Huffaker knows his subject well, having written a dissertation on Fowles in 1974. The present study is not a rehash of the dissertation. In fact, it seems to take up where the dissertation leaves off, using the earlier material as a starting place for the greater exploration of Fowles's writing. In this work, Huffaker weaves discussions of historical perspective, biological evolution, fictional modes, Jungian motifs, naturalism, existentialism, and more into his analysis of the fiction. . . .
Chapter 2 provides a thorough discussion of The Magus. Elaborating upon the way in which Fowles combines the quest theme with Jung's analytical psychology to move Nicholas toward a state of understanding that makes him one of the "Elect," Huffaker clarifies much that has been touched on by other critics. The chapter following, on The Collector, concentrates heavily on the broad social implications of the novel and the clash between the economically deprived and the economically comfortable . . . .
The best chapter in the book is on The French Lieutenant's Woman. Here Huffaker explains the narrative technique of authorial intrusion, the multiple endings, the aspects of biological and social evolution, and much more. Not fearing to discuss difficult scenes which others have glossed over or ignored, Huffaker is particularly strong in his analysis of the pivotal scene in the church in which Charles confronts Christ, recognizing the humanity of both Christ and Sarah.
In the chapter on The Ebony Tower, Huffaker continues to elaborate on the interwoven threads Fowles weaves, particularly those of the medieval romance, the quest, and abstraction versus reality. While he touches only briefly on the relationship between the title novella and the medieval romance Eliduc, which Fowles translates and includes in the volume, Huffaker does provide good, if somewhat brief, discussions of the three remaining stories, particularly the troublesome last one, "The Cloud."
The concluding chapter, which recapitulates the previous discussions of the fiction, seems redundant, but the opening section of the chapter accurately assesses Fowles's strength as a novelist in his describing timeless themes with topical application. The bibliography, partly annotated, is thorough and complete. The book is slim but not superficial. The focus is broad, the discussion wide-ranging, and the writing clear enough to be understood by the beginning student, yet sophisticated in ideas and presentation, so as to prove rewarding to the Fowles scholar. --South Atlantic Review, 1980
The writer of a Twayne critical biography of a living novelist whose stature is assured neither by the production of a large shelf of books of demonstrable merit and consistency nor of at least one that is an uncontested masterwork can take one of two positions. He can present an objective assessment of the three or four published novels, indicating the direction of the oeuvre and the evidence, if it is there, of a growing achievement; or he can regard his subject through a self-reflecting mirror, confident that time will confirm those necessarily major claims that the portfolio of the critical biography seemingly confers. Robert Huffaker, a professor of English at North Texas State University and associate editor of Studies in the Novel, has chosen in this sparklingly-written book on John Fowles to take the second course.
Huffaker writes at the beginning of his summary chapter ("Lasting Fiction"):"John Fowles has established himself as one of today's few novelists whose reputation will outlast the century." He goes on the link his man to Thomas Hardy on the basis of their "vivid naturalism" ; to place Fowles in "English literature's landscape-conscious tradition that dates back to the Beowulf and Pearl poets"; and to locate his "depth" in the pursuance of "themes timeless and universal yet important to twentieth century culture."
The bases for these claims are four novels and a collection of thematically interrelated short stories published in the fifteen years between 1963, when Fowles was 37, and 1977. The critical biographer devotes a chapter to each of the first four fictions--The Magus, The Collector, The French Lieutenant's Woman, and the story collection, The Ebony Tower. The last three of these four are thorough, lucid, charged with Huffaker's commitment to the books as significant. The chapter on The Magus, longest of all, is least satisfactory. In its convolutions and resort to jargon, it appears to confirm the novel as an ambitious and brave apprentice work, a work of episodic intensity but lacking organic unity--a novel Fowles published twelve years after beginning it and revised twelve years after original publication.
The 25-page third chapter on Fowles's most popular novel, The French Lieutenant's Woman, is for this reviewer the best of the book, among the best discussions of that innovational work that he has seen anywhere. Huffaker touches precisely the reason why this novel "teaches" so well in senior literature courses. The young reader--open-minded older readers as well--find their sensibilities for new fictional worlds opened up before their eyes. Confronted by a book which mounts a Victorian love story but is related from a modernist viewpoint, in which there are three endings and two entries a` la Alfred Hitchcock of Fowles as a character, Huffaker demonstrates how "even the reader himself must choose whether to evolve." Evolution looms as one of Fowles's--and his hero Charles Smithson's--deepest preoccupations. For all its mixed bag of tricks, Huffaker manages a deft congruence between ideas and action, between spirit-battering concepts and the boggling difficulty of being human. He puts Fowles's accomplishment well: "With old techniques carrying new messages, the novel is a tribute to the Victorian tradition and a credit to the modern one . . . . From behind that old mask, Fowles presents such themes as existential evolution more directly than contemporary techniques permit, finally showing that existential awareness confronted people before the French named it in the 1940s."
Fowles's latest and longest novel, Daniel Martin, rates much less coverage than earlier books. . . . Although calling it "a lovely, profound novel," Huffaker . . . hints that Daniel Martin lacks a strong central character (" . . .the most comfortable Sisyphus imaginable . . . hard to make appealing and convincing") and that Fowles's use of a shifting time frame may be truer to theory than to life ("Considering . . . Jungian theory along with Fowles's horizontal concept of existence . . . one can see why Fowles does not permit his narrator to vary tense and person with absolute consistency").
This is a strong book whose excellence helps justify Twayne's decision to chronicle writers of so-far-unearned literary superiority. Robert Huffaker's book presents a valuable unifying of John Fowles's themes and influences. --Modern Language Association, The South Central Bulletin, 1980
Robert Huffaker offers valuable discussion of Fowles's time in France and Greece and of the influence these experiences had upon his life and work. --Multicultural Writers Since 1945, 1980