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Reviewed by:
  • The Art of John Fowles
  • Claire Sprague
Katherine Tarbox. The Art of John Fowles. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1988. 210 pp. $26.00.

Katherine Tarbox makes John Fowles a far more exciting writer than the one who often seems more prolix than complicated, more dull than provocative, more cluttered than rich. He has all the "right" ideas of our time—he deconstructs and reconstructs time, the narrator, reality, identity, perception, the nature of knowing; he questions the existence of boundaries, especially those relating to [End Page 818] gender and fictional form. His metafictional concerns would seem to place him where professors and students love to play, yet he has not had a good press with them. If any single work can make these readers see Fowles differently, The Art of John Fowles can do it.

In her admirably lucid study of six novels, The Magus (1965; 1977), The Collector (1963), The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969), Daniel Martin (1977), Mantissa (1982), and A Maggot (1985), Tarbox is especially engrossing in her discussion of cinematic versus novel vision (frontally and fully addressed via Daniel Martin), Fowles's obsessive doubling patterns, his multitextual narratives, and such distinctive/recurrent themes as the collector consciousness that destroys and the "whole sight" that saves. "Whole sight" is developed through the protagonist's interaction with the magus figure, an interaction Fowles calls the godgame. Tarbox defines the Fowlesian single story as the search for "authentic personal destiny." Happily, this truism is fleshed out with originality, specificity, and grace.

The analysis of the camera's "present tense tyranny" in Daniel Martin, its "committee-like nature," its "safe distances," is expertly contrasted with novel vision. The coexistence and conflict between screenplay and novel become profoundly fused with Daniel's development and the narrative patternings in which he moves. Daniel finally chooses "novel vision" over "cinema vision," which in part means that he has become aware that the imprecision of words is a virtue rather than a defect.

The pervasive doubling relationships in the novels exist between the various magus figures and the seeking protagonists; it can occur between male figures and their anima (female) "others" or in same sex figures. The magus and anima figures are teaching figures who "disorient" and "distress" the protagonist into insight and whole sight. The protagonists (or "the elect" as Tarbox calls them) are taken out of space and time and out of various false identities in their journey toward authentic identity. Fowles's "flambuoyant stylistics" include different texts and styles (for example, depositions, letters, historical documents, masque, clippings, narrator intrusions). The various magus figures thwart the collector tendencies in the protagonists and by extension, Tarbox believes, in the readers of the novels as well. These tendencies are also thwarted by omniscient-seeming narrators who are in fact likely to be ignorant, pompous, prejudiced.

The self-parody in Mantissa is often hilarious. In it the essential terms of the relationship between the prototypical male author and his female muse remain unchanged, for however much Erato may mock, seduce, attack her author-ity, she remains a creature he must construct. It would be a pleasure to have this issue discussed in terms of contemporary feminist theory as it would be to see Fowles's work placed in the context of the contemporary novel. [End Page 819]

Claire Sprague
New York University


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