The second and concluding volume of John Fowles's eloquent, revelatory journals, the first of which was widely greeted as a literary landmark ("The book is gripping, and one can't help feeling that Fowles was writing--with a dogged passion, and almost inadvertently--what may come to be seen as one of the very best of his works" --Literary Review). Commencing in 1966, after the author had already achieved international renown with the publications of The Collector and The Magus, these journals chart the rewards and struggles of Fowles's continuing career and the inner life of the often-reluctant celebrity.
Bravely forthright and honest, Fowles writes in his journals about the attention and wealth that accrued to him with each new book--among them The French Lieutenant's Woman in 1969 (a film version of which was released to international acclaim in 1981), The Ebony Tower in 1974, Daniel Martin in 1977, A Maggot in 1985--and about his deep ambivalence toward his growing fame. He chronicles his move from London to a remote house on England's Dorset coast near the town of Lyme Regis, the increasingly isolated life he cultivated there, his disenchantment with what he saw as an unrelenting materialism at the center of contemporary society, and his unwillingness to adopt a public persona for his readers and fans. He describes the strains that grew between him and his wife, Elizabeth, and tells about the challenges--illness, depression, loss--of the passing years. But he describes, as well, the pleasure he found in his ten-year post as curator of the small Lyme Regis historical museum, and the great solace he took in gardening, in books, and in his impassioned study of the flora, fauna, and fossils of the countryside around his home.
Fiercely candid, and as ardent, gripping, and beautifully written as his novels, Fowles's journals illuminate the complex life and mind of one of the most important writers of our time.
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October 09, 2006
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Excerpt from The Journals by John Fowles
This so dull life, mingled with hate and annoyance and pity. No attempt here at method or speed. The housework drags on all day - cleaning, hoovering, dusting, making beds, sewing, washing-up and so on. No one ever sits down before suppertime. It is wrong, but the smallness of the rooms and the house is so noticeable now. The nursery stuffed full of things, always untidy; the dining-room dark and gloomy - only the lounge is tolerable, and one never lives there. The cloistered life with no one to talk to, no one to laugh with - here I am like a hermit, and quite unnatural. An absolute craving for new faces, new meetings, new places. I would tell them so much, but a curious obstinacy prevents this. Always an air of mulish hostility.
Two beautiful things. A big, spacious sunset sky - elegant and not ostentatious, but curiously in the east, to the west nothing but a bank of low, dark clouds. The end of a Spergularia in the microscope - like a minute green saturn.1 A tiny shining ball with a ring of gauzy skin around it. Also the sails of some Thames barges half-hidden by mist. A curious thing. About to throw a piece of screwed-up paper into the yellow jug which serves as waste-paper basket, I said to myself, 'As much chance as you have of being genius.' It fell into the jug without a murmur, a 20 to 1 chance, at the least.
Another day of silence, listening to other people's trivialities - a dreadful hour at night when all the completely banal information gained from a visit of relatives is repeated and reviewed. Two mathematical impossibilities I should like to see. One, a graph of the words spoken by me each day over a year - the rise and fall would be eye-opening. Near zero here, and normal everywhere else. Two, a count of words spoken by my mother and myself - David and Goliatha!
The visit by unknown relations is frightening, slightly, to the ego, and being. I feel awkward, not because I feel superior, but because I feel that they feel I am. Probably oversensitivity. But they are definitely not at home with me.
Trying to get at oneself is a continual unwrapping - each new skin decreases steadily in beauty and value after it is exposed. Always the seed of truth, the maximum fulfilment of self, appears to be just beneath the next layer. Plainly there is no end to this unwrapping, but the sensation is damping.
Being a poet, divining beauty, is like divining nature - a gift. It does not matter if one does not create. It is enough to have the poetic vision. To see the beauty hidden. As I did tonight, hearing someone whistle in the distance as I stood by an open window. I felt all kinds of moods of streets at night, of walking with loved women, of the dark blue and whiteness, and the strange, magical desertion of streets at night. I felt it all exactly in a moment, such a rush of impressions that they can hardly be seized. Algernon Blackwood: 'To feel like a poet is not to be a poet.'1 True, yet, poetry making is not necessarily the printing of words. It is a philosophical outlook, an epicureanism, a hedonism.
3 a.m. Beautifully played New Orleans jazz, with clarinet in low register, and very jazzy tuba and cornet. Bessie Smith singing. This sort of stuff has in it the germ of music that will last.
Op. 55. Splendidly vigorous, with some of the secret lyricality of the last quartets.2
Writing fever. Can't get any university work done. Full of ideas for 'Cognac' and full of frustration at not having the time to do them. 'Cognac' must aim at being popular, with art overboard. The idea came all in two hours last night and this morning.
Another appalling half-hour of talk. When screaming was close. Talk of the utmost banality, on prices of mattresses, on Mrs Ramsey's daughter who married a doctor in Montreal. A few comments are made on poetry. So hopeless to try and explain. They would never understand. No mention of art can ever be developed in case we are 'highbrow' - God, how I hate that word! No philosophy is mentioned, without Thomas Hardy and Darwin getting dragged in. It is la mere. Her attitude to conversation is one of complete alertness. I must break in, and I must say something - and in she breaks and says something, whether she has any knowledge, real opinion or not. It is with great difficulty that I can keep my oyster silence. But I must not hurt. With le pere, it is partly a defence; modernity is ignored, age is suspicious of invention.