- John Fowles: Visionary and Voyeur
The introductory chapter of John Fowles: Visionary and Voyeur is titled "Voyeurism and Other Visual Pleasures" and does, at its end, address voyeurism in Fowles's fiction. The bulk of the chapter, however, is dedicated to an argument about the two ways in which feminist standpoint theory can be usefully applied to Fowles. The first way is as a reading practice, in the sense that an understanding of standpoint theory encourages a more "collaborative" approach to reading (19). The second is as a way to grasp the precise nature of Fowles's feminism, which is Lenz's primary concern in her study. With regard to reading practices, a greater than typical collaboration with author is needed in the case of Fowles, because, according to Lenz, he does not appear to have written with the female reader in mind, and his fictions inscribe, ambiguously, both feminist and patriarchal views. This requires the feminist reader to prise, patiently, the feminism out of them: "Through the use of standpoint methodology, the relationship between critic and text (and critic and author) can become less oppositional and categorical, and more collaborative" (19). Standpoint theory is useful in describing Fowles's feminism in the literal sense that his writing can be read as a gradual realization of feminist standpoint epistemology in narrative form. In Lenz's view, Fowles reaches a definite turning point by the time of writing Daniel Martin (1977), consolidates that step forward in his two subsequent books (The Ebony Tower and Mantissa), and arrives at a fully realized "standpoint" narrative in his last novel, A Maggot (1985): "In advocating [the central female character's] [End Page 252] practice of multi-perspectival dissent, A Maggot demonstrates Fowles's truly feminist commitment to the transformative potential of situated knowledges" (221).
Few readers of Fowles would disagree with the contention that his writing shows voyeuristic elements, and the many reasons why Lenz believes Fowles should be considered a voyeur are addressed in the final pages of her introductory chapter. She states that his "narrative style" is "steeped in cinematic conventions" (33); that "characters do a great deal of watching" (35); that even "reader[s] are made to watch in a unique way" (35); and that, also with regard to readers, "pleasure results from the tension between mystery and increasing fullness of vision" (as this increasing understanding is delivered over the course of Fowles's storylines) (35). Lenz notes also that Fowles's fiction is "enraptured with transgression and coercion" and that a "fascination with the erotic and with the seduction of the tease...determines the viewing practices of this texts" (36). As this list of quite diverse textual qualities and readerly experiences suggests, we are invited to understand voyeurism loosely as a power dynamic, evoked by Lenz to address mostly, if not exclusively, a number of coercive authorial and erotic effects.
Although the voyeuristic qualities Lenz discerns in Fowles's work are explored in her study, her primary interest revolves around reading Fowles in relation to feminist standpoint theory. This approach pays off well in her readings of Daniel Martin and A Maggot, two of the later fictions that Lenz's introduction indeed argues are the best expressions of standpoint narratives. We are inclined to agree with Lenz that Fowles arrives, in his later fiction, at more convincing representations of his characters and their gendered interrelations by virtue of greater attention to what is usefully approached as "situated knowledges." An abiding feature of Fowles's fiction is the way that central female characters help male protagonists to grow and understand themselves. Yet, this dynamic is worked out in Daniel Martin, for example, less thanks to a set of eternal feminine qualities the female characters possess and more thanks to the male protagonists' willingness to consider the women's frank sharing of competing visions of the world, visions that are plausibly represented and point to Fowles's realization that his former female characters had been lacking, shaped by "masculine fantasy" (100). A Maggot embodies Fowles's truest and most perfect...