Biography of John Fowles

John Fowles was born on March 31st, 1926, in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England. His father, Robert Fowles, was a soldier in the First World War before becoming a tobacconist and later marrying Gladys Richards, who gave birth to John soon after. John Fowles claims to have felt suffocated by the suburban environment where he grew up, saying that he has "tried to escape" his childhood all his life. During the Second World War, the Fowles family was evacuated to the remote town of Ipplepen, in Devon, where Fowles attended Bedford School as a teenager. He excelled at sport and became Head Boy, despite suffering a nervous breakdown; his main academic interests were French and German literature.

After the fighting ceased, Fowles spent a brief time in the Royal Marines as a Lieutenant in charge of training new recruits, before leaving the army to attend Oxford University. He continued his study of Modern Languages, specializing in French at New College. John Fowles moved to France and then to Greece after college to teach English - it was in Greece that he started writing poetry and fiction, and also met his future wife, Elizabeth Whitton, who was married to someone else at the time. In 1953, Fowles moved back to England, where he continued to teach English until he could support himself through his writing alone. He and his wife lived in Lyme Regis, overlooking the Cobb, where some of the most important scenes of The French Lieutenant's Woman take place.

Fowles achieved literary success with his first published novel, The Collector, in 1963, though he had already written a novel about his time in Greece, titled The Magus, which would be published in 1965 to similar acclaim. The Collector describes the kidnapping and imprisonment of a college student by a lonely and obsessed young man, and was made into a horror movie that caught the attention of Alfred Hitchcock, among others. Fowles' famously innovative historical novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman was published in 1969, and was met with huge commercial success. It caused huge waves in the literary world because of its modern take on the Victorian novel, and Fowles soon won the W. H. Smith & Son Literary Award and the PEN Silver Pen Award for his work. Meryl Streep starred in the film adaptation, the screenplay of which was written by Harold Pinter, and which met with positive reviews. Fowles continued to write novels for the next several decades, tackling themes like love, art, and lust through the lens of what he called "old-fashioned existentialism."

His wife Elizabeth died of cancer in 1990, two years after Fowles himself had suffered a minor stroke and associated memory loss. He remarried in 1998 to Sarah Smith, and died in 2005 after a prolonged illness.

Study Guides on Works by John Fowles

The Collector was John Fowles's first published novel, released in 1963. Fowles described this book as a commentary on class in England, specifically on class issues such as prosperity, pretension, and the contrasts between the working class and...

The Magus is the first novel that John Fowles actually penned, although it would only be published after two subsequent efforts were completed. Fowles is perhaps most famous for later writing The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Anyone who has read that...