restricted access Daniel Martin and the Contemporary Epic Novel
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Daniel Martin and the Contemporary Epic Novel

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Since Plato, as they have found "Epic" a useful term in their engagement with the major works of an age or civilization, critics have tended to define epicism in ways that fit their particular critical uses. E. M. W. Tillyard is an example of a critic who defines the epic novel rigidly enough to exclude all but one twentieth-century English novel from epic candidacy (117). Brian Wilkie's examination of the romantic epic poem is an example of an application of looser strictures to epicism than those of Tillyard. Wilkie suggests that "the partial repudiation of earlier epic tradition is itself traditional" and that "no great epic poet has ever written an epic without radically transforming it or giving it new dimensions" (10-11). Because Tillyard considers Nostromo, written in 1904, to be the most recent English novel with enough moral center to be considered epic, one wishing to examine epicism in the contemporary novel might do well to align their approach with Wilkie's liberalism. One might begin the alignment by finding prototypes in romantic epics such as The Prelude and Leaves of Grass for the ways in which recent novels have presented the relationships between the representative individual and public world. With a texture formed by the relationships of its inner and outer worlds, Daniel Martin may be grouped with works written within a period covering approximately the early 1960s through [End Page 173] the mid-1970s that, confronting the inner and outer impulses of the modern novel, exhibit experimentation in narrative form as they cut back and forth between perspectives, perhaps seeking some kind of fusion in normally distinct narrative voices. Works such as Barth's Chimera, Bellow's Herzog, Lessing's The Golden Notebook, Mailer's Why Are We In Vietnam?, Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, or Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five frequently invite—by scope, structure, or allusion to their own literary status—epic consideration; yet, with thinly disguised authorial participation in the existence of their primary characters, they display a complexity that would dismay Tillyard as their narratives respond to the dynamic dialectic of inner and outer spheres of concern.

Though Robert Huffaker finds Daniel Martin to be without the trickery that permeates Fowles's other novels (19, 136), I would suggest that it makes up, together with works such as The Golden Notebook, Why Are We In Vietnam?, and Gravity's Rainbow, a field of varied approach to the interplay of first-person and third-person narrative stances. The tricks and techniques of dissonance and fragmentation in Daniel Martin are closely related to the form of its epic stooge, the movie of Kitchener. It is from the movie world that Daniel must break away in order to be a novelist, so that it is important to grasp the influence of film upon the early form of the novel. The film would represent what Fowles terms in The Aristos the "Nemo . . . man's sense of his own futility and ephemerality" (37), so that the technical complexities of the first half of Daniel Martin are very much the result of the milieu Dan is attempting to forsake. "Games," the second chapter, places our hero at a window looking out at Los Angeles' "endless plain of trivial light" glistening through "the infamous city's artificial night" (12). The boy of the first chapter, "The Harvest," is now the middle-aged screenwriter of the Seventies, feeling himself a failure and empathizing with the homesickness of the recently arrived Scottish actress, Jenny McNeil. Though it was in London that Dan first let himself "be dazzled by the gilt chimeras" (71) of the film world, Hollywood seems to become the primary symbol for the decadent, false world Martin and the members of his generation have reached at mid-life. The old set of Camelot, where Daniel epiphanizes the hollowness of his life, parallels like symbolic sets in The Day of the Locust and The Last Tycoon. Like those novels, Daniel Martin offers Hollywood as emblem for Spenglerian intimations that "the racial geist is . . . mortal" (393).

The chapter sequencing of Daniel Martin stems from Dan's film craft. If...


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