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Last Updated: Monday, 7 November 2005, 17:15 GMT
Writer John Fowles dies aged 79
John Fowles
John Fowles was one of Britain's most respected authors
The French Lieutenant's Woman author John Fowles has died aged 79.

Fowles died at his home in Lyme Regis, Dorset on Saturday after battling a long illness, his publisher said.

Born in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, Fowles' writing career spanned more than 40 years and also included works such as The Magus and The Collector.

The French Lieutenant's Woman, which became an Oscar-nominated film in 1981 starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons, remains his arguably most famous work.

The novel was first published in 1969.

John Fowles
He said he was not keen on meeting his readers

It was seen as a new kind of writing, a historical novel, with layers of truth, fantasy and self-awareness.

The French Lieutenant's Woman has been described as a pastiche of a historical romance, juxtaposing Victorian characters with the commentary of the author writing in the 1960s.

Fowles was a boarder at Bedford School before completing compulsory military service between 1945 and 1947.

I know I have a reputation as a cantankerous man of letters and I don't try and play it down
John Fowles in 2003

He went on to Oxford University, where he gained a degree in French.

But he was a teacher before becoming a full-time writer in 1963 after The Collector won critical acclaim and commercial success.

His tale of a butterfly collector who kidnaps a woman in London was made into a film starring Terence Stamp two years later.

Fowles moved to Lyme Regis in 1968, which was also the setting for The French Lieutenant's Woman.

In the same year he adapted his 1966 novel The Magus, a tale of intrigue on a Greek island, for the big screen.

The book, which achieved cult status in the US, was reportedly inspired by his time working in a college on the island of Spetsai.

But the film version featuring Michael Caine was widely regarded as a flop, with Fowles himself describing it as "a disaster all the way down the line".

Virtual recluse

Fowles once remarked he had been trying to escape his upbringing.

"No-one in my family had any literary interests or skills at all," he said.

"I seemed to come from nowhere. When I was a young boy my parents were always laughing at 'the fellow who couldn't draw' - Picasso. Their crassness horrified me."

The author is survived by his second wife, Sarah. His first wife Elizabeth died in 1990.

Fowles, who had a stroke in 1988, suffered from heart problems.

He was known to be a fiercely private person and stayed as a virtual recluse in his house overlooking the sea.

He gave one of his last interviews to The Guardian in 2003 in which he complained of being "persecuted" by his readers.

"I know I have a reputation as a cantankerous man of letters and I don't try and play it down," he said.

"But I'm not really. I partly propagated it.

"A writer, well-known, more-or-less living on his own, will be persecuted by his readers.

"They want to see you and talk to you. And they don't realise that very often that gets on one's nerves."

Here is a selection of BBC News website readers' thoughts on the news of John Fowles' death.

It sparked in me a passion for great storytelling
Jon Sadler, London, UK

John Fowles was surely one of the greatest authors of the last century. His work had a major effect on me personally, especially his second novel, The Magus. It sparked in me a passion for great storytelling, and I have read every one of his books since embarking on that magical literary journey over 18 years ago.

Last month I decided, after reading his journals, to write to him - as we shared a connection with Ashridge College. To my delight he wrote back within days, including a signed photo of himself. He was disappointed in the biography that had been written about him the year before, but also stated that The Magus was the novel that was closest to him.

He wrote many novels that have never seen the light of day. It would be wonderful if some of these could now be published. I must also make that pilgrimage to Phraxos (Spetses) now - although I doubt I will find it in the unspoilt state that John himself must have found it in the early fifties.
Jon Sadler, London, UK

The French Lieutenant's Woman is one of the most gripping, involving, moving, and - at the risk of sounding pretentious - intellectually stimulating books I've ever read. The way that book's omniscient narrator - a staple of Victorian fiction - was able to comment on the 19th century story from a late 20th century vantage point was a stroke of pure genius.
Pete, Belfast

It went on to be a book I would read on many occasions over the years
Michael Evans, Weybridge, Surrey

Many years ago, I was recommended by a friend to pick up a copy of John Fowles' 'The Collector'. It went on to be a book I would read on many occasions over the years and each time I was reminded what a huge talent he was for creating such a fascinating and unique way of writing a book; firstly from the perspective of the man (the 'collector'), then the second half of the book from the perspective of the girl he had abducted. Just superb writing. I am truly sorry to hear of his passing.
Michael Evans, Weybridge, Surrey

Surely he will be remembered for The Magus.
Gary Thomson, Edinburgh

John Fowles' best work was 'The Magus' - sheer brilliance. His other works included 'The Collector' an effectively creepy novella about a psychopathic kidnapper of young women. His later works unfortunately were nowhere near as good, including 'Daniel Martin'.
John, London, UK

I read The Magus when I was an adolescent and thought it was a wonderful novel, full of passion. I also enjoyed The French Lieutenant's Woman tremendously (although I thought the movie was terrible!). John Fowles' other works did not attain those heights of greatness and I expect he will be remembered as a relatively minor 20th century novelist who did not achieve the greatness that was surely within his grasp.
Ross, London, UK

John Fowles is one the century's brilliant writers. The French Lieutenant's Woman and The Magus are both wonderful novels and powerful political and social commentaries. His legacy will remain tremendous even in death.
Natalia, New York, USA

I'm very saddened to hear the news of John Fowles as he's my all-time favourite author. Although The French Lieutenant's Woman is his most famous work, in my opinion The Magus or The Collector are better, more enjoyable novels and would recommend them. RIP.
Amanda, London

Fowles was perhaps our most visionary writer and will be sorely missed. For over ten years I have lived in hope that he would publish another novel or give an interview and that won't happen now although I have heard that he had several complete novels that for one reason or another he decided not to publish. A sad day, there are few like him now.
Segovius, Barcelona, Spain

Obituary: John Fowles
07 Nov 05 |  Entertainment
John Fowles' literary contribution
07 Nov 05 |  Entertainment
John Fowles: Your comments
07 Nov 05 |  Have Your Say


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