Daniel Martin: Introspection writ long

Daniel Martin is a bildungsroman in which little happens but much is thought by 40ish Daniel Martin whose Hollywood screenwriting job is at odds with his Oxford educated instincts.

Daniel is having an affair with an actress his daughter’s age.

Daniel goes home to England to see a university friend at his request.

Since university, Daniel had been estranged from Anthony and his wife, Jane, whom Daniel had loved during university and with whom he’d had sex once before she married Anthony and he married her sister, Nell.

Daniel improves relations with his daughter and Nell, now his ex-wife, and tries to restore his relationship with Jane. He also debates how to break up with Jenny.

Daniel Martin, like his creator, novelist John Fowles, is an intellectual, as are his friends from Oxford. They discuss ideas (with a capital I), analyze everything, but remain wrapped up in themselves.

Flashbacks initially make figuring out the intertwined relationships difficult.

After getting the dramatis personae sorted, the problem becomes remembering the references so you can follow Daniel’s growing up.

I’m sure if I read Daniel Martin again I’d rate it more highly: Fowles is literate and a brilliant word craftsman.

But I just don’t find Daniel interesting enough to bother.

Daniel Martin by John Fowles
Little, Brown ©1977 629 p.
1977 bestseller #10. My grade: B+

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman is the sort of book that would-be novelists with beer and beards discuss in existential terms.

Drawing of The French Lieutanant's Woman on the cover of the novel.
 The French Lieutenant’s Woman 1st ed dust jacket.

The woman of the title is Sarah Woodruff, a young English woman enamored of and jilted in 1867 by a Frenchman, whose whore the Lyme Regis locals assume her to be.

Charles Smithson, an English gentleman with enough funds to indulge his scientific avocation and a fiancée who’s the adored only child of a wealth merchant, finds Sarah irresistible.

She’s equally besotted.

After a brutal mating, Charles breaks his engagement and returns to Sarah who he’s recognized as his soulmate.

She’s disappeared.

Fowles interrupts his story periodically to offer commentary on Victorian culture, the history of Dorset’s Lyme Bay, and his own authorial process, even appearing as a character in the story.

When Charles finally finds Sarah, Fowles offers two endings to the story.

One would have been quite enough.

Nothing Fowles reveals about Sarah makes her believable as anything other than the psychological case the local doctor pegs her as. Charles is nothing to write home about either.

If The French Lieutenant’s Woman had been written by anyone other than Fowles it would be called pretentious.

Because Fowles is Fowles, it’s called literary.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
Little, Brown. © 1969. Book Club Edition. 480 p.
1970 bestseller #2. My grade: B+

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni