Only Disconnect

Daniel Martin

by John Fowles
Little, Brown, 629 pp., $12.95

The Sun and the Moon

by Niccolò Tucci
Knopf, 657 pp., $10.95

The epigraph to John Fowles’s new novel is a passage from Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks:

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appears.

Gramsci is quoted again in the text itself, when the hero, Dan Martin, flicks through the Notebooks and reads a few sentences which the heroine, Jane, has marked. Jane is in a left-wing phase, and the marked passages refer to social structure, the philosophy of praxis, and a definition of the individual as “the synthesis not only of existing relations, but of the history of those relations.” The epigraph is adequately justified, in the sense that the novel is concerned with those morbid systems which occur between the death of an old structure and the emergence, premature or belated, of a new one. But it is misleading in another sense, because the new structure which emerges at the end of the novel in the renewed love of Dan and Jane has nothing to do with social structure; it arises from individual acts of will, feeling, recognition—the old idiom of consciousness and affection and need.

Daniel Martin is a love story that might take place anywhere: indeed, it mostly takes place in circumstances which liberate hero and heroine from any involvement in society, politics, or ideology, on a trip to Egypt, the Nile, Abu Simbel, Palmyra, Lebanon. The relation between social structure and individual feeling is a major theme in itself, but it does not exert any pressure upon Daniel Martin. Fowles evidently wanted to exhibit the mutual bearing of society and individual, but the design does not go any further than the device of making Dan an English writer temporarily doctoring scripts in Hollywood. This device results in several pages which make distinctions between England and America in language, social tone, and landscape. The distinctions work mostly in England’s favor, but they have nothing to do with Gramsci.

Fowles’s native theme is more accurately indicated in the epigraph to The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), a sentence from Zur Judenfrage in which Marx says that “every emancipation is a restoration of the human world and of human relationships to man himself.” Much of the significance of The French Lieutenant’s Woman arises from the conditions of that emancipation: social and personal relations are shown not as separate constituents of reality but as interconnected systems of motives, values, and actions. But if we are to think of Fowles’s theme as it is displayed in his several novels and stories, we must define it more narrowly. He is preoccupied with the habit by which we turn other people into objects and take possession of them. Frederick Clegg in The Collector is only the most explicit butterfly catcher in Fowles’s fiction; the theme is crucial also in The Magus, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, the stories in The Ebony Tower, and now Daniel …

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