisons”).

- - -

In the chapter “Phillida,” people found Daniel and Nancy’s star-crossed summer romance both sweet and sad. It’s conducted with the utmost secrecy, in the wilds of nature, where the two teenagers can steal occasional moments away from parental supervision, war-time discipline, class division, and other constraints. Daniel is instinctively drawn to Nancy and the Reed family for their connection to the earth; also, he sees in Old Mr. Reed someone who embodies a faith and a spiritual presence that his own father lacks, though he is a preacher. Daniel is initially baffled by Nancy’s mixed signals; and then overjoyed and anxious as the two of them admit to feelings for each other. We see Daniel at a disarming phase of his development, awkwardly trying to figure out what Nancy wants, even as he tests the boundaries of what she will allow. This is the longest chapter in the novel, and includes some of its most unfiltered expressions of feeling: ecstasy, loss, rage, fear, guilt, shock, tenderness, misery, frustration . . . the whole gamut. Before the summer is out, though, meddling parents bring Daniel and Nancy’s romance to an abrupt close. Summoned into his father’s study, Daniel receives his wages for helping out at the Reed’s farm, along with a parting gift: The Young Christian’s Guide to English History. The book’s title has a terrible irony, given that it’s revealed at the same moment that Daniel’s budding connection with Nancy is demoted to “history”; further, Daniel is in fact a young atheist who spends the next few hours consumed by loathing toward his father’s Christian God.

Back in the contemporary narrative (“Thorncombe”), we now understand the full implications of Daniel’s having purchased and moved into the house that once belonged to the Reeds. In this chapter, Daniel and Jane talk in front of a hearth fire in Daniel’s living room. Both of them speak frankly about their own mid-life challenges and misgivings. After Daniel’s re-entry to the family orbit, he and Jane become increasingly aware of how differently their lives have turned out. Jane has had an insular North-Oxford existence as Anthony’s wife and the mother of Rosamund, Anne, and Paul; Daniel’s career as a playwright-turned-scriptwriter has been more outwardly exciting but has left him feeling rootless and unfulfilled. Daniel looks across the distance of years and finds that he’s both intrigued and puzzled by Jane. (The next day, after an indulgent transatlantic call to Jenny in L.A., Daniel reflects on a small telling detail about Jane: whether out of thrift or due to her Marxist principles, she chooses to buy a second-class train ticket for her return to Oxford.)

After the evening discussion at Thorncombe, Daniel goes for a late-night walk on his property, and engages in a kind of philosophical wrestling-match with the spirit of the age (“In the Orchard of the Blessed”). He openly questions whether he can escape its dictates and constraints, either as a man or as an artist. In the dense night air, surrounded by the ancient presence of trees he has known from his boyhood, Daniel comes to the most important decision of his life. The specific content of this decision is left to our imagination, but it clearly involves rejecting a host of constraints—cultural fashion, elitist guilt, and existentialist nausea—in favor of what Daniel refers to as “the real.” This moment is consistent with numerous others that define Daniel’s quest for a greater authenticity, both in his life and in his art.

The following morning, Daniel goes for a rain-spattered walk at Thorncombe with the brooding teenager Paul (Jane and Anthony’s son). One of our members suggested that Paul would benefit from being sent off to boot camp or Outward Bound (!). However, the same member admitted that he could identify with Paul’s tendency to become focused on a particular undertaking and to pursue it with single-minded devotion.

The next chapter, “A Third Contribution,” brings a major shift in geography, climate, writing style, and perspective. Jenny’s long, hand-written missive to Daniel begins in anger and ends in defiance . . . incongruously, though, in between it deals with life among the wealthy, famous, and sexually emancipated in sun-drenched Bel-Air. One of our members said she read this chapter with a guilty sense of anticipation, curious about what would happen next. Another said that in this chapter Jenny turns the tables on Daniel, reversing their roles as “ingénue” and “sophisticate.” We never know what actually takes place between Jenny, her co-star Steve, and his sister Kate. However, regardless of the tradeoff between fact and invention in this account, Jenny is announcing a new Pygmalion-like sense of independence from Daniel.

In a very different part of the world, Daniel and Jane make preparations for a trip to Egypt (“Pyramids and Prisons”). As soon as their plane touches down in Cairo, they are surrounded by noise and chaos at the airport. Jane has never been to Africa before, and is taken aback by what non-European poverty looks like up close.

- - -

One of our members spoke of how she is seeing parallels between Daniel Martin’s concerns and those we are contending with in the world today. She said many people are grappling with the issue of where America is headed. We hear various decline narratives, and plenty of voices mimicking the pessimism of Miles Fenwick (the conservative M.P. from the “Compton” chapter). As a nation, as a world, where are we going?

In my view, the novel we're reading builds a foundation layer by layer until it's solid enough to support the weight of just such questions.

- - -

I’m asking members to complete the novel in time for our next discussion, set for July 14.

--Kelly
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Re: Reading group

Postby drkellyindc on Wed Jul 16, 2008 12:37 pm

Our fifth discussion of Daniel Martin took us through the Egypt and Syria chapters and to the end of the novel. Here are some reflections from the conversation—my own, interspersed with those of others. I invite others to fill in what I missed, or what we didn't get to during the call. (Caution: there are spoilers coming up!)

During the Nile cruise, the novel’s social world expands to include representatives of the main Western tribes—France, Germany, Eastern Europe, England, and the U.S. In this cosmopolitan setting, Daniel and Jane regard their fellow passengers from an anthropological remove. Given that Daniel tends to pronounce judgments on both the cruise-goers and the ancient sites they visit, we found Jane’s instinctual side and “right-brain” energy welcome.

Daniel and Jane embody numerous polarities, or paired opposites, including masculine/feminine, logic/intuition, drifter/joiner, artist/activist, and egoist/idealist. The tension between them has many layers, and goes well beyond the matter of their physical or romantic compatibility. A basic challenge for both of them is how to combine complexity and vitality (or “greenness,” in the novel's special sense of the term). Stated differently, they need to find their place on the “civilization continuum.” Interestingly, they place the U.S. couple Marcia and Mitch on the under-civilized side of the continuum, but the Herr Professor places Daniel and Jane on the over-civilized side.

Through the course of the novel we’ve seen a lot of Daniel and Jane’s missteps—for instance, Daniel betrays his Oxford friends and his own artistic gifts by writing a play blaming them for his faults; and Jane seeks refuge in Catholic and Marxist dogma, and stays in a lifeless marriage. Both of them fail to acknowledge and follow through on the feelings they discovered for each other at Oxford on the day of the woman in the reeds. In middle age, Daniel and Jane are both trying to put a host of bad decisions behind them. However, part of the excitement of the novel’s second half is the dawning sense (in them and in us) that they both have something to move toward. Seen in the long view, the novel traces Daniel and Jane’s arduous, decades-long journey toward true instinct and “right feeling.”

During the Nile cruise, a rising pressure in Daniel prompts him to initiate deeper discussions with Jane. On a visit to his beloved Kitchener’s Island, he listens as Jane reveals a stymied sense of loss about her life, or what she might have given it. For his part, Daniel speaks with distress about not knowing how people like he and Jane were meant to live the present age. “When it gives you only two alternatives . . . feel deprived or feel guilty. Play liberal or play blind.” He says that if he had another child he would pray it was born subnormal; at least that way, he reasons, it would be spared the full brunt of living in “a world where the future gets more horrible to contemplate every day.”

This reopened discussion about how Daniel Martin seems to anticipate the planetary crisis we’re facing today, and offers tools for dealing with it. One member referred to other books she’s reading, about possible widespread environmental/social/political collapse—The World Without Us and World Made By Hand. I spoke about recent dystopian or post-apocalyptic literature such as Children of Men and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and how they raise similar fate-of-civilization issues. I keep returning to Daniel Martin, though, as a book which raises such issues without being engulfed by them, without succumbing to ideology or flatness, and without losing its sense of humor, its humanity, and a dozen other things that make life worth living.

Daniel Martin is rare in facing up to a tangle of concerns about civilization, and managing to chart a path through them. (As Fowles writes in The Aristos, “The great artists who have gone to the dark poles have been driven there. They are always looking back towards the light.”) The novel’s opening Gramsci epigraph suggests a spiritual cycle moving toward a rebirth that may take decades or even centuries to be realized. The novel’s symbolism in the Palmyra section suggests a cycle that spans even longer--from the beginning of time . . . to the end of the world. Palmyra explicitly symbolizes “the end of the world,” and yet what Daniel and Jane discover there is “an unhappiness from the very beginning of existence.” This unhappiness is embodied in two whimpering puppies, whose vulnerability breaks through all of Jane’s defenses. What happens in this scene is physical—the puppies and their mother, Jane’s tears, her burying her wedding ring in the sand—but each detail is also symbolically charged. The novel’s resolution can be seen as accessing a source of healing or transformation not only for Jane and Daniel but also for the rest of humanity and, if you will, for existence itself. Daniel and Jane find, amid the appalling ruins of Palmyra, a mythic wellspring of instinct, right feeling, and hope.

We didn’t have time to discuss Daniel’s subsequent talk with Jenny, or his encounter with the Rembrandt self-portrait. So much to synthesize! And then just when it looked as if this long novel had come to an end, its final line seems to ask us to start over from the beginning. I’m reminded of T. S. Eliot's “Four Quartets”: “We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.”

This was the last of our official phone-bridge discussions, though we may continue to weigh in on the website, or may schedule a future call. Thanks to all for making this a rich journey.

--Kelly
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Re: Reading group

Postby drkellyindc on Wed Jul 16, 2008 6:22 pm

Hi David,

Terrific to hear about your book-group plans! I'll be glad to hear about your third reading and the group's discussion. Feel free to pass along the chapter-by-chapter questions I've posted here to anyone they might assist. I'd love to be in touch with the British member of your circle; I know there are things I miss in the novel by not being from Daniel's home country. Congratulations about all the recognition you're getting as an actor. Keep in touch.

--Kelly
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Re: Reading group

Postby drkellyindc on Sat Aug 13, 2011 9:47 am

`
PLACE AND PEOPLE:
A CHRONOLOGY OF THE FLAT IN NOTTING HILL, LONDON



This new entry in my readers’ study guide focuses on the segmented story of what happens in and around Dan’s flat in Notting Hill, London.

Introduction:
    Dan’s flat in Notting Hill, London, is almost like a character in its own right. Key events of the novel happen in and near the flat, and it’s invested with a host of judgments and projections. The flat is a recurrent trigger point in family dynamics between Dan, Nell, and Caro. Because its story is interspersed with others, and is presented out of chronological sequence, I wanted to see what would emerge if this aspect of the novel were isolated and presented linearly. What I gained from assembling this material is a better grasp of connections between the flat and its inhabitants, and a lesson about the tradeoff involved in being an urban, as opposed to a rural or suburban, dweller.

Terminology:
  • “Flat” in this context is a chiefly British term for an apartment or suite of rooms on one floor of a building.
  • “99-year lease” refers to the longest possible term of a lease of property, under historic common law (see the Wikipedia entry on this term)

Synopsis:
    Dan obtains a 99-year lease on the Notting Hill flat in 1952, and he and Nell live there during the latter years of their marriage. Dan’s girlfriend Andrea moves in before his official divorce in 1956; she lives there for about two years. Later, the Cockney sisters Miriam and Marjory live there for about two months. After a transitional period in which Dan uses the flat sporadically when he’s in London, he offers it to his and Nell’s daughter Caro. She moves in during the early phase of her life as a working secretary in London, and then moves out in 1974, shortly after Dan’s return from Los Angeles.


I. Pre-history: 1951-1952.

Dan marries Nell soon after she takes her finals at Oxford. They have a “token honeymoon” with Anthony and Jane in Italy in summer 1951, and then live in London during the winter of 1951-52. Their first address is a tiny mews flat near Bromton Road (141). Nell works at home as a publisher’s reader (143) while Dan begins his foray into the cinema world from an office in Wardour Street (142). His first infidelities (other than with Jane at Oxford) happen during this time: the “British Open” in particular leaves him feeling stunned and miserable (144-6). Dan and Nell take a holiday in France (146-7)—their “true” honeymoon, and where they conceive Caro. They discuss finding a bigger flat or a small house back in London (147). During this period Dan has his first major success as a playwright, with “The Red Barn” (147-8).


II. Initial lease of the flat, and the birth of Caro: 1952-1953.

Dan and Nell consider getting a cottage at Wytham, just outside of Oxford, but finally commit to a flat in Notting Hill (148). Dan regards the 99-year lease of this flat as “probably the best business deal I ever did, unaided, in my life” (148). Still, he and Nell “began having doubts as soon as they moved in.” They furnish the house with upscale Heal’s, which is too pricey for them. Nell is irritable during her pregnancy, resents being left alone, and harks back to their “dear little” mews near Bromton Road. In the last months of her pregnancy, they go out almost every evening—Dan comes to see this as a way of avoiding arguments. Caro is born on April 10, 1953, and the Notting Hill flat becomes her first home (148, 134). Dan decides that the flat (tacitly like Caro) was a “good idea at the time, but only too often an apparent mistake in the actual experience” (149).


III. Marital decline and divorce: 1953-1956.

By the summer of 1953, Dan spends more time away from the flat. Nell makes frequent visits to Jane and Anthony’s at Wytham, and decamps there in late summer until Dan comes to fetch her back (149-50). This marks one phase in the “downward progression” of Dan and Nell’s marriage (149).

A sharp argument begins one evening at the flat after Dan is sexually rebuffed. Nell says she wants a divorce (153-5). She accuses Dan of having an affair with “that Polish cow” Andrea; Dan denies it. Nell complains of being “cooped up” in “this ghastly white elephant of a flat” while Dan is away at work and hobnobbing with film-world people (155).

They consider whether to stay at the flat; a round of house-hunting reveals that prices are beginning to rise (155). Ironically, Dan and Nell’s argument does bring Andrea and Dan a step closer to each other, and what eventually results in their two-year relationship.

In spring 1955 Nell takes Caro and decamps to Jane and Anthony’s home in Wytham, just outside of Oxford. A few days later, Anthony comes down for a visit. Dan takes him to lunch near the flat in Notting Hill; they discuss whether Dan’s marriage with Nell is salvageable (171).

About this time, Dan’s girlfriend Andrea moves in (172), and proves exceptionally pleasant to live with (174).

Shortly after Caro’s third birthday, in spring 1956, Nell initiates the divorce action, and she and Dan meet in court to legally dissolve the marriage (172).


IV. Transitional period: mid-1950s to the early 1970s.

Dan and Nell virtually don’t speak with each other for three years after the divorce (124). Then Nell marries Andrew and moves to Compton (circa 1958-1959).

Dan splits with Andrea in the late 1950s, and meets Miriam and Marjory a year later. Miriam moves in, and then Marjory; they both leave abruptly two months later (255). After their departure, Dan visits New Mexico (343).

Dan retains ownership of the flat, and uses it when he’s in London.


    Background.
    In 1964, Dan purchases the estate at Thorncombe, where the Reed family once lived. Caro is his most frequent visitor there (137), and has rooms both there and at her main home, the Compton estate (134).

    Caro is raised at Andrew Randall’s palatial country estate at Compton, where her mother is “Lady Randall” (125). Caro goes to what Dan calls a “wretched boarding-school for upper-class fools” (99), and Dan sees her only on occasion. In 1972, when Caro is 18, Nell and Dan have to face the problem of a career for her (99). They decide she is not “university material”; she also doesn’t want to go abroad (99-100). She eventually settles for a secretarial course “run for similar poor little rich girls” in Kensington. At this time she lives in “a hostel run like a prison-camp” (100)—which wakes her up to her hitherto shrouded life at Compton. Dan rediscovers her during this period; they have an innocent “long-delayed little father-daughter affair” (100).


V. Caro as a young professional: 1970s.

After her Kensington secretarial course is finished, Caro gets a newspaper secretarial job on Fleet Street, in London, and begins a serious relationship with Richard. She fancies a flat of her own, but accepts Dan’s offer to let her take over his flat during his California stint. This is the flat that he and Nell had graduated to at the end of their marriage. It’s an old-fashioned, large flat, still on the 99-year lease that Dan began in 1952 (100). It’s a solid step up from the hostel she’d lived in during her secretarial course.

Caro moves in, and a month or two later Dan moves out. Caro keeps up a pretense of “awfulness” about not having found anywhere else to live—a pretense that hurts Dan, and defines much that remained not quite natural in their relationship (100-1). That is, she’s embarrassed about receiving it from him, rather than showing more of her own independence.


    Background.
    Caro’s new boss is media idol Bernard Dillon, a former Oxford classmate of Dan’s. Bernard and Dan were not close at Oxford, and became further distanced when Bernard, as a theater critic, comprehensively panned Dan’s fifth play, about the breakup of his marriage (103, 121, 175).

    A month or so before Dan’s return to England to visit Anthony, Caro dramatically ends her relationship with Richard (119-20). Soon after this, she begins an affair with her boss, Bernard.

    On the day of Dan’s flight into Heathrow, Caro spends the afternoon looking for flats. She finds a place in Kentish Town that’s en route to Muswell Hill (where Bernard lives). It’s furnished, but she wants to borrow items from the Notting Hill flat, perhaps just to make Dan still feel needed (131). The choice of Kentish Town is partly symbolic—not only her father was being rejected.

    Caro drives to Heathrow to pick up Dan, where there’s an awkward meeting between her, Dan, Bernard, and Bernard’s wife Margaret (117-9). At this point Margaret is about a week away from learning about the affair (479).


Dad’s back in town.
As Caro drives Dan to the Notting Hill flat, they discuss her new job, and family matters. She welcomes him at the flat with fresh flowers, an unopened bottle of whisky, Malvern water, and a glass by the electric fireplace (122).

Dan notices that nothing much has changed about the flat—a new cushion on one of the settees—and this disappoints him. He wishes that Caro had given herself “a little more freedom,” though he realizes that for her, “home” must always mean Compton—a place as remote from the flat as Versailles is from a cottage (123). He realizes Caro will never really take ownership of the flat.

Dan sips the whisky by the fireplace and reminisces about his divorce, and Nell’s telling him about her plans to marry Andrew; her becoming “Lady Randall” (124-5). Dan considers whether Nell was right and there was an aura of despair about the flat, “of makeshift and wrong choice” (126).

Caro interrupts Dan’s musing by saying she can’t sleep, and divulges that she’s having an affair with Bernard (126). A difficult conversation ensues, in which Dan has to confess to certain parallels between his relationship with Jenny and Bernard’s with Caro (126-32).

The next morning, Caro gives Dan “the full treatment for breakfast, no Continental nonsense” (133). Listening to Caro talking about the flat, Dan tries to accept her desire to leave it as a natural thing: her “wanting to strike out on her own, live like other girls” (133).

After Caro leaves for work that morning, Dan somewhat guiltily goes and looks in her room—the one she’d had as a baby, and which she now has again as an adult professional. The room gives further evidence to Dan that she hasn’t truly made the place her own:
It was rather sad . . . depersonalized and temporary, a shade too tidy, as if she were still living in a hostel. No litter of clothes, of cosmetics, none of the junk one might have seen in the room of a student of her age. No books. A painting of an old carthorse, worn and frameless, that we had bought off a stall in the Portobello Road one Saturday morning . . . There were some snaps of the family down at Compton stuck in the side of her dressing-table mirror; and I saw one of the Cabin at Abe’s that I had sent her. I suppose I was looking for some positive evidence that Barney came to the flat . . . or letters, I don’t know. But I opened no drawers. I was really looking for Caro. (134)



    Tragedy in Oxford.
    From the London flat Dan takes the train to Oxford for his hospital visit with Anthony. Shortly after their visit, while Dan has dinner with Anthony’s wife Jane, Anthony commits suicide by jumping out of the hospital’s third-floor window. For several days matters revolve around the newly widowed Jane, who is Caro’s aunt.


Caro’s impending move, and Dan’s restless night.
During Dan’s visit to Oxford, Caro goes to see the Kentish Town flat again. By phone she tells Dan she feels as if she’s walking out on him; also that she has first refusal, and needs help for the first month’s rent (223-4).

When Dan returns from Oxford, Caro takes him to see the new Kentish Town flat (237). The flat and district don’t appeal to him, but he sees that her heart is set on it, so he approves and pays the first month’s rent. Back at the Notting Hill flat, Dan can’t sleep, and calls Jenny in Los Angeles.

Later that evening, as he looks out into the London night, his attention is drawn to a street scene below. A policeman at first appears to be issuing a summons to an old tramp, but instead offers him a cigarette (243-5). On a day that he’s felt imprisoned by middle-class niceties, Dan perceives a special kind of freedom enacted outside. He recognizes the obvious class disparity between him and the tramp, but feels that it is belied by another, more vital reality, one that he can’t access. He reflects on his own limited perspective, and sees in the policeman’s act of generosity a spark of divinity (245).


“Hollow Men”: Dan’s fraught meeting with Bernard.
Three days after Caro tells Dan about her affair with Bernard, Dan accepts Bernard’s offer to have lunch with him (270-9). They meet at a busy Covent Garden restaurant. Talking with Bernard—about the affair and about their involvement in the communications industry—leaves Dan feeling deflated. Returning to Notting Hill, Dan spends the rest of the day and evening alone at the flat. He can’t decide whether to sell it; he wonders if Nell was right about there being something hostile about it (155, 279). He reflects on Caro’s imminent departure, and feels a pang of abandonment (“No one loves me, no one cares”) (279). Dan waits up for Caro until midnight, then goes to bed, writing the day off as a loss (279).

Caro gets back later from whatever assignation place she and Bernard have arranged while Dan is staying at the Notting Hill flat (311).


“Solid Daughter”: Dan’s heart-to-heart with Caro.
The next morning, Caro appears in a dressing-gown after Dan has finished breakfast (280). Dan admits that he spent the previous evening “tearing his hair”--not about Caro, but rather about the flat. He tells her about his plan to spend a year writing at Thorncombe. He wonders whether to sell the flat and get something smaller, or perhaps to sublet it until Caro may want it again. With mock-gallantry Dan tells her that he awaits her permission to move to Thorncombe; she says that it’s bad enough having one parent (i.e., Nell at Compton) “moaning about living in Outer Siberia,” let alone two (281). Dan reassures her: “My dear girl, I’m not going to Thorncombe to leave you behind” (282).

However, the timing of Dan’s news upsets Caro, and reopens an old wound about his absenteeism as a dad. Caro tells him,
“You suddenly spring this thing about the flat and Thorncombe at me, and I feel I’m back at square one. This mysterious person who flits in and out of my life. And who doesn’t seem to understand I miss him now when he’s not there.” (283)



Notes toward “The Sacred Combe.”
After this series of delayed father-daughter confessions, Dan begins assembling notes on why he would move professionally from film-script writing to attempting a novel—deserting a known and safe medium for one whose mysteries and complexities he doesn’t know. He writes these notes in his study at the Notting Hill flat; at Thorncombe, Dan later revises these notes into a chapter about the artistic need for retreat (287-94).


Indecision and last developments about the flat.
Dan is left with a feeling that he shouldn’t walk out on Caro during her last days at the Notting Hill flat. They both haver about what to do with the flat, and elect to postpone a decision. Dan hopes that the havering on her side involves a recognition that her affair with Bernard must end someday (295).

In the week before Caro moves out of the flat, she gets home usually just after midnight, but at least once, well after 3 a.m. (311-2). To Dan she looks permanently tired, but not unhappy. He unthinkingly rejects her offer to type out a scene in progress from his Kitchener screenplay—and then thinks better of it. The half-hour she spends on the draft leads to a brief tutorial about film-writing, and to a touching moment in which Caro becomes “suddenly the younger child I had never known” (312).

Somewhat paradoxically, then, during the family visit to Compton, Dan admits to Nell that he still tends to treat Caro as a child (321).

When Dan next returns to the flat, he finds it “doubly empty”—owing to Caro’s absence being not just temporary this time but permanent, since she has moved out (476). His sense of emptiness is exacerbated yet again by his having to wait for her—this time to return from her weekend Paris trip with Bernard (477-8). Dan finally leaves a note for her at the flat and goes around the corner for dinner at an Italian restaurant.

Caro arrives before he’s finished there, and he orders coffee for her. She enthuses over her trip to Paris, and then they discuss Dan’s plan to take aunt Jane to Egypt. They also talk about Bernard, uncle Anthony and his suicide, and dynamics within the Mallory household. After an hour or so, Caro ends the discussion by saying, “Hey, you haven’t asked about my flat” (484)—that is, her new flat in Kentish Town, the one that puts her closer to Bernard. Readers are left to infer that Dan hasn’t asked about it because he’s still in denial: about the Notting Hill flat being deserted, and about Caro’s relationship with Bernard.

The novel’s final reference to these matters comes in the last chapter, after Dan’s Egypt trip with Jane, during Dan’s break-up discussion with Jenny. Jenny inquires about Caro’s status with Bernard, and Dan says that Bernard is now talking about divorcing Margaret. He adds, “I’m down to crossed fingers” (660).

* * * * *

Through this 22-year history, I think Fowles does an effective job of suggesting the complications connected with any residence of long-term duration. (Last year I helped my parents move from our family home in Portland, Oregon, which they had lived in for 58 years. What a huge task and sentimental journey that was!)

As I see it, Fowles uses the Notting Hill flat as a symbol for big-city life in general, with all its benefits and drawbacks. Further study could show how this urban material compares with some of the novel’s other model settings: Oxford, representing small-town university life; Compton, representing suburbia and the landed gentry; and Thorncombe, representing the rural and agricultural countryside. I wonder whether readers feel that he depicts these settings fairly and evenhandedly, without letting his personal biases intrude.

--Kelly
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