I can't hope to compete with Ray Hammond's superb review of Volume two in this series. A lot of what Mr Hammond says to characterise that book goes for this first volume as well. Both books display a waspish, censorious, dismissive, and almost snarling approach to england, the english, great chunks of modern culture and even his own efforts to make his way in the real and literary worlds.
Don't take that as too much of a criticism, however. When all is said and done, this distinctly ambivalent stance towards his country and himself was an important facet of Fowles's character. He was, in large part, an outsider, and this is what gave force, drive, conviction and originality to his books. Without that sense of being different, we wouldn't have had the fascinating Clegg of "The Ousider", the tortured Urfe of "The Magus", the spirited and compelling Sarah of "TFLW" and so on. It is to Fowles's credit that he allowed this warts-and-all portrait to come out even during his lifetime as it revealed his ruling passions. What redeems all this is Fowles's gift of ultimately being able to turn his seemingly permanent mood of discontent into some great art.
It's not all emotional grumbling and negativity in this first volume. Fowles led a fairly eventful life- at least in emotional terms- and a lot of the key events happened in the years covered here. A lot of the book is given over to his tumultuous early years with his eventual wife Elizabeth, who was married when he first met her. Other difficult love affairs are detailled too. The book also allows us to chart his struggles to emerge as an artist. This is evident in the many and varied comments spread over numerous years about this or that work either planned, in progress or abandoned. Also implicit with every passing year is the sense that the journals were in large part the making of him as a writer. They allowed him to sharpen his perceptions and to learn the very craft of getting words down on the page to his satisfaction. Indeed, at times he complains that he spends more time on his journals than on his literary projects, but hindsight shows this to have been time well spent. This results in some journal entries- a trip up Mount Parnassus for example- that are amongst the very best things he ever did.
Success when it comes with "The Collector" adds another dimension to this book. Here we see Fowles learn to deal with a whole new world, this time the literary business, fame, success and even the world of Hollywood (where he went to work on the script of "The Collector").
Overall I value this book and keep coming back to it because it gives me a chance to look 'over the shoulder' as it were at one of my favourite writers as he creates his vital early works. It also gives a lot of insight into just how deadly dull and flat life in england could be for a sensitive artisitic soul in the decade and a half after world war two. In this respect Fowles is a bit like Hancock without the mordant humour, but it's an interesting social document in that respect. I also love the careful and vivid descriptions of nature that Fowles committted to his journals. For all his curmudegeonliness, Fowles was geniuinely intrigued and interested in a lot of the natural world about him.
Make way Mr Pooter! Critics recoiled from the portrait Fowles' journals presented of himself: superior, snotty, whining, and selfish. Alas, they failed to recognise one of the most hilarious books ever written. The po-faced Fowles out-pooters Mr Pooter on every page. Examples are legion. He hates Leigh-on-Sea, where he was born and brought up. Nothing ever happens there, declares Fowles on frequent visits to his parents, only to return to his London flat where the most exciting thing he does is listen to Journey from Space on the radio or play his recorder. On the rare evenings Fowles spent with people decent enough to put up with him, Fowles declares that he couldn't be bothered to talk to them since they never took anything seriously. And if they did, they inevitably never understood things with the insight Fowles possesses. He complains that most of his friends drink too much - it doesn't occur to him that they might have been anaesthetising themselves in preparation for an evening with the Fowleses. He hates Britain, but never bothers to leave. There's a hilarious bit where he waxes lyrical about Truffaut films after just having seeing one - and the footnote says that it was in fact directed by Godard. It provides a fascinating glimpse into Fifties Britain - well, as it was lived by Fowles. The birth of rock and roll and the renaissance of British design, for example, passes Fowles by. The fact that Fowles hasn't written a decent novel in decades is laid bare: he is utterly insensitive to the feelings of others. Once Fowles had written books based on his own life he had no more ideas left. I have scarcely enjoyed a book so much. You can't help liking a man so clueless and who wrote a wonderful novel in The Magus (apart from its ending). Just don't invite him to dinner. A comic masterpiece. I can't wait to read it again.
One must surmise that Mr. Preece is not interested in a serious search for self knowledge which Mr. Fowles sought from 1949 - 1990. In Vol 1, 1 became bogged down during his affair with Elizabeth, whom he then married. However, beginning with chapter 7, 'Married Life in London' (p. 391), the tone changes and the literary and personal criticisms are succinct and superb, as are his observations on world events and travel. Fowles was disenchanted with our material world long before some of us were aware it was destroying us. Fowles is keen observer and lover of nature, and this beautifully informs his journals. Lyme Regis was never so alive in his famous book and film, The French Lieutenant's Woman (described in Vol. 2). Fowles was an admirer of another Dorset writer, Thomas Hardy, whom his work resembles in its brevity and clarity. If you liked The Life of Graham Green (3 vols) by Norman Sherry, you will also like Charles Drazin's editing of John Fowles Journals (2 vols). (Vol. 2 is 5 *****) I feel that every word Fowles ever wrote should be published.