John Fowles

On this date in 1926, novelist John Robert 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 the Greek island Spetses, teaching college English. There he met his future wife Elizabeth Christy, then married to a fellow teacher. From 1954-63, 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 1965 and revised in 1977. (A 1968 film based on it was panned by critics, with Woody Allen quoted as saying, “If I had to live my life again, I’d do everything the same, except that I wouldn’t see ‘The Magus.’ “) 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.” In a New York Times interview with 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)

Freedom From Religion Foundation