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  • John Fowles, Daniel Martin, and Simon Wolfe
  • Sue Park (bio)

John Fowles's reputation as a major novelist continues to grow. He has been described as "the most important novelist now writing in English" (McNamara 20), and fellow fictionist John Gardner called him "the only novelist now writing in English who has the power, range, knowledge, and wisdom of a Tolstoi or James" (22). Fowles's 1977 novel Daniel Martin, the labor of seven years, various reviewers see as his "best book so far" (Gardner 22), "a novel of rare integrity" (Duvall 105), "a startlingly provocative novel" (Gray 75), and "his best piece of work to date . . . a masterly fictional creation, dense with fact" (Pritchard 1). In Daniel Martin Fowles is a storyteller, a creator of characters, a scene painter, a philosopher, a technical experimenter, a wielder of literary allusion; additionally, he is a literary theorist, presenting dramatically rather than directly a theory of fiction that encompasses both artist and audience.

The novel's hero is an English playwright turned Hollywood scenarist, whose young actress-mistress suggests to him, in the midst of his complaining about being "sick of screenplays" (Fowles 15) and about the "artifice of the medium" (15), that he write a novel. Dan objects; he could never do it, he says. But Jenny meets all his objections, tells him to write "Your story. Your real history of you" (17), and even provides him a name for his fictional self: Simon ("Since you're so simple") Wolfe ("As in lone. But with an e") (18). She tells him, ". . . [End Page 165] you can't use your own name in a novel. Anyway, it's so square. Who'd ever go for a character called Daniel Martin!" (18). And with that seed planted in his mind, Dan finds the novel growing without his consciously nurturing it. Thus Fowles utilizes "an illusion as old as realism—that what is happening 'isn't a story'—and the book, shifting from first to third person and back, goes on to become the one that he is composing as we are reading" (Mathewson 16-17). The illusion, however, is freely admitted, as the novel's last paragraph illustrates:

That evening, in Oxford, leaning beside Jane in her kitchen while she cooked supper for them, Dan told her with a suitable irony that at least he had found a last sentence for the novel he was never going to write. She laughed at such flagrant Irishry; which is perhaps why, in the end, and in the knowledge that Dan's novel can never be read, lies eternally in the future, his ill-concealed ghost has made that impossible last his own impossible first.


Fowles, the "ill-concealed ghost," has made Dan's last sentence his own first: "Whole sight; or all the rest is desolation," and the reader is back at the starting point.

Such a performance lends itself handily to the presentation of a system of assumptions about the nature of the novel, and Fowles takes advantage of the opportunity. He weaves through the novel-within-a-novel a thread of theory that appears random but actually illuminates a consciously crafted pattern. The resulting informal statement of theory suggests that for the artist, the maker, the novel as an art form is a vehicle for individual expression, which Fowles conceptualizes with the Egyptian idea of ka; for self-exploration, presented primarily through a mirror motif; and for inward retreat, epitomized by la bonne vaux, the sacred combe, the greenwood myth.

On a Nile River cruise, Dan becomes acquainted with Professor Kirnberger, a German Egyptologist, who explains to him the Egyptian concept of ka: "Etymologically," he says, "it means the Greek pneuma—breath? It was personal. Each had his own ka. So to say, it was a man's ideal image of his own life. It could survive death only in connection with the personal body, which is why the ancients were so anxious to preserve their corpses" (512). A textbook on Egyptian hieroglyphics corroborates Fowles's professor: "Ancient Egyptians believed that when a person's name was written, or carved in stone, the spirit could reside there forever after the individual had...


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pp. 165-171
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