John Fowles

I learned about Fowles’ death from Mrs. Bookworld’s rather cheeky (and, as always, correct) rebuttal to the BBC. (The BBC took UK bloggers to task for not dropping everything and immediately blogging about his death; Mrs. Bookworld notes that the purpose of her—of most—litblog is to record personal obsessions and enthusiasms and opinions and not necessarily to commemorate every worthy’s passing.) (Mark Sarvas collects reminscences here.)

It wasn’t until I read Jenny’s great post on the rather horrifying misogyny of his journals that I decided to write a post of my own. Like many, I came to the wonderful French Lieutenant’s Woman through the film. Those were the days in which Streep and Irons could do no wrong and that haunting hooded cape, those great misty shots, moved me. I turned to the book—my father had it in his library—and read it, confused by the contemporary interchapters which, frankly did not interest me much. It as the first book of that sort I’d read.

In 1994, Twentieth Century Literature, a quarterly out of Hofstra, published my first academic article (on, surprise, surprise, A Room of One’s Own). It came out in the issue that also announced the annual award for the best article of the year. The judge had been John Fowles. Of the twenty or so articles he had to choose from, he mentioned mine as one he’d almost chosen but had decided against because he’d always found Woolf so terrifying. In the end, he plumped for an article (also on Woolf) by a man. I was—and still am—frankly kind of amazed that an academic journal runs a contest judged by fiction writers and that John Fowles actually skimmed (and seems to have kind of liked) something of mine. But there was something odd in the kind of honorable mention status he gave my piece that confused me: it felt unfair to be passed over because he was unable to read Woolf and his inability sounded like a pedestrian male, British anti-Woolf reaction, not a thoughtful “she’s not for me.” Further, it seemed weird then to give the prize to another piece on Woolf (though I have no way of judging whether or not it was “better” than mine).

I’m sad that the journal entries—the Guardian (via Jenny) quotes one on the general superfluity of women—offer such an easy and reductive explanation for the odd tone. He just didn’t like women (nor did he find them very necessary—perhaps he and Maureen Dowd could have had a pow-wow).

Elsewhere, on Paris, Moorishgirl notes a chilling little racist lapse in the Times--referring to the rioters as “second- and third-generation immigrants.” As she notes, aren’t the immigrants the ones who have arrived from elsewhere? In fact, for all its failings, France does confer citizenship on people born in France (and then leaves them to figure out the rest for themselves in huge, isolated, inhuman highrises).