"An answer is always a form of death.""Content is a word unknown to life; it is also a word unknown to man.""Duty largely consists of pretending that the trivial is critical.""I don't think the English like me. I sold a colossal best seller in America, and they never really forgave me.""In essence the Renaissance was simply the green end of one of civilization's hardest winters.""In some mysterious way woods have never seemed to me to be static things. In physical terms, I move through them; yet in metaphysical ones, they seem to move through me.""Men love war because it allows them to look serious. Because it is the one thing that stops women laughing at them.""Most marriages recognize this paradox: Passion destroys passion; we want what puts an end to wanting what we want.""Our accepting what we are must always inhibit our being what we ought to be.""That is the great distinction between the sexes. Men see objects, women see the relationships between objects.""The most important questions in life can never be answered by anyone except oneself.""The supposed great misery of our century is the lack of time.""There are only two races on this planet - the intelligent and the stupid.""There comes a time in each life like a point of fulcrum. At that time you must accept yourself. It is not anymore what you will become. It is what you are and always will be.""We all write poems; it is simply that poets are the ones who write in words."
Fowles was born in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, England, the son of Gladys May Richards and Robert John Fowles. Robert Fowles came from a family of middle-class merchants of London. Robert's father Reginald was a partner of the firm Allen & Wright, a tobacco importer. Robert's mother died when he was 6 years old. At age 26, after receiving legal training, Robert enlisted in the Honourable Artillery Company and spent three years in the trenches of Flanders during World War I leaving him with memories that he had for the rest of his life. Robert's brother Jack died in the war, leaving a widow and three children. During 1920, the year Robert was demobilized, his father Reginald died. Robert became responsible for five young half-siblings and the children of his brother, and though he had hoped to practice law, the obligation of raising an extended family forced him into the family trade of tobacco importing.
Gladys Richards belonged to an Essex family originally from London as well. The Richards family moved to Westcliff-on-Sea during 1918, as Spanish Flu swept through Europe, for Essex was said to have a healthy climate. Robert met Gladys Richards at a tennis club in Westcliff-on-Sea during 1924. Though she was ten years younger, and he in bad health from the war, they were married a year later on 18 June 1925. Nine months and two weeks later Gladys gave birth to John Robert Fowles.
Early life and education
Fowles spent his childhood attended by his mother and by his cousin Peggy Fowles, 18 years old at the time of his birth, who was his nursemaid and close companion for ten years. Fowles attended Alleyn Court Preparatory School. The work of Richard Jefferies and his character Bevis were Fowles's favorite books as a child. He was an only child until he was 16 years old.
During 1939, Fowles won a position at Bedford School, a two-hour train journey north of his home. His time at Bedford coincided with the Second World War. Fowles was a student at Bedford until 1944. He became Head Boy and was also an athletic standout: a member of the rugby-football third team, the Fives first team and captain of the cricket team, for which he was bowler.
After leaving Bedford School during 1944, Fowles enrolled in a Naval Short Course at Edinburgh University. Fowles was prepared to receive a commission in the Royal Marines.He completed his training on 8 May 1945 ... VE Day. Fowles was assigned instead to Okehampton Camp in the countryside near Devon for two years.
During 1947, after completing his military service, Fowles entered New College, Oxford, where he studied both French and German, although he stopped studying German and concentrated on French for his BA. Fowles was undergoing a political transformation. Upon leaving the marines he wrote, "I ... began to hate what I was becoming in life...- a British Establishment young hopeful.I decided instead to become a sort of anarchist."
It was also at Oxford that Fowles first considered life as a writer, particularly after reading existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Though Fowles did not identify as an existentialist, their writing, like Fowles', was motivated from a feeling that the world was wrong.
Fowles spent his early adult life as a teacher. His first year after Oxford was spent at the University of Poitiers. At the end of the year, he received two offers: one from the French department at Winchester, the other "from a ratty school in Greece," Fowles said, "Of course, I went against all the dictates of common sense and took the Greek job."
During 1951, Fowles became an English master at the Anargyrios and Korgialenios School of Spetses on the Peloponnesian island of Spetsai, a critical part of Fowles's life, as the island would be where he met his future wife Elizabeth Christy, née Whitton, (d. 1990) wife of fellow teacher Roy Christy, and would later serve as the setting of his novel The Magus. Fowles was happy in Greece, especially outside of the school. He wrote poems that he later published, and became close to his fellorw exiles. But during 1953 Fowles and the other masters at the school were all dismissed for trying to institute reforms, and Fowles returned to England.
On the island of Spetsai, Fowles had grown fond of Elizabeth Christy, who was married to one of the other teachers. Christy's marriage was already ending because of the relationship with Fowles, and though they returned to England at the same time, they were no longer in each other's company. It was during this period that Fowles began drafting The Magus. His separation from Elizabeth did not last long. On 2 April 1954 they were married and Fowles became stepfather to Elizabeth's daughter from her first marriage, Anna. After his marriage, Fowles taught English as a foreign language to students from other countries for nearly ten years at St. Godric's College, an all-girls in Hampstead, London.
During late 1960, though he had already drafted The Magus, Fowles began working on The Collector. He finished his first draft in a month, but spent more than a year making revisions before showing it to his agent. Michael S. Howard, the publisher at Jonathan Cape was enthusiastic about the manuscript. The book was published during 1963 and when the paperback rights were sold in the spring of that year it was "probably the highest price that had hitherto been paid for a first novel," according to Howard. The success of his novel meant that Fowles was able to stop teaching and devote himself full-time to a literary career. The Collector was also optioned and became a film in 1965.
Against the counsel of his publisher, Fowles insisted that his second book published be The Aristos, a non-fiction collection of philosophy. Afterward, he set about collating all the drafts he had written of what would become his most studied work, The Magus (1965), based in part on his experiences in Greece.
During 1965 Fowles left London, moving to a farm, Underhill, in Dorset, where the isolated farm house became the model for "The Dairy" in the book Fowles was then writing, The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969). The farm was too remote, "total solitude gets a bit monotonous," Fowles remarked, and during 1968 he and his wife moved to Lyme Regis in Dorset, where he lived in Belmont House, also used as a setting for parts of The French Lieutenant's Woman. In the same year, he adapted The Magus for cinema.
The film version of The Magus (1968) was generally considered awful; when Peter Sellers was asked whether he'd make changes in his life if he had the opportunity to do it all over again, he jokingly replied he'd do "everything exactly the same, with the exception of watching The Magus." The French Lieutenant's Woman was made into a film during 1981 with a screenplay by the British playwright Harold Pinter (subsequently a Nobel laureate in Literature) and was nominated for an Oscar.
Fowles lived the rest of his life in Lyme Regis. His works The Ebony Tower (1974), Daniel Martin (1977), Mantissa (1981), and A Maggot (1985) were all written from Belmont House. Fowles became a member of the Lyme Regis community, serving as the curator of the Lyme Regis Museum from 1979—1988, retiring from the museum after having a mild stroke. Fowles was involved occasionally in politics in Lyme Regis, and occasionally wrote letters to the editor advocating preservation. Despite this involvement, Fowles was generally considered reclusive. In 1998, he was quoted in the New York Times Book Review as saying, "Being an atheist is a matter not of moral choice, but of human obligation."
Fowles, with his second wife Sarah by his side, died in Axminster Hospital, 5 miles from Lyme Regis on 5 November 2005.