Friday, 30 September 2011


Rape: an insidious little word. Those four letters, in that order, conjure up a variety of emotions. We’ve an unwritten, unspoken contract, drawn up between ourselves, about what words convey to us. What they signify. Rape, signifies violation, an abuse of strength and power; total disrespect for another. It is selfishness at its most extreme. “I want that -- and I will have it!”

The word rape itself originates from the Latin verb rapere: to seize or take by force. To us, it is much more than that. It connotes fear, anger, guilt, shame. Sadly, those emotions are burdens, carried by far too many people.

We talk about “victims of rape.” So why is rape a favourite fantasy of so many people? Why do artists paint pictures of rape? Why do writers of erotica write their carefully crafted rape stories? Why is a word that conveys that a violation, a heinous crime has taken place such a turn on? Why do we find the paintings and stories so arousing? We know exactly what is going on; yet still we look at the pictures and read the stories.

The tale of Persephone is a favourite subject for artists. Here is her story. She was abducted by Hades and starved into submission.

The god Poseidon raped the goddess Demeter. From their union the beautiful Persephone was born. In the days when gods and goddesses walked on the Earth, the three most powerful gods were brothers. Zeus was ruler of the sky, Poseidon was god of the sea and Hades was the Lord of the Underworld.

The Underworld was Hades realm. It is where we get our ideas about hell. The Greeks believed absolutely in the Underworld; a terrible place, a place without light, where the spirits of the dead went. Having entered the Underworld, and having eaten there, no-one was allowed to re-enter the world of the living.

Hades visited Earth and rode past Persephone while she was gathering flowers in a field. He was dazzled by her beauty. He wanted her. And being one of the three most powerful gods, he kidnapped her and drove off in his chariot.

Persephone’s abduction was horrific. She was pinned to the floor of Hades' chariot while he drove faster and faster, down and down, into the darkness of the underworld. In the black halls of Hades, Persephone crouched and cried, refusing all food, refusing to speak to the god who had snatched her away.

Days passed. Persephone's hunger grew. At last she could resist no longer, she ate six pomegranate seeds and, having eaten, she could not return to the world above.

Meanwhile, her Mother, the goddess Demeter, grew distracted. Demeter was the ancient Greek goddess of grain, fertility and the harvest. She knew what had happened but she could do nothing. She raged all the more because she was powerless against Hades. She went to Zeus, the king of gods, and she begged him to bring about Persephone's return. Zeus could not bear Demeter's crying. Her tears were destroying the harvest. The earth became scorched and blackened.

Zeus was too late to stop Persephone eating the six Pomegranate seeds. The rules of the Underworld had to be obeyed. If you eat the food of the Underworld, you can never return to earth. Zeus sent Hermes, the messenger of the gods, to put a suggestion to Hades. Zeus suggested that Persephone would marry Hades. She would be Queen of the Underworld, living there half the year. Exactly six months. In the spring she could return to earth, and live there in the warm, bright light of the summer.

And this is what happened. While Persephone lives in the underworld, the days are short and dark and cold. But with her return to Earth in the spring, the flowers start to bloom, the leaves to bud, and the birds sing in the sky.

There are plenty of instances of sexual violation in the Greek myths, but in the Persephone/Hades myth, the writers substitute the actual sexual violation, with Persephone eating the six pomegranate seeds. I don’t know why that is. It isn’t as if the tellers of those old stories are shy. Poseidon rapes Medusa, violating her, so that she is unworthy to be Athene’s priestess. Zeus turns himself into a swan and rapes Leda. And there are many more examples of what is quite plainly a vicious violation, so why sanitise Persephone’s rape with the consumption of seeds? I have no idea -- but it’s a great story.

And yes, I do watch the Soaps, and “Coronation Street” is running an incredible “Rape” storyline at the moment. Carla, who owns the lingerie factory, has jilted her fiancé, Frank, the night before they are to marry. Frank lets himself into her apartment and brutally rapes her. I watched the episode, and it really was horrible. Frank hasn’t even committed the disgusting crime out of revenge. It’s out of petulance; he’s like a peevish three year old, who can’t get his own way. A three year old’s psyche in a man’s body, with a man’s strength -- that is dangerous.

When the Soaps take on an issue as big as this -- they do it so well. They have to -- research has been meticulous, from the way the police handled Carla’s accusations, to the aftershock effect that Carla experiences. Women and men, all over the country, people who have been through this revolting experience will be scrutinising the storyline. The writing is great, pace, and the subsequent tension, perfect -- it crackles.

But I, and lots of other women, and men, still have rape fantasies. I’ve enough in my life to feel regretful about, I’m not going to start feeling guilty about a fantasy. And there’s a huge gulf between fantasy and reality; it’s keeping a perspective on it that matters.

Carl Jung informs us that we need myth, and the stories that we tell ourselves through our fantasies. He teaches us that myth originates and functions to satisfy the psychological need for contact with the unconscious--not merely to announce the existence of the unconscious, but to let us experience it.

Persephone and Hades are symbolic keys to truths about human condition. They are far more than recognizable characters, they are learning tools, lessons from primordial time.

“Our dreams and fantasies are age-old mythological influences. Deriving from our remotest ancestors, they slumber in all of our unconscious memories which awaken at night and seek to compensate the false attitude modern men and women have towards our nature.”

Has anyone else out there, woken in the morning in a stupor of amazement at where their darkest desires have taken them in the night?

Myth serves as inspiration. The language of myth is profound in its imagery. Persephone and Hades are powerful forces within us. They are a god and goddess from ancient times.

We need the terrifying hoof beats of Hades’ horses pounding down on us. We need to lose ourselves in Persephone’s desperate screams. They are more than just archetypes.

Jung points out the emotional attraction of the stories, but explains it as a resonance from within the human mind, an inner recognition of the hidden truth that the stories contain.

Why does mythology speaks to us? I remember reading Pasiphae's story. The Queen of Crete who contrived to have sex with a bull. Bestiality, another taboo. I was around 10 or 11 when I read that story; I remember feeling strangely excited. I didn’t understand the story, not really, and I didn’t understand my reaction to it. Not only did Queen Pasiphae do it, but she liked it. She relished it.

I used to think my masochistic fantasies, again I was very young -- I used to think they were all my own. And then I started reading about submissives' stories in Erotica anthologies. Other people had the same dark desires -- they were even turned on by the same imagery as me. Used the same language as me.

We have to give the archetypes their time in the spotlight, Jung would say - including the Persephone/Hades archetype and Pasiphae too - because they are a powerful part of us all. But we do it safely and sanely through art and fantasy.

Friday, 23 September 2011


Lillah McCarthy (1875-1960) as Jocasta, Oedipus’ wife and mother, in “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles. Painted by Harold Speed 1913

Incest. The final taboo. It is taboo, as far as I am able to ascertain, in every society on the planet. The exceptions to the rule appear to be royal dynasties, in particular the ancient Egyptian Kings and Queens.

We’ve heard of Freud’s theory about the Oedipus complex: it is the famous Greek tragedy that the theory is based on.

The writers of the Greek myths warn of what will happen if we break the taboo. If we embrace the depravity. Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides have all dramatised the story.

Most writing on Oedipus comes from the 5th century BC, and the stories deal mostly with Oedipus' downfall. Various details appeared on how Oedipus rose to power. Here is the outline of this powerful tale.

King Laius of Thebes, heard of the Sphinx’ prophecy that his son will kill him. Fearing the prophecy, Laius pierces his baby son’s feet and leaves him out to die, but a herdsman finds him and takes him away from Thebes. Years later, Oedipus, the grown up son, hears a similar prophecy, applied to himself, and not knowing he was adopted, leaves home in fear that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Laius, meanwhile, ventures out to find a solution to the Sphinx' riddle. As prophesised, Oedipus crossed paths with Laius and this leads to a fight where Oedipus slays Laius and most of his guards. Oedipus has killed his father. Oedipus then defeats the Sphinx by solving a mysterious riddle to become king. He marries the widowed queen Jocasta, not knowing she is his mother. After many years of prosperity and conjugal bliss, a plague falls on the people of Thebes. Upon discovery of the truth, Oedipus blinds himself and Jocasta hangs herself. After Oedipus is no longer king, Oedipus' sons kill each other.

Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King”, has the Chorus, screaming out Oedipus’ crime. The audience, having seen the horrific tragedy unfold, has been anticipating this moment.
“O Oedipus, name for the ages --
One and the same wide harbour served you
son and father both
son and father came to rest in the same bridal chamber.
How, how, could the furrows your father ploughed
Bear you, your agony, harrowing on
In silence O so long?

But now for all your power
Time, all-seeing Time has dragged you to the light,
Judged your marriage monstrous from the start --
The son and the father, tangling, both one --
O child of Laius, would to god
I’d never seen you, never never!
Now I weep like a man who wails the dead
And the dirge comes pouring forth with all my heart!”

Translation by Robert Fagles.

The Chorus laments Oedipus’ crime. Just because he didn’t know that Queen Jocasta was his mother, he is still guilty, and the Chorus damns him in their profound disgust. Jocasta hangs herself. Oedipus puts out his eyes with pins from her brooches.

“But Oedipus’ destiny still moves us, only because it might have been ours — because the Oracle laid the same curse upon us before our birth as upon him. It is the fate of all of us, perhaps, to direct our first sexual impulse towards our mother and our first hatred and our first murderous wish against our father. Our dreams convince us that this is so.” Sigmund Freud. “The Interpretation of Dreams.” 1901

“In Freudian terms, we draw from the myth of Oedipus, designating attraction on the part of the child toward the parent of the opposite sex, and rivalry and hostility toward the parent of its own. It occurs during the phallic stage of the psycho-sexual development of the personality, approximately years three to five. Resolution of the Oedipus complex is believed to occur by identification with the parent of the same sex and by the renunciation of sexual interest in the parent of the opposite sex. Freud considered this complex the cornerstone of the superego and the nucleus of all human relationships.” WIKI

Fast forward millennia. “Brookside” 1996: A British Soap, famous for its challenges to our views. The incest storyline, in which brother and sister Nat and Georgia Simpson were discovered in bed together by their younger brother, is described by Phil Redmond, the producer, as “breaking the last television taboo.” It was so shocking an MP urged viewers to complain "in their millions".

One perceptive student says; “We tried to discuss the incest storyline with teachers at school. I think they were thoroughly disturbed by what we were watching as one encouraged us to watch "normal" television. I suppose she meant games shows.”

Another student says; “I think the problem with this storyline is that it came at era where society was just not ready. Not suggesting that they’re ready now, but consensual sex between family members back in the 90’s wasn’t seen as effective story-telling, let alone talked about. Now however, you have to look at the latest magazine on the shelf and there is probably some true life story about GSD (Genetic Sexual Disorder). As ludicrous as that sounds, it exists. Usually it’s contrived, so that the two people of the same genetic family meet as adults, not where they grew up together like Nat and Georgia did.”

Here’s the episode “Family Therapy” from the Soap, “Brookside”. Okay, it lacks the sophistication of Sophocles, and it certainly does not conform to Aristotle’s concept for tragedy as discussed in his “Poetics”, but in its way, it is more effective for today’s TV generation audience. It is more accessible.

As far as I can remember from the TV soap, Nat and Georgia move away from Brookside Close, to live out their lives happily and anonymously somewhere in the south of England.

Nothing adds that certain flavour to a storyline like a romantic or sexual attraction between siblings. Most of the time it may be merely implied, but sometimes it's laid out right in the open for the viewer to see. Its presence in a story usually adds a great deal of emotional intensity.

Frequently, actual incest is avoided through the device of siblings who aren't really — they're fostered, or step-sibs, or adopted. Thus, while in arbitrary terms of relationship they may be brother or sister, in "true" terms of blood they are not, and may pursue their chosen target with relative impunity. Often it's just an extreme version of the Childhood Friend Romance set up; male and female characters who normally couldn't cohabitate or possibly even interact normally with each other are 'forced' to but meet with an arbitrary contrivance preventing them from developing past it. The only difference is that the audience is more likely to accept the latter contrivance as believable.

Phil Redmond, the producer of “Brookside”, doesn’t shy away fro the issue, he tackles it head on. It is a consensual incestuous relationship -- Nat and Georgia, the brother and sister BOTH WANT to have sex with one another.

I found this on the Web. “Forbidden Love” Can sex between close relatives ever be acceptable? Johann Hari on the queasy issue of 'consensual incest.’ The Guardian newspaper, Wednesday 9th January 2002.

“The exponents of incest that we talked to in cyberspace were very keen to draw a distinction between "consensual incest" on the one hand and abuse, rape and paedophilia on the other. Consensual incest, we were told by "JimJim2" from Ontario, is “when two adults who just happen to be related get it on. You can't help who you fall in love with, it just happens. I fell in love with my sister and I'm not ashamed ... I only feel sorry for my mom and dad, I wish they could be happy for us. We love each other. It's nothing like some old man who tries to fuck his three-year-old, that's evil and disgusting ... Of course we're consenting, that's the most important thing. We're not fucking perverts. What we have is the most beautiful thing in the world.””

Friday, 16 September 2011


Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake is a piece of ballet-influenced contemporary dance choreographed by Matthew Bourne that was first staged atSadler's Wells theatre in London in 1995. The longest running ballet in London's West End and on Broadway, it has enjoyed two successful tours in the UK and thrilled audiences in Los Angeles, Europe, Australia and Japan. The ballet is based loosely on the Russian romanticballet Swan Lake, from which it takes the music by Tchaikovsky and the broad outline of the plot. The ballet is particularly known for having the parts of the swans danced by men rather than women.

The ballet has proved enormously successful, with touring companies playing to sold-out houses around the world, and it has won a string of prestigious awards. The ballet was called "a miracle" in a Time Out New York review. However, Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake has also been rebuked by some who resent changes to the standard Russian classic. WIKI.

And I was lucky enough to see it! It is wonderful and witty -- I can understand why swans have been traditionally thought of as female, but after seeing this production, I’ve never though of swans as feminine again. Swans are about a lot of things -- loyalty, they have a lifetime partner, I believe. They may epitomise romance, but they are about raw power and masculine energy. I mean, have you ever seen a swan come up out of the water? They lose their elegance, they are clumsy, but they are truly terrifying. They are muscular and aggressively strong. I’ve heard it said, that they can break a man’s arm with their beating wings.

Here are some extracts from the ballet, and time in rehearsals. Also Matthew Bourne and some members of the cast, talking about the production.

Friday, 9 September 2011


“Frankenstein“; or, “The Modern Prometheus”, is a novel about a failed artificial life experiment that has produced a monster, written by Mary Shelley. Shelley started writing the story when she was eighteen, and the novel was published when she was twenty-one. The first edition was published anonymously in London in 1818. Shelley's name appears on the second edition, published in France in 1823.

It is tempting to just talk about Mary Shelley’s great novel; I remember studying it at university and how, in seminars we delved into Freudian psychoanalytical readings; fathers and sons, constructs of identity, the importance of naming things.

The name "Frankenstein" – actually the novel's human protagonist – is often incorrectly used to refer to the monster itself. In the novel, the monster is identified via words such as "monster", "fiend", "wretch", "vile insect", "daemon", and "it"; Shelley herself called it "Adam".

But I want to talk about the science behind the novel, and where the eighteen year old Mary Shelley’s ideas came from.

Mary Shelley would have been aware of scientists’ obsession to create life. They wanted to probe the mysteries of life and master the life force. “Frankenstein” is a myth that grew out of that obsession; Scientists like Luigi Galvani, Giovanni Aldini, Andrew Ure and Conrad Dippel, made the myth a reality.

Just as Victor Frankenstein digs around in graveyards, stealing human body parts, so did the scientists. They raided tombs at dead of night, to steal a heart, a foot, a head.

Victor Frankenstein narrates;
"I collected bones from charnel-houses and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame." 

Another statement, “The dissecting-room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials:”

suggests that some elements of Frankenstein's creation may not be from human bodies.

It is gruesome -- it breaks several taboos, yet this is exactly what the scientists did to achieve their goal.

After creating the monster, which he animates using lightening, Frankenstein is repulsed by his creation.

The scientists of Mary Shelley’s day, didn’t use lightening to animate body parts, they used electricity, which they had learnt how to store in batteries. There are records of Luigi Galvani’s experiment using frogs’ legs. In 1791, he discovered that the muscles of dead frogs legs twitched when struck by a spark. According to popular version of the story, Galvani dissected a frog at a table where he had been conducting experiments with static electricity. Galvani's assistant touched an exposed sciatic nerve of the frog with a metal scalpel, which picked up a charge. At that moment, they saw sparks and the dead frog's leg kick as if in life. The observation made Galvani the first investigator to appreciate the relationship between electricity and animation — or life. This finding provided the basis for the new understanding that electrical energy (carried by ions), and not air or fluid as in earlier balloonist theories, is the impetus behind muscle movement. He is poorly credited with the discovery of bioelectricity. Bioelectricity is a field that still today studies the electrical patterns and signals of the nervous system. It is from Galvani’s name, that we made the word “galvanism”.

Shelley had travelled the region in which the story takes place, and the topics of galvanism and other similar occult ideas were themes of conversation among her companions, particularly her future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley. The actual storyline was taken from a dream. Shelley was talking with three writer-colleagues, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori, and they decided they would have a competition to see who could write the best horror story. After thinking for weeks about what her possible storyline could be, Shelley dreamt about a scientist who created life and was horrified by what he had made. Then “Frankenstein” was written.

Giovani Aldini was the nephew of Luigi Galvani. His scientific work was chiefly concerned with galvanism, anatomy and its medical applications, with the construction and illumination of lighthouses, and with experiments for preserving human life and material objects from destruction by fire. It is said he was a inspiration for Mary Shelley's “Frankenstein”. Indeed, Aldini’s experiments share a common ground with Frankenstein. Aldini also engaged in public demonstrations of the technique, such as on the executed criminal George Forster at Newgatein London.
Aldini also treated patients with personality disorders and reported complete rehabilitation following transcranial administration of electric current. Aldini's work laid the ground for the development of various forms of electrotherapy that were heavily used later in the 19th century. Even today, deep brain stimulation, a procedure currently employed to relieve patients with motor or behavioural disorders, owes much to Aldini and galvanism.

In 1818, the year that “Frankenstein” was published, Andrew Ure, the Scottish physician revealed experiments he had been carrying out on a murderer/thief named Matthew Clydesdale, after the man's execution by hanging. He claimed that, by stimulating the phrenic nerve, life could be restored in cases of suffocation, drowning or hanging.
“Every muscle of the body was immediately agitated with convulsive movements resembling a violent shuddering from cold. ... On moving the second rod from hip to heel, the knee being previously bent, the leg was thrown out with such violence as nearly to overturn one of the assistants, who in vain tried to prevent its extension. The body was also made to perform the movements of breathing by stimulating the phrenic nerve and the diaphragm. When the supraorbital nerve was excited 'every muscle in his countenance was simultaneously thrown into fearful action; rage, horror, despair, anguish, and ghastly smiles, united their hideous expressions in the murderer's face, surpassing far the wildest representations of Fuseli or a Kean. At this period several of the spectators were forced to leave the apartment from terror or sickness, and one gentleman fainted.”

Johan Conrad Dippel was born at Castle Frankenstein near Mühltal and Darmstadt and Mary Shelley is thought to have visited Castle Frankenstein. It seems likely that her visit to the castle influenced Shelley’s thoughts. There are also various rumours of grave robbing that lead to his association with the Frankenstein story.

Dippel’s experiments were the cause of speculation, in particular one rumour says that he performed gruesome experiments with cadavers in which he attempted to transfer the soul of one cadaver into another. Experiments with cadavers and soul-transference were common among alchemists at the time.

Dippel did, however, experiment quite frequently with dead animals, to which he was an "avid dissector".In his dissertation “Maladies and Remedies of the Life of the Flesh”, Dippel claims to have discovered both the Elixir of Life and the means to exorcize demons through potions he concocted from boiled animal bones and flesh.

As much as it is about contemporary advances in science, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is infused with some elements of the Gothic novel and the Romantic movement and it is also considered to be one of the earliest examples of science fiction. Brian Aldiss has argued that it should be considered the first true science fiction story, because unlike in previous stories with fantastical elements resembling those of later science fiction, the central character "makes a deliberate decision" and "turns to modern experiments in the laboratory" to achieve fantastic results. It has had a considerable influence across literature and popular culture and spawned a complete genre of horror stories and films.

And as for those real life mad scientists. Their ideas about electricity weren’t really so far fetched. Electro Convulsive Therapy is still used as a treatment for depression. And medics use the Heart Defibulator to treat patients suffering from cardiac arrest, by resetting the rhythm of the heart.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Literary Landmark Press: Our First Anthology, The Spirit of Poe

Literary Landmark Press: Our First Anthology, The Spirit of Poe: The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore has lost its $80,000 per year funding from the City of Baltimore.  Literary Landmark Pres...

Friday, 2 September 2011

The French Lieutenant's Woman; John Fowles

The year is 1867. Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species” in 1859. Karl Marx was writing about “the alienation of labour”, in “The Communist Manifesto” in 1848. Minds were bending and changing. Opening up to new ideas. The Industrial Revolution in England, was at its height; productivity was booming. The old aristocracy was slowly dying. They didn’t know it yet, but they were. A new class was emerging, born out of “trade”; the upper middle class. Religious concepts were being radically rethought. So was the place of women in society and roles in marriage.

These new ideas formed the background to the work of Victorian writers and thinkers. We read about them in the novels of Charles Dickens, the Brontë’s, Robert Louis Stevenson and Wilkie Collins.

So do we really need another Victorian novel? Inspired by the mind of John Fowles, yes, I think we do. But “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” can’t be a Victorian novel; it was first published in 1969, just over one hundred years after the events it speaks of.

Fowles carefully crafts his novel to mimic the Victorian convention. Through this device, he is able to offer the reader a convincing nineteenth century story, with the perspective of twentieth century thinking.

After writing the first draft in about nine months, he spent the next two years revising, working line-by-line to create the illusion of Victorian prose and dialogue by lengthening sentences, deleting contractions and employing digressions.  The result is a portrayal of England in 1867 that accurately captures various facets of the time—social conventions, class struggles, etc.—while at the same time mirroring the style of 19th century prose. 

The novel's protagonist is Sarah Woodruff, the Woman in the title, also known by the nickname of “Tragedy”, and by the unfortunate nickname “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”. She lives in the coastal town of Lyme Regis, as a disgraced woman, supposedly abandoned by a French naval officer named Varguennes—unknown to her he was married. Varguennes, has returned to France.

She spends her limited time off, at the Cobb [sea wall], staring out to sea. One day, she is seen there by the gentleman Charles Smithson and his fiancée, Ernestina Freeman, the shallow-minded daughter of a wealthy tradesman. Ernestina tells Charles something of Sarah’s story, and he develops a strong curiosity about her. Eventually, he and she meet clandestinely, during which times Sarah tells Charles her history, and asks for his support, mostly emotional. Despite trying to remain objective, Charles eventually sends Sarah to Exeter, where he, during a journey, cannot resist stopping in to visit and see her. At the time she has suffered an ankle injury; he visits her alone and after they have made love he realises that she had been, contrary to the rumours, a virgin. Simultaneously, he learns that his prospective inheritance from an elder uncle is in jeopardy; the uncle is engaged to a woman young enough to bear him an heir.

Sarah is portrayed ambiguously: is she a genuine, ill-used woman? Is she a sly, manipulative character using her own self-pity to get Charles to succumb to her? Is she merely a victim of the notion of gender as perceived by upper-middle-class people of the 19th century?

From there, John Fowles offers three different endings for The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

The novel includes several authorial intrusions, with omniscient narrator Fowles speaking directly to the reader about the mores of life in Victorian England and various possible outcomes for his characters.  

Fowles uses “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” to meditate on the nature of individual freedom and freewill—and ultimately the price. He also considers the philosophical concept of freewill’s opposite; determinism. When Charles’ circumstances are drastically changed, the reader sees how Charles comes to face his desperate decisions. He is offered a variety of solutions to his predicament. Should he flip a coin? Do what he thinks is honourable? Is he a victim of circumstance; caught up in fate?

And just when the reader is getting caught up in Charles’ dilemma, Fowles deliberately disrupts the flow of concentration. He achieves this by frequently interrupting the narrative and drawing attention to the fictionality of the characters; they are creations of his imagination. How can we care so much about people who don't - who never have, or will - exist? 

Classical realist descriptions are interposed with references to the time the narrator is narrating from; 1969. The author never lets you fall into the trap usually set by an omniscient narrator; he reminds you of his position as the author; he also reminds you of your position as a reader. The reader’s response is intrinsic to the novel. This comes most starkly into focus when the narrator begins to 'converse' with the reader on what should happen with the various characters. The final, and very well crafted piece of metafiction comes when the author appears in the same train carriage as a character, and expresses his desire to have alternative endings.

Fowles began the novel as an exercise in imitating nineteenth-century fiction, and thought it would be badly received, because it would seem too coldly intellectual; too cerebral. He was wrong - It is erudite and I think that it is his most successful artistic achievement. It has been adapted into a film starring Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep, with a screenplay by the playwright Harold Pinter.

John Fowles said of the film; "It looks good but it is somehow empty at the heart,"

Sadly, I discovered, while putting this post together, that John Fowles has died. He died on 5th November 2005, aged 79. Also in 2005,the novel was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the one hundred best English-language novels from 1923 to present.