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  • John Fowles and the Crickets
  • William J. Palmer (bio)

No, John Fowles did not replace Buddy Holly on guitar and vocals in 1963. He did publish The Collector that year, and it introduced him to the United States as an exotic capitalist commodity, a serious philosophical novelist who was marketable. But perhaps the rock and roll echo in the title of this Preface may not be so farfetched. In the twenty years since The Collector Fowles's world has evolved into the punk rock world of Mantissa.

Nevertheless, the Crickets in the title belong not to the world of Buddy Holly but to the world of Gulley Jimson. "The Professor is an art-cricket," the redoubtable Jimson introduces his "biografter," Professor Alabaster, in Joyce Cary's The Horse's Mouth. "I even knew a critic once," Gulley grins, "to support himself he took up Cricketism. . . . Crickets ought to resent suggestions. All they have to sell is somebody's good name."

It seems only fitting that in a Preface concerning the critical reactions to the novels of John Fowles the title should come from Joyce Cary. In their eternal returnings to the theme of the relationship between art and life, they are the closest of kin. The cricketism of Fowles's fiction has been, since 1969, steady and growing. Now Modern Fiction Studies is doing a special issue on his work, and the crickets have swarmed.

Since I wrote the first book-length study of Fowles—The Fiction of John Fowles—in 1974, there have been significant changes in Fowles cricketism. Two more novels and a brilliant collection of shorter fiction have been published. Not only has the body of his work grown, but, in the best tradition of Maurice Conchis, he has found a particularly sadistic way to change the rules of the game and to drive his captive [End Page 3] crickets crazy—he rewrote The Magus! In 1974, Fowles's only nonfiction work was The Aristos, but since then he has taken to introducing expensive coffee-table photography books on subjects dear to his heart. In 1974 his Introduction to Shipwreck described the seascapes off the Cornish coast facing toward the Scilly Isles and examined the theme of man's precarious relationship with the dangerous forces that wait beneath the surface of his world. Perhaps no other contemporary novelist uses his neighborhood and its topography more skillfully for symbolic purposes than John Fowles. In Islands (1978) Fowles's lengthy text is more thematic and even literary cricketal. Again, the setting is Cornwall and the Scilly Isles, but the discussion is less descriptive and more revealing of the sources of his novels. His analysis of the Odyssey is the focal point of this essay. It reveals a powerful yet heretofore overlooked influence on his fiction. Ultimately, the text of Islands points directly to the final ending of The French Lieutenant's Woman and the imagery of Arnold's "To Marguerite," which floats as a haunting end-symbol to that novel. In The Tree (1979) Fowles exercises his lifelong ecological passion for the green world where all the lessons of beauty, survival, arid growth, the lessons of his novels, originate. These expeditions into nonfiction are interesting, but only because John Fowles is a fine novelist and because they provide insights into the style and meaning of his fiction. If he were not the author of The Magus, we would not be nearly so eager to read them.

The history of Fowles cricketism has followed the experimentation and evolution of Fowles's writing career quite well. Fowles's later works especially show this experimentation with style accompanied by the maturity of the existential/aesthetic vision. Ironically, if the submissions for this special issue are any indication, the major cricketal interest still lies with Fowles's early novels, The Magus and The French Lieutenant's Woman. In fact, none of these crickets chose to confront the changes that exploded at them out of the pages of Mantissa. Nevertheless, Fowles cricketism has steadily matured in the wake of its subject's surprises. It has moved out of its introductory stages and has cut its costume to fit both its subject and the fashions...


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