JOHN FOWLES: A Life in Two Worlds

Eileen Warburton, Author . Viking $34.95 (510p) ISBN 978-0-670-03283-9

Granted full access by the reclusive author to his voluminous journals and personal papers, Warburton's first book is a sweeping, all-but-authorized biography that will surprise fans of The Magus with its account of Fowles's conventional background and entice those of The French Lieutenant's Woman with its intimate portrait of his marriage. Born into a thoroughly bourgeois English family in 1926, Fowles grew up in suburban Essex, was head boy at a prestigious public school, dutifully trained in the Marines during WWII and studied French at Oxford. Only when he went abroad did he begin to set himself apart and pursue writing. While teaching on the Greek isle of Spetsai, Fowles fatefully got involved with a colleague's wife, Elizabeth Christy, in a passionate affair that, Warburton cogently argues, was the central event of his emotional and creative life. Eventually Elizabeth obtained a divorce, and their subsequent marriage encompassed Fowles's novelistic career. Although Elizabeth destroyed most of her own papers in 1982, Warburton convincingly conveys her central role as not only Fowles's inspiration for his strong female characters but also his best reader and critic. Elizabeth often rankled at being an author's wife after the bestselling The Collector , but her critical involvement in The French Lieutenant's Woman proved essential. Fowles stopped seeking out her opinion on later books, but the two otherwise lived happily enough in Dorset. Elizabeth's death in 1990 compounded a stroke Fowles suffered earlier and closed one chapter on his creative life. Although the novelist's journals have not yet been published here in America, Warburton's thorough treatment of his multifaceted life will hold its own when they are. Agent, Melanie Jackson. (Mar. 22)

Reviewed on: 03/22/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 528 pages - 978-0-224-05951-0
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