What is "whole sight"?

Discussions relating to John Fowles' novel Daniel Martin.

Re: What is "whole sight"?

Postby drkellyindc on Sat Jun 23, 2012 5:50 pm


IV. More on “eternal” matters:

    Will Dan and Jane be “eternally” haunted by Anthony?
    By taking his life so soon after making his bequest to Dan, Anthony places both Dan and Jane in a difficult position. In the days following the suicide, and on the Egypt trip, Dan acts more or less in accordance with his promise to Anthony that he will try to befriend and help Jane. One could ask, then: is he a free agent, or only doing Anthony’s bidding? Jane, for her part, is adjusting to widowhood, and reassessing the years she spent with Anthony. Is she a free agent, or is she only staging a revolt against her married identity, and resisting Dan’s efforts to carry out Anthony’s final wishes? In their discussion on the hotel terrace in Aswan, Egypt, Dan raises the issue of how Anthony divides the two of them, even though his final intention was to bring them together:

    “I suppose it’s that third person who’s always with us. Between us.”
    “Our familiar compound ghost.”
    “Which also joins us?”
    “As crossbeams join girders. Making sure they never touch.” (604)

    The narration makes Anthony a strongly present absence, and refuses to offer simple resolutions to Jane and Dan’s dilemma. That would all seem to support Dan’s suggestion that he and Jane are like crossbeams that never touch. Nonetheless, the two of them finally do find a way to connect despite the obstacle Anthony represents.

    Are Jane and Dan “eternally” irreconcilable?
    The novel judges at one point that Jane and Dan stand “at the opposite poles of humanity, eternally irreconcilable” (649). One could point to many factors confirming this judgment:

    • Jane and Dan’s history at Oxford in their student days and in their early adulthood: after their one-time sexual liaison, they both behave as if a more permanent union between them is impossible
    • their complicated link with Anthony
    • besides female and male, they embody numerous polarities or opposites, among them intuition vs. logic, joiner vs. drifter, activist vs. artist, and idealist vs. egoist
    • what Dan calls their “formidable list of misunderstandings to sort out” (630)
    • Jane’s “eternal unforgivingness,” her receding to a time “well before [Dan’s] knowing of her” (632)

    However, having asserted Jane and Dan’s “eternal” irreconcilability, the narration goes on to say there are not two poles but only one, and opens up the possibility of a reconciliation between Dan and Jane (652).


Thus the word “never” and “eternally” in these two usages work paradoxically, like the last four usages of “never” in the final chapter (see above). Dan describes the Nile River at one point as “the Heraclitean same and not the same” (526). It’s as if we’re intended to see Dan and Jane in the same light: as both eternally haunted and not haunted by Anthony, and as eternally irreconcilable and reconcilable.

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Re: What is "whole sight"?

Postby drkellyindc on Mon Sep 10, 2012 12:54 pm


V. The here and now: thought as it emerges in Daniel Martin.

In the last few postings I’ve explored how Daniel Martin “bends” our notions of time and what constitutes the timeless and the eternal. This posting goes to the other end of the time scale to deal with a “here and now” issue.

Recently I’ve noticed Fowles’s emphasis in Daniel Martin on showing Dan’s thoughts as they emerge in a present narrative moment. Instead of having Dan dispense ageless wisdom from a place of detached omniscience, he often lets us in to his thought processes as they are forming. This makes Dan more accessible and immediate as a character; it also makes engaging with his ideas an exploratory matter instead of a tutorial one.

A note of immediacy appears early on with the prefatory George Seferis poem, which leads up to a line serving as a springboard into the novel: “Then he told me the story of his life” (1). Through Seferis’s sonorous poetic voice, Fowles gives readers a sense that they’re invited into private audience with a great man, and permitted to hear his life story as it unfolds.

Here are some passages in which Dan’s thoughts are shown in the process of emerging:

  • As Dan settles into sleep after hearing about Anthony’s suicide, his mind reviews the day, and he has a startling feeling. Its immediacy is imparted through the word “now” and the use of dashes:
    And now—this seemed very near the heart of it to him—he felt that life itself had backed his view . . . It was like an unsettling of fixed statistical probability . . . a yes from the heart of reality to the supposed artifice of art. (221)

  • As he nears the end of his “fable” about the Cockney sisters Miriam and Marjory, Dan suddenly undercuts the notion that writing it down has brought him pleasure or artistic fulfillment:
    . . . those two have haunted me, as the dead haunt, making missed opportunities eternal--and making even this exorcism by the written word a vain and empty thing. (268)

  • In “The Sacred Combe,” Dan recalls the growing artistic realization he had in connection with his return to England. He uses the past tense, and yet the word “now” brings the passage into the present:
    And now, in London that morning, under the influence of the last twenty-four hours . . . I began to see the kind of trap I was in. (293)

  • This dawning realization prompts him to jot down his thoughts, which serve as working notes about the novel Dan imagines writing. Such early jottings are precisely the kind of thing most novelists keep out of the final manuscript:
    One note I wrote that morning ran . . . (293); I made another note that morning . . .. (294)

    These notes--about a character who “must be seen in flight,” and about “retreats from reality”--serve as memory aids for Dan when he composes the full “Sacred Combe” chapter later at Thorncombe. The notes also cue us as readers to notice shifts in Dan’s moral self-awareness, as he weighs the cost of having been “in flight” or in “retreat from reality” for so long.

  • As the narrator, Dan reveals his struggle to express the ineffable beauty of Tsankawi, New Mexico. He likens it to his beloved Thorncombe, then admits that “the analogy isn’t quite true,” and may seem “silly.” We get the impression of a writer leaning tentatively toward an idea that’s hard to express. When he arrives at the right term to describe Tsankawi, its rightness is confirmed in the moment by the simple phrase “that was it”:
    It validated, that was it; it was enough to explain all the rest, the blindness of evolution, its appalling wastage, indifference, cruelty, futility. (346)

    I hear a writer’s sense of discovery in the phrase “that was it.” I believe that all fiction writers have such moments of discovery, and yet most of them (appropriately) work to avoid disclosing them to readers in the finished product. Fowles is rare not only in disclosing such moments to readers, but in structuring his works in such a way that it’s appropriate for him to do so.

  • Near the end of the Nancy Reed chapter, Dan takes a moment to note that Thorncombe is not only the former home of the Reed family, but is also where he’s writing the novel we’re reading:
    I could live a thousand years in this house where I write now, and never own it as they did; beyond all artifice of legal possession. (404)

  • Dan happens to meet Nancy Reed a quarter-century after their teenage romance, and he writes about his initial reaction. Then, bringing us again into the present narrative moment, he records his second reaction:
    I found it all vaguely amusing at the time; it hadn’t really distressed me till now, when I set it down. (406)

    As with the Miriam and Marjory disclaimer mentioned above, readers may have to take a moment to discard the sentimental notion that writing about a past love brings a wellspring of contentment. If they can let go of that idea, they may gain better access to the characters involved as well as to the narrator writing about them.

  • During their fireside talk in Dan’s living-room at Thorncombe, after their return from Compton, Dan suddenly invites Jane to join him on a trip to Egypt. Their exchange, as well as its reflective pauses, conveys the rhythms through which his and Jane’s ideas and feelings emerge. This lends a note of drama to the moment that Dan voices his invitation. His comment about needing “Dutch courage” (i.e., whisky) may sound facetious; still, the scene unfolds in a way that lets us see Dan gathering the fortitude he needs in order to have Jane take his invitation seriously:
    “If I were a doctor, I think I’d recommend something very traditional and simple. Like a holiday.” . . .
    I waited, watching her; hesitated, then joined her in staring at the fire.
    “I have a wild idea, Jane. It’s just come to me. Really off the top of my head. Would you be prepared to listen to it?”
    “I thought I had the corner in wild ideas.”
    “Not quite.” I stood. “Just let me get a little more Dutch courage.” . . .
    I went away to the cupboard, and began talking. . .. (422)

  • The chapter “In the Orchard of the Blessed” follows Dan’s late-night thoughts as he walks through his orchard at Thorncombe. Here, more than anywhere else in the novel, Dan’s physical and mental activity coincide. The narration guides us step by step as he approaches “the most important decision of his life.” These three excerpts provide a hint of the immediacy and intimacy Fowles achieves in this philosophical high point of the novel:
    Even as Dan walked, he knew himself, partly in the very act of walking and knowing . . .. (428)

    . . . it had not occurred to the writer-to-be until this moment. Dan was at the bottom of his orchard by then, just above the stream. There was an obscure scuffle in the hedge to his right; some nocturnal animal, a hedgehog perhaps, or a badger. It was too dark to see. He waited a moment or two, distracted from his self-preoccupation, listening for a further sound. But none came. (431)

    And then, in those most banal of circumstances, in the night, in his orchard, alone but not alone, he came to the most important decision of his life. (431)

  • On his final night in Aswan, Egypt, Dan turns from reading the Hungarian theorist whose book Jane had given him, and begins writing a key scene for his Kitchener script. Fowles conveys the rhythms of thinking and editing in the passage, giving us a glimpse into Dan’s working methods as a writer:
    . . . Dan put Lukács aside, sat down and began working on his scene. Half an hour later he was re-reading the three pages he had filled. He started striking out dialogue. Gradually it became clear that the gist could be conveyed in the way Kitchener rode up, in his gaze and face, in the way he rode away; he needed to say nothing himself. It could all be done in the silence of other voices, was better so.

    Dan wrote a second draft, only a page long now . . . he circled that one phrase as he re-read the new draft: in the silence of other voices.

    Then he went to bed, able to sleep at last. (590-91)

    * * * * * *

Julian Huxley has described human beings as “evolution become conscious of itself.” Fowles takes this further, revealing in Daniel Martin human thought become conscious of itself.

Here are other elements in Daniel Martin that convey how thinking develops and changes:

  • Early in their marriage, Dan initially misreads an incident in which Nell tells off a drama critic who voices reservations about one of Dan’s plays. The account reveals what Dan thinks in the moment, as well as what he comes later to realize: “Dan even had to stop her writing a letter of apology the next day. At the time he put it down to overidentification. In reality it was a first declaration of career jealousy.” (141)

  • Dan indicates that his view of the playwright Bertolt Brecht has changed over time: “It was probably lucky that I had only the sketchiest notion at the time of what Brecht was getting at.” (147)

  • Jenny’s various “contributions” (31-43, 246-252, 355-6, 457-472) are written for an audience of two (herself and Dan). She isn’t constrained by all the concerns Dan has as a serious novelist and autobiographer. Jenny’s letter-writing style is spontaneous and freeform; she makes casual spot-checks and backward-glance revisions as she writes. For example:

    • She likens Dan to a neatly locked leather suitcase (33), then changes the metaphor to “an old split parcel” done up with clumsy knots (34).
    • She says of Dan in the context of L.A.: “You were like dark glasses” (249); later she retracts this judgment: “I don’t really mean it about dark glasses” (252).
    • Hindsight makes her suspect that Dan’s “proposal” to her in New Mexico was actually more like a non-proposal; this makes her wish she’d responded in kind: “I feel livid now that I didn’t say yes. Just to have called his bluff” (249).
    • Jenny says she once perceived Dan as “Mr. Knightley to my Emma” (characters from the Jane Austen novel Emma), and later disowns this view (“I must have been mad”) (249).

  • Fowles has Dan engage with writings by intellectuals Antonio Gramsci and Georg Lukács in the moment, rather than recall them from a safely objective remove (207, 315, 415, 487, 505, 523, 533). Dan works out his response to these thinkers through internal reflection and discussion with Jane. We have the benefit of seeing his connection to their ideas organically, as a process of emergence, instead of as fixed and definitive judgments. On his newfound interest in Lukács:
    Dan found himself falling under the great Hungarian’s spell . . . he was unexpectedly impressed, and felt both his world-view and his own being as a writer enlarged and redefined. (534)

  • Both Dan and Jane are captivated by the Egyptian playwright and performer Ahmed Sabry. We see glimpses of Jane’s response, mostly through Dan’s view (498-502). A condensed view of his own response: “Dan enjoyed this impromptu cabaret act . . . He felt his own mind being opened . . .” (500).

  • Dan’s thinking is often provoked or animated by Jane; she presents a riddle he keeps having to come back to. In certain passages we see evidence of his musing about her in what might be called psychological real time:
    • “It was almost a heuristic quality. Even when she was being thoughtless, she made him think” (441).
    • “Dan was very slowly realizing something: that he was looking or seeking for her old self as if it were a reality she was deliberately hiding from him . . . He made a mental resolve: I must treat this woman as she is” (514).

    * * * * * *

Cautionary alternatives: thought that has calcified.
“Thought as it emerges” finds its opposite in the novel as well: thought that has calcified. This is found in two characters who lack Dan’s broad-mindedness, vigorous curiosity, and emotional receptivity: Dan’s father, Parson Martin, and Dan’s best friend from Oxford, Anthony Mallory.

  • Parson Martin.
    Parson Martin has a mental rigidity stemming from his “totally accepted belief in the system, the existing social frame” (81). Instead of challenging himself intellectually, he takes refuge in the dogma of his church (615). His thinking is the opposite of “in the moment” or “up to the minute.” Most of his personal library dates from the 17th century (78). He keeps all topical references out of his sermons, even when England is fighting World War II (79). The parson has a “lifelong habit of sailing high over village heads” (78), with sermons that are “outstandingly dull,” delivered in a droning voice, on topics that are “characteristically irrelevant” and “remorselessly dry” (79).

    The vicarage parishioners have it easy, though, compared with what Dan suffers under his father’s mental influence. Outside the household, Dan is mocked by the cheekier village boys, who imitate his father’s pulpit voice (78-9). Within the household, the parson regards any strong emotion as “demonstration,” and attempts to curb it (79-80). When Parson Martin and Mrs. Reed get wind of the romance developing between Nancy and Dan, they bring it to a sudden halt. Conveying this news to Dan in his study one evening, the parson comprehensively outmaneuvers his son, using his knowledge as a merciless form of power over the adolescent Dan (401-2, 406).

  • Anthony Mallory.
    Dan’s friend Anthony is a philosopher who becomes an Oxford don, so mental acuity is not just a personal but a professional matter for him. The process of “thought calcification” happens for him in a subtler way than it does for Parson Martin.

    In his mental habits Anthony is “applied, logical, rapidly analytical, and aphoristic” (55). He rapidly advances at Oxford; however, his singlemindedness as a scholar proves to be a defect in his connections with people (72). As an undergraduate Anthony has a tendency to make startling propositions that merely dazzle people with “arguments for the impossible” (361). He behaves as if he is “priggishly above” the others in his Oxford class (70), and Dan is initially “baffled” about what this brilliant scholar sees in him (55). Jane says, “For someone so intelligent, he’s rather bizarrely trusting. He assumes things about people he’d never assume about a theory of logic or a syllogism” (57-8). His ensuing career is built on specialized knowledge that is carefully sequestered from the concerns of ordinary citizens. Initially he seems to keep such interests guarded in order to avoid boring people (70-1); however, concern for others seems to fall by the wayside as his pursuits become increasingly marked as “strictly for initiates” (112). When we meet him again as a middle aged man, he clearly has many professional colleagues but few friends, and no confidants. Looking back on his career, Anthony berates himself for his capacity “for straining at intellectual gnats and swallowing emotional camels” (185).

    Soon after Anthony marries Jane, she tells him that she’d gone to bed with Dan while they were at Oxford. Anthony is devastated by this news, and he can never forget it (241), though he makes an outward show of forgiveness toward Jane (215). He describes the subsequent years of marriage to Jane as dominated by mind, by mental toys, and by “intellectual arrogance,” instead of flesh or heart (185).

Fowles provides enough dimension and detail to make Parson Martin and Anthony full-fledged characters instead of mere caricatures or walking parables. Still, I think they impact readers so strongly because all of us have met up with mental rigidity and intellectual arrogance in others, or perhaps confronted it in ourselves.

Since Parson Martin is Dan’s biological father, and Anthony serves as “a kind of father-substitute” to Dan (71), we can appreciate all the more how Dan is “deeply formed by antipathy” (421). The difference between Dan and these two father figures isn’t merely circumstantial but emblematic. To find his place in the world as a creative artist, Dan has to contend with one father who represents entrenched Church of England tradition and dogma, and another father who represents Oxford-based provincialism and elitism. Dan wages a personal struggle to overcome Parson Martin’s religious outlook, becoming a full-fledged atheist almost as soon as he leaves the context of his Thorncombe childhood. Later he has to wage a separate struggle to overcome Anthony’s Oxford-based intellectual outlook, which represents Ivory Tower elitism and privilege (188). Jane says, “We all went to such a bad school,” and Dan concurs (217). Jane herself has a corresponding effort to overcome Catholicism, as well as her even more prolonged and intensive years spent in Oxford. Ultimately Dan and Jane represent modern individuals trying to overcome two widespread and imperialist cultural legacies: patriarchal Christianity and enlightenment rationality. As I’ve argued here, Fowles works this struggle out as a polarity between “thought as it emerges” and “thought that has calcified.”

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Re: What is "whole sight"?

Postby drkellyindc on Thu Sep 05, 2013 12:32 pm

I wrote this in response to a reader’s question: What do you consider to be the first sentence of Daniel

I think most people would answer “Whole sight; or all the rest is desolation.” This response of course
neglects the preceding epigraph by Antonio Gramsci, and poetry by George Seferis that serves as an epigraph to the opening chapter.

The tricky aspect is learning at the novel’s end that Daniel initially intended this “Whole sight” sentence as the novel’s last line. After hearing Jane’s response to this idea (she laughs at him!), he chose to remove it from the end and use it instead as the novel’s first line.

I think it works better at the start, because it conveys that Daniel made his choice in connection with others (as opposed to in isolation); also, it prevents the “Whole sight” message from becoming an achieved final destination.

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