LITERARY TREND AND AUTHOR CANON
- Fowles is a novelist of outstanding imaginative power and a self-conscious postmodernist author who emphasizes the artifice in the act of writing;
- Postmodern narrative techniques (the pastiche of Victorian fiction, the device of alternative endings);
- The author is a figure within his own books and enters the narrative to comment on the action and to explain how things might have been different;
- The novelist acts like a magician whose tricks may all be bogus;
- The novelist has a relative authority that mirrors the concept of authority in the contemporary age.
The Magus (published 1965)
- Genre: a postmodern novel. As a postmodern novel, “The Magus” experiments with several literary genres and formulas, which it reinterprets according to contemporary rules. It includes elements of a coming-of-age novel (Nicholas matures as a result of the psychological experiment conducted on him), romance (reinterpreted as a psychological game), and mythical narration (the mythological personas in the psychodrama are part of a game).
- The Greek island of Phraxos.
Main theme: identity
At the beginning of the novel, Nicholas is attending university. He is discovering his identity, which is defined by his parents’ recent deaths and his intellectuality. He is trying to define himself as an individual among his peers and appeals to intellectual snobbery. Throughout the novel, he redefines his identity and matures. When he discovers Conchis’s poetry book, he feels that he found a kindred spirit, but Conchis takes advantage of Nicholas’ need to distinguish himself and manipulates him for psychological experiments.
- Real/ imaginary confusion;
Nicholas Urfe is a young self-centered British man who travels to Greece to become a teacher at a remote school. He accepts the job because he is bored with his life, and, in doing so, he breaks up with his girlfriend, Allison. The island seems magical at first, but Nicholas soon grows bored. From his predecessor at the school, he finds out that strange things happen on the island, but dismisses them. Then, he discovers a mysterious villa, Bourani, and meets its tenant, Maurice Conchis. Fascinated with Conchis, Nicholas becomes part of his world, dominated by half-truths, dramatic histories, romance, and sexuality. He falls in love with Lily, a mysterious young woman who tells him that Conchis is playing mind games. Fascinated by her and by the exotic world Conchis has created, Nicholas refuses to listen and is finally kidnapped and told that he has been the subject of a complex psychological experiment. He is offered the chance to punish “Lily”, an actress who becomes the symbolic focus of his anger. The point of the experiment was to see if he can transcend his anger and desire for revenge. He refuses to punish her and is abandoned. Nicholas returns to England, where he searches for Allison and eventually finds her. He tries to convince her to live a life of personal integrity, alongside him, but the outcome of the relationship is unclear in the novel’s ending.
Characters presented in the analysis of the literary fragment should be adapted to the fragment itself.
- Nicholas Urfe – the novel’s protagonist. The story follows his journey of transformation. He is the archetype of the hero, a character from myths and legends, and the external conflicts he faces trigger internal transformation and spiritual transcendence. He begins as an Oxford dandy and a self-centered existentialist who exploits the affections of women. On the island, he discovers that he is inauthentic and becomes depressed. After meeting Conchis and Lily he becomes fascinated with the role in a psychodrama that Conchis assigns to him (without him realising what is going on). The role shapes his consciousness, making him suffer and learn.
- Maurice Conchis – a powerful, rich, and old illusionist (Magus). He is the godfather of Lily and Rose. He survived being shot by a German firing squad during the Second World War. He is a connoisseur of art, music, and a hypnotist. Every year, he attracts a teacher at the Lord Byron School into a psychodrama, which he calls a “godgame”, that tests and builds character. From him and his experiment, Nicholas learns about the meaning of freedom, hazard, responsible individualism, and wisdom.
- Allison Kelly – a young Australian woman who lives in London and falls in love with Nicholas. She is an independent girl in her early twenties, she seems vital and daring to Nicholas. Although she is an expert in coaxing men, she cannot convince Nicholas to marry her. She becomes a part of the psychodrama and pretends to have committed suicide, then reveals that she is alive. In the end, Nicholas gets a chance to talk to her, but it is uncertain if she will ever forgive him for leaving her.
POINT OF VIEW
- 1st person narrative perspective. The narrator is Nicholas Urfe, the main character of the novel. The reader discovers the truth hidden beneath all the mind games together with the narrator.
- Dramatic tone with a mysterious and depressing mood.
- Paradox “She stood there in her white dress, small, innocent-corrupt, coarse-fine, an expert-novice”.
- Metonymy “He had a bad eye”. (This is an example of metonymy which means that a person has bad eyesight.)
- Personification “A great flexed arm of mountains”.
Postmodern narrative techniques:
- Irony (towards several experiences of the main character)
- Intertext ( reinterpreted quotes from other writers).