Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Journals of John Fowles

I was sitting in a pub in Cornwall with a great pal of mine having a drink with a friend of his and we got on a discussion about books. So, Si pipes up and asks me what my favorite novel is and I reply"The Magus" by John Fowles (which I read many years ago and greatly enjoyed). Si's pal paused and then said "..that is the most demonic novel I have ever read". This proved something of a conversation stopper on the subject of books, but fortunately we recovered well and had a very jolly time. I confess I have never viewed John Fowles quite the same since.

Imagine my surprise when the other day another Rev friend David gives me for my birthday "John Fowles: The Journals Volume 1" saying that he been enjoying them all year. I could not help but recall the incident in the Cornish pub.

As an aside, David recently attended an IME day (clergy training) and was meant to have brought one thing that signified his first year in his Curacy. Of course, rather like me, he had failed to read the blurb telling him of this and so had arrived unprepared. When the moment came for "sharing" the only thing he had with him was the journals of John Fowles. So, being quick of foot, he held them in the air and said that "journalling" had been the most significant thing (which happens to be true) but he was left hoping that his fellow Curates were not going to fly out and buy Fowles as a model of Christian journalling, But would that be so bad I wonder?

These journals were a refreshing read for one reason in particular. They were ruthlessly and shamelessly honest. Fowles commits to paper every action, thought, indiscretion, ambition and fault with compelling candor and openness. You see the state of the human heart with all its deceits and desires revealed page after page. I have no idea if Fowles could see what a self-obsessed man he comes across as with his many infidelities and opinions. This is personified by his seeming disregard for his step daughter Anna during his affair with her mother.

Here a a few things I have taken away

1. Honesty is a dangerous business and I know from my own private journals I still manage to write the idea of me and what I think and feel rather than what is actually so. Fowles perhaps does this too, but he is brave in spilling out his uncensored inner world on the written page no matter what others may think of him. Did he plan to publish the journals at the outset of all this I wonder?

2. He is a good writer. In reading the journals you can see him learning his craft over time. He consumes contemporary and past literature in his pursuit of how to write well. He works out and learns from each thing he reads and ploughs it into to his own ambitions for literary greatness. He becomes what he desires by the end. To employ the same desire to learn and consume the work and wisdom of others to facilitate the things God has set within you may be another thing Fowles can teach us.

3. Sin has a price. You can see the pain all over the page as he describes his journey into marriage.

Here are a few quotes:

"Two people, however intimate, only know each other's shadows"

"I wonder if it would be possible to love anyone purely, without the adulteration of their attractive qualities. I doubt it. Love must rest on something"

"Pringle is....well-read but unwise"

"Existence is a downhill slope"

"The other day she was almost bitterly sarcastic when I called the Jesuit priests "Father". It only seems polite to me. I don't believe in the army, but I should address the officer by his rank. The respect due to parallel worlds"

"Eileen's away in France with the Tolkein's"

And finally, Fowles enjoyed a joke and I particularly liked this one

"What happened to the Eskimo engaged couple. One day she broke it off"

Read these at your own risk!

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