I have finally had the chance to read John Fowles’s The Journals, volume 2. I liked him much better this time around. In the first volume he was constantly failing, living what he characterised as a rather bleak existence, and he was anxious, arrogant, acerbic. And having won his wife Elizabeth away from a fellow teacher in Greece his behaviour towards her was careless at best – she obviously suffered depressions, but he ignored this and spent his whole time blaming her for things going wrong. Only at the end of that volume did The Collector and then The Magus appear, catapulting him instantly into the literary fame he craved.
Volume 2 picks up where the first left off. These are the years of his pomp, the years he spent writing The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Ebony Tower, the revised version of The Magus, Daniel Martin. He still complains – he was a grumpy old sod at the best of times – but there is something much more relaxed about him, and consequently much more likeable. He has money troubles (the sort of troubles that come with too much money all at once – I should have such troubles), they move to a bigger house in Lyme Regis though Elizabeth still hates the place and will for the rest of her life, he records the frustrations of trying to get the film version of The French Lieutenant’s Woman up and running, and he puts in long passages about his garden, his surroundings, and his writing.
Then, in 1977, there is a sudden break. When he resumes the journal three years later it is as if he is a different man. These are the years in which he produced the appalling Mantissa and the wonderful late flowering of A Maggot, but he says nothing about writing them and barely mentions the books at all. He is only in his mid-50s when he resumes the journal, hardly older than I am now, but he sounds more and more like an old man. He complains about his health, his garden is too much for him to handle and he bemoans its dilapidated state, his income starts to dry up and he almost welcomes the fact. He finally seems to connect with Elizabeth’s depressions, particularly after he becomes impotent, and we finally start to see something of the deep affection which kept them together for 40 years. He cannot have been an easy man to live with, but in this volume he is human. Fortunately his one encounter with a rather gushing fan at a party given by Livia Gollancz in north London is not recorded.
And then, his own health deteriorating and becoming more and more the focus of the journal – even extraordinary passages where the ability to convey any sort of meaning in words escapes him completely – suddenly things change. It is Elizabeth who starts to complain, becomes weak. They take her to see a doctor in Exeter, but the unsuspected cancer is too far advanced. And there, with Fowles waking in the night and worrying lest he disturb the wife who is no longer beside him, the journal ends. Fowles would live for another 15 years, and kept a journal right to the end, but this seems a fitting end point for the book. I do not expect we will see a third volume.
I kept seeing images of Maureen and myself in John and Elizabeth, even in small things. It was Elizabeth who did all the driving. I closed the book, settled down for the night, and found tears dampening my pillow.
First published at LiveJournal, 31 July 2006.