John Fowles

On this date in 1926, novelist John Fowles was born in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, outside London. After serving two years as a lieutenant in the Royal Marines, Fowles went to Oxford, where he graduated in 1950 with a degree in French. As a college student, he admired the French existentialists, (particularly Camus and Sartre). Fowles lectured in Poitiers, France, then spent two years on a Greek island teaching English at a college. From 1954 to 1963, he taught English at St. Godric's College, London. The phenomenal success of his first published novel, The Collector (1963), permitted him the luxury of becoming a fulltime writer. The Magus, set on a Greek island with an English protagonist who teaches at a school, was published in 1966, and revised in 1977. These novels were followed by The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969), Daniel Martin (1977), Mantissa (1982), and A Maggot (1985). Fowles also wrote poetry and nonfiction. His book of essays, Wormholes, came out in 1998. The vivid The Collector, a disturbing tale of a young butterfly collector who decides to kidnap a woman he has a crush on, was made into a memorable film in 1965 starring Terrance Stamp. The French Lieutenant's Woman, Fowles' most commercial success, inspired a 1981 movie of the same name, starring Meryl Streep. Fowles' semi-autobiographical protagonist in Daniel Martin is described as an atheist. According to the Spring 1996 volume of Twentieth Century Literature, which was devoted to Fowles, he "repeatedly defined himself as an atheist." The New York Times Book Review (May 31, 1998), in reviewing Wormholes, noted: ". . . Religion is one of several subjects (environmentalism is another) for which Fowles retires elegance in favor of the bludgeon" (see featured quote). In an interview by James R. Baker ("Art of Fiction"), Fowles said: "I stay an atheist, a totally unreligious man, with a deep, deep conviction that there is no afterlife." D. 2005.

“Being an atheist is a matter not of moral choice, but of human obligation.”

—John Fowles, quoted in The New York Times Book Review (May 31, 1998)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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