Male Mythologies: John Fowles and Masculinity

Male Mythologies: John Fowles and Masculinity

by Bruce Woodcock


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John Fowles is one of the most significant British novelists of the second half of the twentieth century, exploring the possibilities and limits of individual freedom in narratives which challenge, startle and entertain with their virtuosity. Influenced by existentialism and a newly-emergent wave of feminism, his depictions of men, male power and masculinity expose the inherrent contradictions lived out not just by his characters, but also himself as a male novelist. While laying bare masculinity as a social and cultural construct, Fowles also dramatises his own contradictory status as part of the problem he is analysing. He both deconstructs and reconstructs male mythologies.
First published in 1984, this pioneering and controversial study examines Fowles's works in the context of newly-emergent discussions about masculinity. It lays claim to being the first study of the depiction of masculinity in fiction, as well as one of the earliest full-length studies of Fowles. The novels discussed are: 'The Collector', 'The Magus', 'The French Lieutenant's Woman', 'Daniel Martin', Mantissa', and a more recent essay on 'A Maggot' is included for the sake of completion. The study also includes coverage of gender and masculinity theory, as well as Fowles's essays and interviews.
Fowles was candid about the psychoanalytical origins of his fictional obsession with mysterious women figures, and he was equally direct in tracing his own critical awareness of the 'limits of masculinity', to use Andrew Tolson's phrase, back to his own early experiences in public school. From these roots comes his dissection of the experience of being a man, with inevitably contradictory results. In 'The Collector' Fowles virtually invents the genre of the serial killer crime novel: it appeared in 1963, three years after Michael Powell's equally disturbing foray into the genre in 'Peeping Tom'. Fowles's central character, Frederick Clegg, is a collector whose obsession with butterflies mutates into an obsession with a young woman called Miranda, who he captures and imprisons in his cellar. Mixing Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' and Bartok's 'Bluebeard's Castle', with a dash of pioneering postmodernist fictional game-playing thrown in, the novel presents a disturbing dramatisation of male power and powerlessness. 'The Magus' became a cult novel of the later 1960s with its page-turning narrative pyrotechnics that draw the reader into a bewildering maze. But at the heart of the novel is the utterly flawed 'hero' Nicholas, struggling in the web of illusion cast by the magus-figure Conchis. With sly echoes of his own fictional god-game, Fowles exposes how Nicholas follows the script of male mythologies through the bizarre twists of Conchis's plots. 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' is Fowles's most haunting and enduring novel, with the famous image of a mysterious woman looking out to sea from the Cobb at Lyme Regis as its genesis. But its central character is another flawed male, Victorian amateur evolutionist Charles, struggling to evolve himself in the face of the challenges thrown at him by Sarah, his nemesis. 'Daniel Martin' returns Fowles to the contemporary male in the eponymous 'hero', a proto-novelist turned Hollywood scriptwriter, whose struggle towards existential authenticity leads him to confront his masculine identity and all its problems. 'Mantissa' is Fowles's most peculiar novel, flirting as it does with pornographic scenarios as a vehicle to expose the sexual obsessions of the male novelist character, Miles, but it is Fowles's most direct depiction of the male mythologies behind his own fiction.
Since the first publication of this work, literary studies of masculinity have developed significantly but the problems explored in the book have only intensified and become more urgent, making Fowles's engagement with them of continuing interest and importance.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781492984849
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 06/20/1984
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.41(d)

About the Author

Bruce Woodcock worked as a Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer in the English Department at the University of Hull between 1973 and 2013 when he retired. He graduated from Leicester University with First Class Honours in English (1969), and his Ph.D., 'Poetic Fiction: A Study in Representation' (Leicester, 1974), was a comparison of the experimental fictional strategies of D. H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. Before arriving in Hull he taught for a year at Lancaster University. He has published three critical books: Male Mythologies: John Fowles and Masculinity (Harvester 1984 - to be republished by Avenues Books, Hull via Create Space/Amazon in 2015), Combative Styles: Romantic Writing and Ideology (University of Hull Press, 1994; with John Coates - to be republished by Avenues Books, Hull via Create Space/Amazon in 2015) and Peter Carey (Manchester University Press, 1996; 2nd edition 2003). He has edited The Selected Poems of William Blake (Wordsworth Poetry Library, 2000) and The Selected Poetry and Prose of Shelley (Wordsworth Poetry Library, 2002). He has also published two collections of poetry: Hunting Mushrooms: Poems 1978-87, Saying Goodbye in Thailand: Poems 1988-97 (both Avenues Books, Hull, 2013; available via Amazon). He has been in a number of Hull bands including The Hitmen, Red Stripe, Desmond and the Decorators, Hermann and the Wailers, Brave Soul, and The Lounge Lizards. He currently plays keyboard in the jazz combo Spooky. He is working on a new collection of poems as well as collecting together his essays in two volumes, Unsettling Illusions: Essays on Literature and Film and The Poet as Heretic: Essays on Poetry and Poets (both Avenues Books, Hull, 2014/5; available via Amazon). He also writes the website 'Bruce Woodcock Boxer', dedicated to his father, the British heavyweight boxing champion. He lives in the Avenues, the Greenwich Village of Hull, with his wife Les Garry, who is a psychotherapist and counsellor.

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